Whole Dog Journal's Blog February 15, 2011

A new look at the Westminster Dog Show

Posted at 01:18PM - Comments: (3)

If you, like me, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and have always been a dog lover, your parents probably took you to see the Golden Gate Kennel Club dog show several times. By the time I was an adult, I had been to this show six or seven times. It’s a big show, held in a big venue, and it draws huge crowds of dog-loving fans. Many people sit in the stadium seats and watch the show rings, but of course, since it’s a benched show, with the dogs required to be present and viewable in their assigned spots for the entire day, spectators also spend a lot of time walking the aisles of the benching areas, petting dogs, talking to their owners, and taking jillions of photos. It’s a dog lovers dream – but probably not nearly as enjoyable for the dogs, who have to endure countless intrusions into their personal space and all those jillions of photos.

What I learned the first (and only) time that I attended the Westminster Dog Show, held in recent decades at Madison Square Gardens in Manhattan, was that the Golden Gate show was way more pleasant for the dogs than Westminster. On TV, Westminster always looks so glamorous and plush. My impression of the bench areas, however, was that of a nightmare for the dogs. Space is at a premium; the dogs are squished into tight spaces, and the aisles are PACKED with humans. Also, it seems as if every person is carrying more than one camera. I had a camera, too, but I couldn’t figure out how to get a picture of any single dog without 10 other people with cameras in the frame, so I gave up.

Worst of all, even though New York City was experiencing a typically cold winter when I was there, it was HOT in the benched areas, and fans were aimed at many dogs in an effort to keep them comfortable. It was noisy, hot, and smelly – and I gained a huge amount of  respect for the dogs for not coming completely unglued in that environment, and for the handlers who could somehow support and maintain the dog’s enthusiasm for the show ring after enduring hours and hours of grooming and crowds “backstage.”

I’m much more enthused with the latest way to enjoy the Westminster show (which is concluding today, on February 15) – through its Facebook page! The organizers are posting hundreds of bits of news, gossip, and trivia each day, and fans of the dogs and the breeds are commenting on each and every post. Reading through the posts is bringing the show alive again for me. I love learning about the stories behind the dogs – who they are, who the owners, breeders, trainers, and handlers are, and what sort of adventures they’ve had on their way to their moment in the spotlight. Reading the stories, I feel like a dog-loving kid again. Check it out, and tell us what you think: http://www.facebook.com/WKCDogShow

Comments (3)

Thank you for bringing this situation to light. For years I've thought that David Frye should spend some time in the benching area. The sickening thing is that this situation is not unique to Westminster. Several years ago, I was a vendor at several breed shows in Mass. It was the same each time. n fact, at one show a groomer directly across from me whacked the dog that he was working on the head with his brush. Then he looked at me as if to dare me to do something about it. So I did. Not sure of show protocol, I found some sort of official looking person and reported what I had seen. I have no idea what, if anything, happened. All in all, I was astounded at the way does were treated. In fact I drove home in tears and vowed that we were never going to do breed shows with our Springers. I haven't been to one since despite invitations to return.
Agility is the ultimate experience for handler and dog.

Posted by: Cynthia S | February 16, 2011 9:02 AM    Report this comment

It's been many years since my dogs and I went to Westminster. At that time (the 50's) we were raising English Setters. You didn't have to bring a champion, either. The benching was long,wide (wide enough to accomodate a folding chair or two)cubicles with dividers that could be removed to make a well decorated display of your kennel.Some breed clubs such as the one I belonged to,took up a whole isle.The dogs were fastened to the benches by means of an adjustable chain, called a "bench chain"Our club hung green burlap as background and each dog had a plaque with it's name and other titles hung up.We made matching thick mats for the dogs to lie on.The grooming area was separate as as were the x-pens, etc.We even had a couple of stuffed pheasants to complete the picture. It waa crowded, noisy and fun. Our dogs were all "country bumpkins" and if you didn't wish to use the public x-pens,the hotel let us use the roof top of the hotel.Some people took a taxi to Central Park to walk their dogs.It was exhausting,expensive and a thrilling experience.The oldtimers such as Jane Kamp, Anne Hone Rogers,Bill Trainer,Wendal Sammet and Bill Burrell and many others completed the picture.Some things never change.
Peg Hughes

Posted by: PEG H | February 15, 2011 6:32 PM    Report this comment

I don't know if this will be the norm or not, but they changed the layout of the benching area this year at Westminster. They have a lot more space, and the temperature was more consistent. I'm hoping this will continue, as it makes it even.better for us spectators to chat with the owners, and learn more about these wonderful creatures! Even for a rescue person like me, it's been a real thrill.

Posted by: SANDY M | February 15, 2011 4:43 PM    Report this comment

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