A new look at the Westminster Dog Show

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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

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Nancy Kerns has edited horse and dog magazines since graduating the San Francisco State University Journalism program in 1990. The founding editor of Whole Dog Journal in 1998, Nancy regularly attends cutting-edge dog-training conferences including those for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Pet Professional Guild, Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and Clicker Expo. To stay on top of industry developments, she also attends pet industry trade shows such as Global Pet and SuperZoo, educational conferences of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and Pet Food Industry’s Pet Food Forum. As a regular volunteer for her local animal shelter, the Northwest SPCA in Oroville, CA, she fosters large litters of puppies and helps train wayward adolescent dogs in order to increase their chances of adoption. Nancy shares her life with her husband and two canine alumni of the NWSPCA, mixed-breed Otto (whose adorably fuzzy visage was incorporated into WDJ’s masthead some years ago) and Pit/Lab-mix Woody. 

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