Good bite for the bark

Frolic into the New Year with the Westminster dog show

By Marc Katz

I usually don’t tell people how to spend their money or make vacation recommendations, but it’s a new year, with a new administration, and new rules.

If you’ve found some extra holiday money jingling around in your pocket, New York City on Feb. 13 and 14 is the place to go.

Hard to believe I’m writing this, but those are the dates of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and while I respectfully consider it on the fringe of sport, it is a marvelous show to attend.

In my 41-year career as a sports writer, I’ve attended the World Series, Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, Rose Bowl, and countless other events, big and small. I have to admit, the Westminster ranks as high as any of them.

I never actually covered it, but I wrote about it, and attended. Twice.

I don’t even own a dog, as you may know, and some of you might remember when I wrote a few months back about a friend who ate dog at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

I repeat, I didn’t eat dog. My friend ate dog.

And, by the way, I had no intention of ever attending the Westminster until one fine day when I decided to write about it in a Dayton Daily News sports broadcast media column. My wife Julie—who had a dog as a child—read it and decided to watch. She became enthralled.

“We should go to this,” she said.

“Tell me about it when you return,” I said.

All of the sudden, we own two, two-day, all-event tickets and are walking around Madison Square Garden trying not to step in any doo-doo.

Actually, the floors were very clean, and there was very little barking. These dogs are well mannered.

As you’ll quickly find out, every dog of every breed was originally born to hunt rodents on farms. Dogs today are companions, although some still kill rodents. I’m leaving out a lot in the middle, but you know why you own a dog.

I’m still not convinced the Westminster is a sporting event, but it was so much fun, I went back a second time. It’s a beauty pageant for dogs, which means, if a certain guy were president back then, some of the dogs definitely would have been considered fat.

Well, probably not. To qualify for the Westminster, you have to be almost perfect from the start. Julie and I happened to find a judge who, in a very English accent, explained the perfection process. Wearing braces to straighten teeth would be considered disqualifying.

So if you’d rather your pet be judged on how it fetches a bone and not on how its back knee sockets allow it to wiggle across the room in a perfect dog trot, this isn’t the place for you.

I will tell you this: it’s the only place I can remember where you can roam freely among the participants and judges, see what’s happening up close, and ask what’s happening if you don’t know. You’ll see everything from a dog being groomed to one taking a poop.

Remember, I said watch your step.

The first time I went, in 2004, everything from the benching area to the judging rings were housed inside Madison Square Garden. The benching area, just off the main floor of the arena where the NBA Knicks and NHL Rangers play, is where the dogs rested and were groomed and fed.

The main floor of the arena is where most of the judging is held, and there’s a lot more judging than you see on television (various Fox networks, including FS1 for Tuesday night’s Best of Show conclusion).

Recently, much of the judging has been moved to Piers 92/94 by the Hudson River, just a short cab or subway ride away.

However, with an all-event pass, you’re not only allowed everywhere, you can exit and enter the buildings multiple times, even to shop (Macy’s is across the street from MSG), although anything “dog” is sold at the show.

It’s not all genteel, either. In 2004 when favored terrier Coco wasn’t a finalist for Best of Show, the crowd was not abusive, but not happy, either.

Oh yeah, the crowd. Only the first few rows you see on television are filled with tuxedoed men and fully-gowned and bejeweled women.

The rest of the folks are in flannel and down-filled coats, just like you’d wear walking your dog.

What’s the cost? Day tickets (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) are $32, all-event tickets for one day run $75-100, and two-day all-event tickets are $210.

Airfare from Dayton to LaGuardia is just under $300. A three-to-five star hotel is at the most reasonable rates of the year (according to my unscientific calculations) of between $200-$300 a night.

You’re not going to see any other major event at those costs, and you may have more fun being at this one.

Oh, and like the World Series or Super Bowl, it happens every year. If you just want to take a peek for now, watch it on television. I’m giving you a month to get ready.

And stop kicking around Fido if he doesn’t measure up.

 

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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