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2012-01-25 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) is “just around the corner.” Interpret that statement two ways: The 136th annual WKC dog show will take place soon, on February 13-14 at Madison Square Garden, and Westminster had a grand clubhouse and kennels right here in Babylon from 1880 to 1904. In fact, Sensation, the WKC trademark Pointer, was buried in front of that clubhouse by Southards Pond in 1887. So what’s all the hoopla about? Why does the whole world watch Westminster? Take a look at the short list:

“America’s Dog Show” since 1877: The first show had over 1200 dogs entered, including a “trick dog” named Sprite and a two-legged mixed breed named Nellie. The event lasted four days in May, rather than two days in February as it does now. Sensation was on special exhibition at that first show while local notable August Belmont Jr. showed six dogs, including Robin whose tombstone still stands by the cannons at Belmont Lake. Belmont pulled a shrewd one, entering Robin as both a Gordon and an English Setter. He couldn’t do that now.


Stump and the NYPD 
Photo by Mary Bloom Stump and the NYPD Photo by Mary Bloom Longevity: It’s the second longest continuously held sporting event in the US, only two years behind the Kentucky Derby. Throughout turmoil and hard times, the WKC dog show went on. Even during the Depression, the number of entries stayed solid. Former President Hoover attended the 1943 WKC show in the midst of WWII. WKC honored Search and Rescue dogs working at Ground Zero in February 2002.

World famous arena: WKC has been held in all four incarnations of Madison Square Garden. Can any other sport make that claim? In 1880, when reconstruction was going on, as is now, a wall collapsed when Show Manager William Tileston and Chairman Walter Webb walked by. Tileston and three women passersby were killed; Webb was injured. Both men were WKC charter members who had attended the grand opening of the clubhouse in Babylon months before. Please be careful if you walk by the MSG scaffolding next month.

Parade of champions: Only the elite participate. All dogs entered must already be champions. This became a requirement in 1992 because so many fanciers wanted to participate. More than 2,000 champions travel from all 50 states and overseas to be seen at the Garden.

Benching: Westminster is one of the only benched shows left, which means when not in the ring, all dogs entered must be on view in a special area from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. as a way of educating the public about purebred dogs. No dogs are permitted to leave MSG during benching hours. Because of construction safety concerns, this year exhibitors will be allowed to exit beginning at 7 p.m.

“Academy Awards of Dogs”: Westminster is the canine Super Bowl, Oscars and World Series rolled into one. A week’s worth of festivities, including many dog-designated benefits and awards banquets, lead up to the final showdown at Best In Show.

Chronicling our history and culture: Prominent WKC participants are too numerous to list. Here’s a few: The Czar of Russia sent his Wolfhounds. Journalist Nellie Bly who chased Phineas Fogg’s record around the world chased her own Maltese in the ring. J. P. Morgan won ribbons with his Collies, heiress Patty Hearst handled her own French Bulldog while Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis bred and owned several breeds. Bill Cosby graced the stands cheering his Terriers, and last year, Lance Armstrong watched sans bicycle from the stands.

Civic responsibility: WKC has a long-standing tradition of giving back. During that first 1877 show, one day’s proceeds went to Henry Bergh of the newly formed ASPCA. In 1918, profits were given to the Red Cross to support the war efforts. Nowadays, WKC presents scholarships to outstanding veterinary students and proceeds from each year’s “Westminster: There’s Only One” poster goes to a canine charity. This 2012 recipient will be the AKC Canine Health Foundation; last year was the Animal Medical Center in NYC.

“Live from New York”: Major shows like the Eukanuba on Animal Planet have taped TV highlights. Viewers only see a sampling; but during WKC Group finals, six hours of live TV covers every Best of Breed (BOB) winner. In 1990, there were 140 AKC recognized breeds; last year 179. There will be 185 this year. Since I will be helping compile the BOB data sheets again, I appreciate how the task becomes more daunting each year.

“Alma Mater” Factor:

Though synonymous with purebreds, Westminster is really a celebration of all dogs. Viewers at home like to root for their favorite breed, often the pooch snoring beside them on the couch. David Frei, WKC announcer, calls this the “alma mater” factor.

Best In Show (BIS): When you are at the Garden, the tension builds to a canine crescendo as the BIS judge decides, signs the book, and walks across the ring to bestow the coveted trophy. The dogs feel it too. BIS champs like Uno the Beagle or Stump the super-senior Sussex Spaniel become overnight sensations as their names are etched into dogdom’s Hall of Fame, a tradition that started with Sensation, the WKC iconic Pointer buried right here.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Sage” is a young Jack Russell in the Puppy Room. She is quiet and calm and for some reason, no one looks at her. Hopefully, this is about to change. “J. Crew” #20917 is a tuxedo kitten with a flair for fashion plus a fabulous purr. His sweater comes with his adoption. Hurry for he will be outgrowing it soon.

* Speaking of WKC #6? Did you vote for Jin Jin the Afghan Hound featured in “Pets” last week”? She is a fabulous therapy dog and finalist in the New Yorkie Runway Fashion Show to benefit Westminster’s Angel On a Leash therapy dog program. Jin Jin has ties to Babylon Shelter. She needs your vote at www.newyorkierunway.com/vote.

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