Tuesday, February 16, 2010


And Now, A Word for the Dogs

Last night I watched the first night of the 134th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Today, I read about what I saw in the New York Times. The groups judged last night were the hound group, the toy group, the non-sporting group and the herding group.

The Times writer talked about the waiting the dogs must endure while the judge makes his or her final decision about who best represents each breed, and in turn who best represents each breed group. Times sports writer Richard Sandomir judged the hounds as the most impish and playful while passing the time (he called them mischievous). I can attest to the impishness of hounds. As readers of this space know, I have a Black and Tan Coonhound. Walt Disney owned several Black and Tans, and Goofy and Pluto are reportedly based on Coonhounds. Ours is far outside of breed standard and a rescue. If she had been whelped by a show bitch she would have most likely been put down as being a horrid mutant. Her ears are too short. She has a white spot on her chest. These types of imperfections are a death sentence with a large number of breeders, constantly seeking the uber-hound.

I have never bought a purebred dog from a breeder. From my first dog, adopted when I was eight years old, all have come from neighbors with unintended litters, city pounds and rescue organizations. I even took in a stray from a Los Angeles street once, a Scottish Terrier. I was unable to provide him a home, but I was able to get him from the street to a non-kill shelter, surely a better end than under a car or in the belly of a mountain lion.

The winner of the toy group was, as frequently the case, a toy poodle with an embarrassing haircut. I have no doubt that this purse ornament will either be best in show or take second place. As I learned from the announcers last night, in the previous 133 years of this tournament one dog from the herding group has won best in show, and four hounds. Surely over a 133-year period more than four hounds and one herder deserved the top title. To be fair, originally there were only two groups, sporting and non-sporting. In 1924 the two main groups were expanded to five: Sporting, Working, Terrier, Toy, and Non-Sporting. Still that's a whole lot of years where the Best in Show was some fru-fru purse ornament and not a big, lovable hound or shepherd. A few years ago I was overjoyed when Josh, a Newfoundland, won the big prize.

Last year, a Sussex Spaniel (sporting group) won best in show. The Sussex was quite possibly the oldest winner ever, taking the crown at the ripe old age of ten. This dog has been entered in Westminster several times, as I have been informed by a dog walker I know who has walked dogs directly related to this dog. So why was the Sussex best last year when in previous years did not make it to the final night? The walker told me that the judge assigned to the final slot was friends with the breeder who produced the prize winning Sussex. I do not know this as a sure fact, but if it were true, I would not be surprised. Dog shows are subjectively judged, like Olympic gymnastics, figure skating and diving. It is not a race. There is no clock, no sure winner.

The judges themselves looked like characters in "Best in Show," the hilarious film by the group that brought us "Waiting for Guffman," "A Mighty Wind," and "For Your Consideration." When one of the judges was introduced I said to my wife- "Look- it's Jane Lynch twenty years from now!" The men wore tuxedos and the women wore horrifyingly garish glitter-covered tents.

One thing is highly likely. The winning hound, a beautiful brindled whippet, will not take best in show. That will, once again, go to the toy poodle or maybe a terrier who stopped at a make-up trailer.
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