Dog show

Yesterday afternoon I joined a friend for a few hours at the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show at Madison Square Garden. It was the first time I had been to a dog show. Seeing so many different dogs, of unfamiliar and familiar breeds, and all of the finest type,—man’s best friend at his best—was a wonderful experience.

The floor of the Garden was divided into five rectangular areas called rings, where best of breed events were going on simultaneously. You could watch these events, either from the floor or from the stands, and you could also walk around in the area outside of and surrounding the Garden, where the dogs were being held and prepared, and look at the dogs from up close and talk to their handlers, who were friendly and accessible.

Experiencing all those wonderful animals, our fellow creatures, in all their variety, was … the right word is not “uplifting,” but refreshing and renewing.

Also, it’s pleasant to think about the existence of a whole sub-culture of people whose attention is fixed not on politics and such things, but on dogs.

After the best of breed was chosen in the 170 different recognized breeds over a two day period, there was a “best in show” event last evening (the winner is described here). But how can dogs of different breeds be compared with each other? Aren’t the standards all different? As a lady explained to us, the best in show is the dog which comes closest to the standard for its breed. In other words, if the best Bullmastiff comes closer to the ideal Bullmastiff than the best Portuguese Water Dog comes to the ideal Portuguese Water Dog, then the Bullmastiff wins. It’s very Platonic.

- end of initial entry -

LA writes:

I thought my phrase, “man’s best friend at his best,” was pretty good. Then I googled it and found it was far from original.

Also, the New York Times has photos of the best of breed winners. However, looking at the photos, I must say that a lot of the breeds are too specialized for my middle class tastes.

Joseph C. writes:

It was refreshing to read your entry on Westminster.

I watched all five hours of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. I have become very interested in dogs since I began volunteering at the local SPCA circa three years ago. You are correct about the subculture; it is amazing how many people devote their lives to dogs.

Regarding the breeds, the standards are different as you surmise. The breed standards are extremely detailed, governing allowable height, color patterns, head size, gait, coat, teeth, temperament, tail, ears, etc.

Since one can never expect a Beagle to be as tall as a Rottweiler or as durable as a Border Collie, each dog is judged against its own prototype. If the Border Collie looks 98 percent like a “perfect” Border Collie is supposed to look, and the German Shepherd Dog looks 96 percent like the perfect German Shepherd Dog, the Border Collie will win the Herding group, even though more people may prefer the looks of the German Shepherd. And if the Beagle wins the Hound group with a score of 96, the Border Collie will win Best in Show.

I admire the WKC show, not only for its variety and artistry, but for its touch of class and its unapologetic upholding of standards.

Christopher B. writes from England:

I enjoyed reading about the dog show. A bit different from your usual entries. But I am surprised to see such an elitist and “Anglo” name as WESTMINSTER Kennel Club in the modern day U.S. In fact, it seems to be a name which is very much out of place in America today (but probably all right in Canada). Since this seems to be a public event, I wonder how much longer before there is pressure to change it to a more “inclusive” name.

LA replies:

You are overstating the problem, or seeing a problem where there isn’t one. There are all sorts of places, towns, institutions in America with Anglo names.

We have so many problems. Let’s not go looking for problems where there aren’t any.

February 17

Christopher B. replies:

Yes, you are right. What brought this to mind was two photos I recently saw of probably the same cross-section of a California redwood (?) in some museum or other in California. The first was about 1950, and had the tree rings marked with things like the Battle of Hastings, the Magna Carta, the Thirty Years War, Alexander Graham Bell born, etc. In the modern photo these were replaced with things like “First Settlement of XYZ Native Americans in …”, “Booker T. Washington born”, etc. I wonder for what percentage of the US population the word “Westminster” has any resonance.

Leonard K. writes:

You write:

“But how can dogs of different breeds be compared with each other?”

They can’t. The same with people of different breeds.

LA replies:

I think there is some truth in that statement, but it needs to be qualified. In some ways different types of people cannot be compared with each other by the same standards, in other ways they can.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 16, 2011 07:22 PM | Send

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