Spring 2010 Magazine

Casa Canine

Bucket List

By Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.

When I was a girl, what I wanted most in the whole wide world, what I dreamt about, and asked for on every birthday and Christmas was a dog. After a disastrous attempt to bring a puppy into our home when I was seven - no time for a pup with small children in the family - my parents were consistent and united. No. No. And no. I resorted to reading everything I could about dogs. At the age of ten, I found a book in our town library about the history of the Westminster Dog Show. I poured over that book and swooned over the wire fox terriers, my favorite dogs at the time. I checked that book out so often that the librarian banned me from taking it out anymore. "Get a life," she told me. "Read something different." And so it was that in my tenth year, the Westminster Dog Show became the first item on my bucket list.

Recently I went to New York City for the Dog Writers Association of America annual banquet, conveniently held the night before the Westminster Dog Show. This presented me with the opportunity to cover the show for PETroglyphs. I was finally going to Westminster. I had watched the event on television. I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong.

To what can I compare Westminster? It is arguably the canine American Idol. The show starts out with 2500 hopeful dogs of 173 breeds and varieties, all primped and preened to perfection. The dogs are sleek, fuzzy, wiry, fluffy, big, small, drooly, jowled, wrinkled, smooth, muscular, delicate, riotous, gorgeous, and confident as they strut their stuff in the rings. The press is everywhere. Cameras flash as winners pose. The events are streamed on the Internet around the world.

The dogs are judged first in their breed and variety categories (varieties are different types of the same breed, for example, toy poodles, miniature poodles and standard poodles or smooth and rough-coated collies). The best of breed and variety winners compete against each other in their various groups. There are seven groups: toy, herding, sporting, non-sporting, working, hound, and terrier. Toy dog breed winners compete against each other for Best of Toy Group. Herding dog breeds compete against other herding dogs for Best of Herding Group. And so on with each of the seven groups. The seven best of group winners complete against each other on the final night for the crown of Best in Show. Rock on!

During the two days of the show, there are up to six rings of judging happening simultaneously. Dogs are coming and going. People are everywhere. Refreshments are hawked in the stands. "Popcorn, get your popcorn here." It's hot. It's noisy - not the dogs but the fans who do not sit quietly. They cheer and yell for their favorites.

In the benching area where the dogs stay before and after they have been in the judging ring, people ooh and aah over the dogs up close. Handlers interact with the fans and educate them about breed traits. It is in the benching area that you can see the canine Johnny-on-the-spots, pens with thick sawdust floors for doggy nature calls.

Westminster's been on my bucket list for 50 years. I still remember the wire fox terrier who so impressed me as a child, one of the few two-time Best in Show winners, Champion Pendley Calling of Blarney. Fox terriers have been replaced in my affection by rescue greyhounds and All-American mixed breeds. But it was that early lure of Westminster that put me on a lifelong path of compassion and love for dogs. And now I get to check it off my bucket list.

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