The Iconic Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
America’s second longest continuously running sporting event and second only to the very prestigious Kentucky Derby is none other than the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. For those who have never been, or those that have never heard of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, it typically happens in very cold February in New York City with the judging of the breeds happening at Piers 92/93. The group judging groups are the “finals”, and Best in Show, which is the crowning winner, happens at the historic Madison Square Garden.
In the fall of 2020, it seemed that the pandemic would not be over and indoor events would not be possible in February. If Westminster was to continue on without a break in the tradition they would have to adapt. History was about to change.
The Westchester County Kennel Club had held its dog show at the very historic Lyndhurst the state. Lyndhurst is a Gothic revival home in Tarrytown that sits on 67 acres which would make social distancing much easier than any location in New York City. If Westchester could make it work Westminster was going to take a page from their book-the show must go on!
The normally staid competition would be at the mercy of mother nature and man and dog would have to adapt. Westminster in 2021 looked nothing like any Westminster we had seen before. The show was held in a field with eight outdoor rings covered with enormous tents. Large screen TVs inside were under the tents allowing you to see many rings at once. You groomed your dogs beside your vehicle in an adjacent field and most importantly for the first time and it’s 145-year history Westminster was UN-benched.
Benched means that the dogs that are being shown are on display in specific areas and you can look them up in a guide and go see the breeds that you want to see. Benching has always been an integral part of the Westminster Kennel Club, but again due to the pandemic and the fact that it was an outdoor show they opted for the “show and go” option where you simply arrived closer to your ring time, and you could leave once you were no longer required for judging.
Other Changes This Year at Westminster Kennel Club
To be admitted to the show you had to have a dog entered. No spectators were allowed. Exhibitors had to be either fully vaccinated or have had a Covid test within 72 hours of your admittance. The Westminster Kennel Club hired a company, “Reel Health,” that specialized in site control. Reel Health had an app that you uploaded the results of your negative Covid test or your vaccination card to. Each morning, you took an assessment on the app and the app would match your assessment with your uploaded documents and give you a green QR code. Security would scan the code to allow you on the grounds. Sounds complicated but it ran very smoothly.
Once on the ground, you were given special armbands and if you had a green arm band that meant you were fully vaccinated you did not have to wear a mask all others had to wear a mask.
The grounds were outfitted with gorgeous white tenting. All the tenting for the vendors, sponsors and the shows were gorgeous
There was a noted lack of international dog people at the show but all in all it did seem like a big fun garden party!
The weather was never too hot, never too cold, it did threaten to rain several times and a few raindrops did fall but the dogs loved being outside they loved showing and the atmosphere was fantastic.
A Fantastic Event Despite the Pandemic
With all the changes this year, the one that stood out the most for me was the fact that there were no spectators allowed at all for the groups and best in show. The New York City spectators are very dog savvy, and usually there are dog enthusiasts from all over the world that make the annual pilgrimage to NYC to watch the finals in Madison Square Garden. None of that was of course possible with this year’s Westminster Kennel Club. And while that did make the groups a more intimate affair, I did miss the roar of the crowd urging the dogs on.
But dogs being the wonderful creatures that they are they didn’t notice. They still showed their hearts out and Best in Show, judged by the incomparable by Pat Trotter, was just as special as the 144 that preceded it.
The dog that was top dog in 2020, the Pekingese “Wasabi” handled by David Fitzpatrick was chosen Best in Show. Reserve Best in Show was the Whippet “Bourbon,” who perhaps had the dubious honor of being reserve Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club two years in a row! Wasabi actually got his name from a Canadian friend of mine who was visiting David when Wasabi was young and yet to be named. The story goes that David said “I think this one has a lot of promise, what should we name him?” My friend Kathy said, “Well his mother’s name is Sushi so obviously his name needs to be Wasabi!”
Being Top Dog All Breeds in the United States in 2020 and winning Best in Show at America’s Dog Show I would say that Wasabi has been hot on the trail ever since!
In the end the incomparable Pat Trotter came out to award Best in Show. Right before she presented the ribbon she said “Not every pet can be a show dog, but I can assure you that every show dog is indeed a pet” and that really rang strongly with the dog show community, the dog show public, and the dog loving public at large because at the end of the day they are our beloved pets whether they win Best in show at Westminster Kennel Club or they never win a blue ribbon-we love them all exactly the same.
Allison Alexander Foley, Chris Christensen Systems' Creative Educational Advisor, and owner of Leading Edge Dog Show Academy.