15 Facts About the Westminster Dog Show

2018 Best in Show winner Flynn, a Bichon Frise, poses for photos at the conclusion of the 142nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.
2018 Best in Show winner Flynn, a Bichon Frise, poses for photos at the conclusion of the 142nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.
Drew Angerer, Getty Images

One of America's oldest sporting events is also its most slobbery. This year, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show returns to New York City for the 143th time, promising one preeminent pooch the coveted title of "Best in Show" and a lifetime supply of positive reinforcement. While the show has evolved over its many years—it added two new breeds to the competition this year, the Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes and the Grand Bassett Griffon Vendeéns—it remains a beguiling spectacle for dog fanatics and casual observers alike. Here are 15 facts to get you competition-ready.

1. The original show was for gun dogs.

Champion Stingray of Derryabah, aka Skipper, a British Lakeland Terrier, wins Best In Show at the 92nd Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Gardens, New York City, February 1968
H. William Tetlow, Fox Photos/Getty Images

Around 1876, a group of sportsmen began to hold regular meet-ups in a Manhattan bar to swap hunting stories. Their trusty canine companions eventually made their way into the conversation, and the idea for a dog club was formed. The group met at a bar in The Westminster Hotel, and aptly named themselves the Westminster Breeding Association (later the Westminster Kennel Club). It was after helping to stage a dog show in Philadelphia that the group decided to hold their own to compare and showboat their pups. The first show, featuring primarily Setters and Pointers, was an immediate success. A total of 1201 dogs entered the first year, with tens of thousands of spectators by the second day. The first prizes included such items as a "Gold and Silver Mounted Pearl Handled Revolver"—an appropriate reward for an active hunter.

2. The show has seen its share of tragedy.

A champion collie belonging to J.P. Morgan, who spent millions on his obsession with dogs and competed in Westminster regularly, drowned itself. Its trainer called the dog's death "a clear case of suicide" in an 1895 New York Times article.

3. You don't have to be young to win.

In 2009, a 10-year-old Sussex spaniel named Stump (registered name: Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee) broke the record for oldest dog ever to win "Best in Show." He later appeared on the cover of AARP magazine.

4. Nepotism has made its way into the competition..

Dog-judging has always been subjective. Judges at the first modern dog show ever, in Newcastle in 1859, were also the owners of the show's two winners. Today, the Westminster Kennel Club website acknowledges that's it's not a precise science. "Each judge, applying their interpretation of the standard, gives their opinion on that day on which dog best represents its breed," it explains.

5. Life has imitated art.

A dog competes in the Masters Agility Championship during the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2018.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Parker Posey, famous for playing a manic, metal-mouthed Weimaraner-owner in the 2000 dog show parody Best in Show, has also spent some time backstage at the Westminster Dog Show. As she told The Wire at the 2014 WKC Dog Show, she met some personalities resembling her own persnickety character while on set: "[Director Christopher Guest] brought over a professional groomer. She came over right before a take and she criticized our dog. She said, 'The coat's all wrong.'"

6. The top dog gets the royal treatment.

The winner of the Westminster Dog Show traditionally eats a celebratory lunch at famed Broadway watering hole Sardi's—breaking New York City's health codes which prevent animals from entering restaurants.

7. It's not all about good looks.

The show doesn't only value looks. A two-legged dog named Nellie participated in the first Westminster show ever in 1877, and 1980's "Best in Show" was a true underdog: Cinnar, a Siberian husky missing part of its ear, won with handler Trish Kanzler—one of the few amateurs to ever win the title.

8. The dogs are refined, but their names sometimes aren't.

The 2015 WKC Dog Show featured a Pomeranian named Starfire's Spank Me Hard Call Me Crazy, a basset hound named Easthill Broxden Woodland Lettuce Entertain You, and a border terrier named McHill's His Royal Highness Prince Gizmo House of Gremlin.

9. Things have even turned criminal.

Eight dogs belonging to one prominent New York City dog breeder were poisoned during the 1895 Westminster Dog Show. Despite the story making the front page of The New York Times, no suspect was ever prosecuted for the crime.

