The Westminster Kennel Club dog show is today and tomorrow, but this year I won’t be there. Back before magazines ceased to exist, I worked as an editor at a dog magazine, and part of my job involved attending the Dog Writers of America awards dinner on Sunday night, and going to Westminster on Monday and Tuesday, and having Wednesday lunch at Sardi’s where the Best-in-Show winner was served a plate of steak. I am not kidding when I say that meeting Rufus, the colored Bull Terrier who won in 2006, was one of the nicest things that ever happened to me.
Westminster is the first dog show a lot of people go to, because it’s famous and on TV and in New York, but I bet it’s pretty confusing if you don’t know what’s going on. Basically all the individual breeds are judged during the day on Monday and Tuesday, and then the winners of each breed compete in their groups at night—Toy, Hound, Non-Sporting, and Herding groups on Monday night, and Terrier, Working, and Sporting on Tuesday night. The winners from each of the seven groups compete for Best in Show at the end of the night’s judging on Tuesday. So if you want to see, for example, a lot of Boston Terriers—the best breed there is, proudly owned by WFMU DJs X-Ray Burns and Bronwyn C.—you would go to Ring 5 at 1:15 on Monday, and there would be 24 little champions right there. Each breed is judged against a specific standard, but there is a definite element of subjective, figure-skating-type interpretation going on. The judges tend to say things like the winning dog “would not be denied” or that the dog had “the look of eagles.”
The dog-show world (or fancy, as they call it) is a very weird subculture, and the best way I can explain it is to say that Best in Show is one of the most realistic documentaries I’ve ever seen. There are a lot of crazypants rich ladies, secret eugenicists, and people with control issues left over from their tragic high-school careers in the fancy. But there are also some fantastically interesting people who really love dogs. It’s a subculture in which older women are revered and gay people are accepted warmly. Plus, David Frei is just the nicest, smartest, most charismatic guy around.
One of my genius ideas when I was at the dog magazine was that we should start a Fantasy Dog Show League. Dogs already accrue points as they win shows over the course of a year, and are ranked monthly, so it would be pretty easy to set something up. And for the past few years a Las Vegas sporting book has been posting odds on Westminster Best-in-Show. The Smooth Fox Terrier is this year’s favorite, at 6:1, but I’ll take the sucker bet: Boston Terrier, 75:1.
UPDATE 2/15: Okay, so I lose. But also, the Poodle did NOT win the Non-Sporting Group, a Chinese Shar Pei named Miss Jayne Hathaway won, which was a major upset. In fact, the Shar Pei was 110:1 to win Best in Show—even less likely than the dog that should have won the group (i.e., the Boston Terrier).