By Campari as told to Karen Feld
Take it from me–every dog wants to be “Best in Show.” In my mom’s eyes, I’m top dog so she took me to interview my fellow canines at the 135th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.
Each entry is already a winner. They start training as young puppies, and some first show at only six months. I’m not sure I’d ever get accustomed to the constant grooming and brushing beginning at 5 AM on show day. We wove our way through the crowded benching area just in time to watch the best of my breed, the Toy Poodle. Buddy, a handsome black toy weighing seven pounds, was first in the ring. His handler told us, “He loves to show. He was bouncing the floor.”
After the Best in Breed judging, his groomer sprayed his fur with water and brushed him to remove the stiff spray holding his thick shiny coat in place. I noticed that his handler uses one hand to support the dog under the chin so he learns to keep his head up. He competed against Maverick, a chocolate toy sired by the same stud, and Smash JP Moon Walk, last years Toy Group winner. Walker was crowned Best in Breed again this year.
Veterinarian geneticist, Angela Hughes of Rockville, MD., told me about a new useful tool for not only show, but high end hobby breeders as well. She recommends that breeders check the DNA of potential breeding pairs. “They can minimize the overlap of regions [criteria] they’re not selecting for and maximize the diversity in the region selected for.” Not only does this result in healthier puppies, but as a side benefit, Dr. Hughes says that litter size increases. The first litter produced by this method, Dandy Dinmark Terriers, were born in the fall of 2009. “The concept was proven in the Dandy and is now open to most AKC breeds,” according to Hughes, who works for Optimal Selection a subsidiary of Mars, the candy company.
“They can make use of mutation down the line,” said Dr. Hughes. “They could even add color testing to the toolbox,” she told me when I showed surprise that there weren’t any red poodles like me in the competition. But most importantly, “You can maintain healthy traits within a line by determining which stud is the best match,” she explained. “Within the studs you would consider, which is in line with your female?” She believes dogs should be treated as an endangered species by “maximizing diversity within the gene pool with which you have to work.”
I gained a new respect for other breeds as well. I met Mercedes, a Long Coat Chihuahua, who was close to my size. “She lives up to her name,” said owner Barbara Fischer.
By this time, I was gathering courage to meet some of the larger dogs so I checked out the herding group. Jay Jay, a Border Collie, leaned over and gave me a kiss. “The agility he shows in the ring mirrors the agility he shows when he opens cabinets at home,” explained owner Daryl Martin. “He learns by watching. He even works the TV remote.” ‘Best In Show’ is his favorite film. “A lot of strange things go on in that movie,” said Martin, who added, “and it’s not that far off.”
Gideon, a large black Beauceron, one of the first search and rescue dogs to show at Westminster works hard. He began training for air scents at 11 weeks and was certified at a year to do wilderness searches for missing persons. Now he’s on call 24/7 as a volunteer for the sheriff’s office in the Pacific Northwest. “He has good energy, but can also be calm and not destroy my house. He’s a good sturdy dog with confidence and is super fast,” says his owner/trainer. But his brother beat him in the ring.
“People who show dogs really love them and work for the betterment of the breed,” said former Iraqi POW, Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum, who showed her very laid back Gordon Setter. Cornum, who works at the Pentagon in soldier fitness, first showed her dogs in Westminster about 40 years ago before she was shot down in Iraq while on a search and rescue mission. “I was doing the right thing; it just didn’t work out.” Now, she finds “dog training is very therapeutic.”
It didn’t take long for me to gain a new respect for my canine colleagues. Every dog–regardless of breed–who makes it to Westminster is a champion.