Westminster, "There's only one!".
There is nothing quite like the magic of Westminster.
This year marks the 146th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Established in 1877, Westminster as we all know is the second-longest continuing sporting event in the country second only to the Famed Run for the Roses, Kentucky Derby.
Televised every year since 1948 it is the longest-running nationally televised dog show.
As a spectator, Exhibitor, or Judge there is nothing like the magic of Westminster. Probably the most famous dog show in the world. (I am sure the UK would argue that Crufts is more well known, but I would beg to differ). When you attend the show usually referred to as “the Garden” you feel the magic as soon as you pass through the doors. One of the last remnants of the “Bench Shows” of the past you can meet and greet the dogs, owners, and breeders in the benching areas and spend a great deal of time just talking dogs in a setting no longer found at most shows.
The Westminster Kennel Club is dedicated to making this event not only the Greatest Dog Show on Earth but also one of safety for both the dogs and the public. Several years ago when they realized that safely being able to continue accommodating the dogs, handlers, and the spectators at Madison Square Garden was no longer practical. The club made a few adjustments and moved the breed judging to the Piers. The move allowed for larger breed rings, plenty of room for benching and the public as well as room for spectators to sit outside the rings to watch the highly competitive breed judging. They also added Agility and Obedience to the weekend before the conformation show and they have become popular additions to the event as well as the television audience.
The Groups, Best In Show, and Junior Showmanship finals are still held at the world-famous Madison Square Garden and the stands are filled to the rafters as people at the Garden and the huge worldwide television audience watch with great anticipation the work up to the eventual winner of Best in Show.
Through the years I have had the pleasure to not only exhibit but also to judge at the event and I can tell you it is a very special place full of history and great stories from the past.
Judging a group at the Garden is an experience like no other. You are standing in the middle of the most famous sports venue in the world with a packed house and millions of television viewers watching your every move. In front of you stands possibly the strongest lineup of breed winners in the group that you may ever experience. It is an incredible experience to sort through them in a timely and efficient manner as you also need to be aware of the time situations of Television. After the examination, you will make "the cut" of the eight or so dogs you have narrowed down to knowing that unfortunately there are still plenty more outstanding exhibits that are of the highest quality. You will move your final bunch one more time and then you will choose those four that on that night you feel deserve the top awards.
Winning the group at the Garden can be a career starter for some dogs and a retirement ending for others. Any award won at Westminster is a historical win that will be cherished and remembered forever.
If the past two years have taught us anything it has shown us that nothing is set in stone and change can happen at any time. Here we are on the verge of the longest continuous and most famous dog show event in the world and for the second year in a row, it will not be held on the second week of February.
The 146th Annual Westminster Kennel Club week was set to start on Saturday, January 22nd with the Masters' Agility Preliminaries and Championship.
However, on December 29th the word was handed down that this years’ event will again be postponed to a later date due to the latest Covid-19 surge.
The future date and site are yet to be determined but you can be sure that the people involved at the Westminster Kennel Club will be sure it fits with the tradition and pageantry befitting the event.
The Westminster Kennel Club goes above and beyond to make sure everyone, Exhibitors, Spectators, and Judges are treated with class and hospitality second to none. If you are a lover of the sport of dogs and have never attended Westminster you need to add it to your bucket list. The entire experience of Westminster as well as the bright lights of New York and the Empire State Building lit up in the Westminster colors is a trip from which memories are made.
I was fortunate enough to judge in the December Holiday season at two clusters held at what I would consider Exceptional Sites.
First, I was on the judging panel for the Greater Clark County Kennel Clubs shows held in Vancouver, Washington. Karen Burgess and her outstanding club members hold back to back weekends at the fantastic Clark County Fairgrounds Complex in Ridgefield, Washington. The first weekend is devoted exclusively to performance events, while the second hosts their annual conformation cluster.
What a superb entry they had for the Performance and Companion weekend. Entries in Obedience and Rally alone totaled 797 with an additional 174 in Farm Dog Certification, 1077 in Scent work, and over 110 in Temperament testing. They also had Trick Dog, CGC, Urban CGC, Agility, Two 4-6 month Puppy Conformation events, Four open Shows, and two sanctioned "B" matches. What an amazing performance weekend that could only be done with all the hard-working volunteers and again an exceptional facility.
