The 139th Annual Westminster Dog Show is taking place in New York City on February 16-17, and will be televised nationally so dog lovers can watch and root for their favorites from home. Though the show has been around since the 1800s, it’s no staid and stuffy affair. This yearly celebration of fine purebred dogs has its share of interesting history that you may not learn by watching it on TV. Before you settle in to catch the big show with your best canine buddy by your side, brush up on some of the weirdest things about the Westminster Dog Show.
The first Westminster Dog Show took place on May 8, 1877, just two years after the first Kentucky Derby, making it the second longest-running sporting event in the USA.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that the Westminster Dog Show was televised in 1948, a full three years before the first nationally-televised college football game (source).
Westminster has been on television every year since, and has run on the USA network since 1988.
In 1946, the dog show was forced to condense from its usual two days to one. The cause? A tugboat strike that shut down operations across New York City.
As the Westminster Kennel Club website notes, despite the delayed start and shortened run, that year’s Best In Show was awarded 15 minutes earlier than the year before. I wonder how many puppies born that year were named “Tugboat.”
Speaking of longevity, according to the WKC’s official records, the oldest dog to ever win best-in-show was a 10-year-old Sussex spaniel named Stump. After his win, Stump was featured in AARP Magazine as an inspiration to senior citizens everywhere.
The wirehaired fox terrier is the winningest breed in Westminster history, taking the Best in Show title 14 times (source).
Despite its popularity in the show ring, the fox terrier is well down the list of most popular dogs in America, ranking 96th out of 177 breeds recognized by the AKC.
Each year, the dog proclaimed Best in Show is treated to a gourmet meal at Manhattan’s world-famous Sardi’s restaurant.
At one point, the city threatened to end the tradition based on health code concerns, but fear not: As this New York Times article explains, the tradition has been allowed to continue, and every champion dog will have its dinner.
David Frei has been the communications director for Westminster since 2003, and is a fixture on television dog show broadcasts. But Frei isn’t just a television personality: He’s a champion dog breeder, handler, and judge.
Frei is a true dog lover, as a recent New York Times profile makes clear, and he also cares about people: Frei founded the Angel on a Leash charity, which administers therapy dog programs in hospitals throughout the U.S.
Dogs are the focus at Westminster, of course, but handlers and judges are on display, too.
There’s no official dress code for humans participating in the Westminster Dog Show, but as announcer David Frei says in an interview with VetStreet: “It is the crowning event in our sport—and it’s broadcast on live national television—so they want to look good.”
Men often wear suits or tuxedos, and women may opt for business apparel or something more glam.
Sensible shoes are a must for trotting around the show ring, as are pockets or pouches for stowing dog treats.
Each year during Westminster Week, the Empire State Building joins in the celebration by lighting up in purple and yellow, the official colors of the Westminster Dog Show.
From its very start, Westminster was devoted to the welfare of all dogs, not just the purebred champions who circle the show ring. In 1877, proceeds from the event were donated to the nascent ASPCA, and the show continues to support various charities each year.
Whether you’re a breed enthusiast or a mutt lover curious for a peek into a strange new world, there’s something for everyone at Westminster. Who are you rooting for to win Best in Show? Let us know in the comments, and enjoy the show!
Top image via Flickr/icandyartstudio