TravelQuest: Going to the dogs
By Kay Layton Sisk
Mar 8, 2018
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For as long as I can remember, we’ve watched the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show every February. Over a two night period we’ve speculated on the winners and held our breaths just as we presumed the people in the actual audience did. And every year, we’ve said these magic words: “Next year, we should go.”

I finally called our bluff last autumn and said, this is the year. We’re going.

And we did.

While my husband had been to New York City briefly with Scout trips, it had been over thirty years since we had ventured there together. Then, it had been for a matinee of “Cats” and dinner at Windows on the World atop the World Trade Center. This time, we’d be there six days with a dog show, a different musical and alas, only the reminder of our wonderful dinner.

Second only in longevity to the Kentucky Derby as an annual sporting event, the Westminster Kennel Club held its first show in May 1877. It is a conformation show where dogs, all champions in their own rights, are judged as to how they conform to a breed standard. Thus, the reason each breed and group judge physically examines each entrant and then watches their movement. Although many breeds no longer regularly perform their first function, i. e., Cocker Spaniels no longer flush game birds, they are nonetheless still categorized according to that function. Which explains why Cocker Spaniels, now a companion animal as are many other breeds, are still in the Sporting Group.

There are seven groups: Hound, Sporting, Herding, Toy, Terrier, Working and Non-Sporting. In the 2018 show, 2798 dogs across 202 breeds competed to be Best in Show. As we know, the Bichon Frise, a member of the Non-Sporting group, won. (Okay, let’s be honest here. This is not the dog—beautiful and vivacious as he was—that we were pulling for. Our heart belonged to the Sussex Spaniel. Our heart will always belong to the Spaniels. Our first children were Cocker Spaniels. Whew! That’s out of the way.)

In no other sport that we can think of does the public get to watch the athletes being bathed and groomed for the competition. This takes place over a two day period at the Piers, a large event center. Three groups assembled there on Monday, the first day of breed judging, with the remaining four on Tuesday.

We were able to walk from judging ring to judging ring as each breed was winnowed down to its representative for the show that evening in Madison Square Garden. If given permission, you might touch the dog while he was being groomed. They were all friendly. Here are some of our favorite photos from the benches and the rings.

The trophy

Breed judging

It was fascinating to watch the obedience trials.

Getting styled for time in the ring.

A view of the benches from above.

A bullmastiff we met on the bus.

Ears in wrappers so they'll fluff out

In the evening, it’s time for The Show. We settled into our seats in what could be called the end zone. We had chosen them from a MSG map and took a different set on the next night.

Breed winner getting a final coif

A little relaxation before the show

Dana in a selfie with an Icelandic Sheepdog

Our view of the Hound group.

Note the swivel camera in the "trash can."

At Madison Square Garden

It was very interesting to watch the event being set up, from the testing of the rotating cameras in the “trash cans” in the middle of the field, to watching how the breed names were changed (think Russian nesting dolls), to the TV newscasters that we couldn’t hear, to watching the jumbotron to see what the television audience saw. We would quickly pick a favorite in a group, usually one with Texas roots. Except the Sporting Group. Cockers, remember?

And the winner is? We found a taxi and went back to the hotel in order to watch the end, having learned our lesson the night before when taxis were scarcer than the proverbial hen’s teeth.

So how did we spend the rest of our trip? On the hop on/hop off bus, where we hopped on more than off. Time was short and just touring the two main loops gave us a sense of Manhattan that we’d never had. We saw “Come From Away,” the musical about the planes diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, in the wake of 9/11 when the US closed its airspace. Highly recommend this. We figured out the Metro system to the point that we only took the wrong train once. We noted that NYC taxis have upped their game in the wake of Uber and Lyft since there’s now an app for that. A morning in the American Museum of Natural History turned into a day there.

The best things about New York, especially in light of our recent international travels? The language is English. The signs are in English. If the taxi driver wants to talk politics, you know the players. And you can drink the water!

No trip to New York is complete without venturing to Central Park.

The Empire State Building in purple and gold, Westminster colors

The greeter in the lobby at the American Museum of Natural History

Having some fun in the dinosaur area

This Titanosaur was so long he stretched out the door.

So to answer the question most often put to us: Did you really go to the dog show? Yes. To answer the question I put to myself before we left: Would I ever go back to NYC? Oh, yes.

Kay Layton Sisk originated the North Texas e-News TravelQuest column in 2003. Since then, she's chronicled not only her adventures, but those of friends. When not traveling--which is most of the time--she pens romance novels. You may find her on Facebook as kaylaytonsiskauthor. Her books are available for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.