I arrived on Thursday at the wonderful Heathman Lodge in Vancouver. As soon as you enter the Lobby you are part of the magic of Christmas as the rustic Lodge was decorated to the nines for the Holidays. The wonderful rooms and excellent restaurant are worth the trip alone.
The three-day conformation shows with entries of about 1500 per day were also fantastic and in theme with the season. The rings were very large which made the judging very enjoyable as the exhibitors and dogs had plenty of room to show their charges to their best advantage.
The shows this year were held under the Governor's mandate, so all exhibitors had to have proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative Covid test to enter the building. Everyone was required to wear a mask and my understanding is that the full mask mandate is still in effect for the entire State and if caught non-complying in a public area you could be fined up to $1000.
The December Shows of the Greater Clark County KC are among my favorites as they are filled with fun activities. They have the annual ugly Christmas sweater contest and you never know what else might pop up like a surprise birthday party or some other special activity. The exhibitors in the Northwest take the weekend's festivities to a new level with so many wonderful costumes and holiday attire being worn by hundreds of exhibitors during the shows. We had Elves, Pixies, and everything in between, and it was refreshing and full of great sportsmanship as well. Karen and her team outdid themselves as this was their first-weekend post-Covid restrictions and they went the extra mile.
I made it home from Oregon on Sunday night and left early Monday morning heading to Orlando for my assignments at the Orlando Cluster, The Space Coast Kennel Club on Tuesday, Brevard Kennel Club on Wednesday, The Central Florida Kennel Club on Thursday, and the added pleasure of the Old English Sheepdog Club of America, Southern Regional Specialty.
Linda Rowell was the cluster chair and did her usual superb job in making sure all of the I’s were dotted and T’s crossed. Linda along with other show chairs Glenda Stephenson and Leslie Kovacs had full plates with entries between 4,000 and 4,700 dogs each day. The amount of work, planning, and attention to detail are very demanding when putting together shows of this magnitude. The Volunteer efforts of these people are truly not given the attention and appreciation it truly deserves.
The Orlando Convention Center is a one-of-a-kind facility, massive with room for everything. The facility is the epitome of show sites. Wonderful Large rings, exceptional lighting, plenty of grooming space, wide aisles, numerous seminar rooms, and just about everything you could ask for in a site.
The depth of quality in almost every breed was superb. I had full days of judging all three days and the very large class of specials in most breeds made for a very enjoyable opportunity to sort through some exceptional exhibits. The groups were extremely deep in quality and it was great to see a diverse group of dogs placed in them each day.
The highlight of the week for me was the OESCA specialty. Since OES was my original breed I still carry a great passion for the breed and huge respect for the breeders, owners, and exhibitors of this wonderful breed. I had a great entry of over 50 OES and the quality was exceptional from top to bottom.
There were so many wonderful dogs presented properly and especially groomed the way an OES should be. I saw very few excessively groomed and sculpted dogs and was thrilled with my Best of Breed winner as well as my other winners and those receiving awards of merit. What a fantastic lineup of specials. My only regret was not having more AOM’s to give out. My Thanks to Tammy Benson, Show Chair as well as committee members Elizabeth Fujikawa, Karen Burdash, Jim Caplan, Gigi Goesling, Aubrey Schuer, and Cheryl Tavares for the privilege to officiate.
Although both clusters required the wearing of masks, the judges, volunteers, and exhibitors seem to have accepted the fact that in some cases these mask mandates will still be with us. Getting back on track and returning to a somewhat normal show schedule seems to be trend as we move into 2022. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we are back to a somewhat normal situation.
2021 for me was an exciting year. Life is slowly returning to I guess what is now to be considered normal. Carol and I were able to finish a couple of dogs, Attend and judge several shows and finally have the opportunity to see old friends. For me, the Highlight of the year came on October 16th when I had the honor to walk my daughter Julie (a former junior handler) down the aisle to Marry Mr. Candler Hobbs. It was a special day full of great memories for both Carol and me.
It is my sincerest hope that in 2022 we will see our country get back on the right track and that everyone in the sport of purebred dogs will enjoy great health and success.
*The Westminster Dog Show will be held on June 18-22, 2022