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Dog Days of Winter

Patrick McManus | Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the dog world’s most eagerly anticipated event, celebrated its 136th occurrence this week. The canine competition took place Monday and Tuesday in New York’s Madison Square Garden and was televised on USA and CNBC.

The 2012 winner, a Pekingese named Malachy, is the 10th dog from the Toy Group to win the competition. The Pekingese, known as the “lion dog,” reached the height of its popularity during China’s Tang Dynasty, when the Emperor exclusively owned the breed.

Many other notable dogs were also in the field. Some were renowned for their work with autistic children and the elderly. One Tibetan Terrier in show was lucky to be alive, having survived a nearly fatal bobcat attack a few months ago. Martha Stewart’s dog won Best in Breed.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is the second oldest continually held sporting event in the United States, having started two years after the Kentucky Derby. Since its first show in 1877, 131 dogs have won the prestigious title Best in Show to become, for the next year, America’s Dog.

The Westminster show has sold out the Garden every year since 2005, with another 3 million people watching on cable. That’s more than the average Knicks’ game before Linsanity!

Twenty-five hundred dogs compete annually. This year that number included six new breeds that have been admitted to compete. The new breed to receive the most attention has been the Xoloitzcuintli, a breed commonly called the Mexican hairless but whose original Aztec name means “dog of the gods.”

Purebred dogs are judged by how well they conform to their breed type, as determined by a judge familiar with the breed. The breed type incorporates both arbitrary physical attributes, like color, and functional qualities, like the task that breed might have been bred for. The best dog in each breed goes on to compete in Group, and winners there get the chance to compete for Best in Show.

An organization known as Dogs Against Romney staged a protest outside of Madison Square Garden, protesting the GOP presidential hopeful’s treatment of animals. The specific issue was an oft-told story of how in 1983 the Romney family drove from Massachusetts to Canada with their Irish setter in a dog crate on top of the car. The demonstration drew about a dozen people.

Between the public’s continuing outrage with Michael Vick and the popularity of the Puppy Bowl, it seems like man’s best friend is as loved as ever in America today. The first annual Golden Collar Awards took place in Hollywood on Monday, honoring the work of dogs in film and television. “The Artist’s” Uggie, a Jack Russell Terrier, took home top honors.

For many people, dog shows are nothing more than fodder for Christopher Guest comedies. But millions more will dedicate countless hours to preening over pretty pooches. So, as long as breeding is done in a responsible way, who’s to judge (besides the judges, of course)? I have no problem with dogs receiving as much attention as people want to give them, as long as they don’t make another “Air Bud” movie.