10. In 2015, for the first time ever, a chihuahua was in the running for "Best of Show."

For the first time ever, a Chihuahua may be a contender for "Best in Show" at Westminster this year. In 2015, Sonnito became the most decorated Chihuahua of all time, earning 32 "Best in Show" titles in the span of just over a year.

11. Mutts are slowly making their way into the competition.

In 2014, mutts, a.k.a. "All-Americans," were allowed to participate in Westminster's Agility Championship for the first time since 1884—but they’re still ineligible for "Best in Show."

12. Labs are voted most popular, but not head of the class.

Lacey, a Labrador, runs through a sport course during a press preview for the Westminster Dog Show on February 12, 2015 in New York City
Andrew Burton, Getty Images

Despite being the most popular dog in the country and the most common entry at the WKC Dog Show this year, a Labrador retriever has never won "Best in Show." The reason? Experts say their friendly temperament prevents them from desiring the spotlight. Labs can also be disqualified for deviating by half an inch from height standards (between 22.5 and 24.5 inches for males and 21.5 and 23.5 for females)—a regulation that was nearly challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994.

13. Some practices are ancient—and weird.

While nowadays some breeders cut their dogs' tails for aesthetic reasons, the practice originated with 5th century BCE Greek statesman Alcibiades, who cut the tail of his dog so that the Athenians would have something else to talk about rather than Alcibiades.

14. The dogs have friends (and relatives) in high places.

Matisse the Portuguese water dog (officially registered as GCH Claircreek Impression De Matisse) has quite the pedigree. In addition to being the most decorated male show dog in the United States, he is also related to the country's former First Family; his cousin, Sunny, belongs to the Obama family.

15. Naturally, there have been some great underdog stories.

Tickle Em Jock, "Best in Show" winner at the 1911 Westminster Dog Show, was a Scottish terrier and a dark horse to boot. His original owner was a butcher who sold him for 2 pounds (or about $15), which turned out to be the Scottish terrier's lucky break. After a few years with trainer Andrew Albright, Tickle Em Jock was valued at $5000. Once, after winning the title of "best of breed," the scrappy champ bit a judge's wrist.

A version of this list first ran in 2016.

For the First Time Ever, a Mammal Has Been Declared Extinct Due to Climate Change

The Whitsunday Islands in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
The Whitsunday Islands in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
iStock.com/4FR

An Australian rat-like rodent called the Bramble Cay melomys is the first known mammal wiped out by manmade climate change, The Hill reports. The now-extinct animal (Melomys rubicola) lived on the tiny, uninhabited island of Bramble Cay in the Great Barrier Reef. Despite exhaustive efforts to track down the melomys over seven years, no signs of the rodent could be found, and in 2016, Queensland’s state government declared the animal extinct.

These fears were confirmed when news broke this week that the national government had quietly changed the rodent’s classification from endangered to extinct. Meanwhile, the status of a fruit bat called the spectacled flying-fox was changed from vulnerable to endangered after a recent heatwave in north Queensland, which dealt another blow to a population that had already been cut in half over the last decade.

As for the Bramble Cay melomys, its demise can be attributed to rising sea levels, storm surges, and other weather events that have worsened due to climate change. According to The Revelator, the tides destroyed about 97 percent of the island’s vegetation, which was the rodent’s only food source.

Leeanne Enoch, Queensland's Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the latest animal extinction is evidence “we are living the real effects of climate change right now.”

In a 2018 study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund, researchers found that up to half of the 80,000 plant and animal species that reside in 35 of the world’s most diverse areas could become extinct by the turn of the century because of climate change.

For some species, it’s already too late. A Hawaiian bird called the poo-uli (or black-faced honeycreeper) was declared extinct last year, largely due to diseases carried by mosquitoes, which thrive in warmer climates. For other endangered species in the U.S.—like the black-footed ferret, red wolf, and rusty patched bumble bee—there might still be time to step in and protect them.

[h/t The Hill]

A Fort Hood Mule With 12 Years of Army Experience Is Looking for a Forever Home

iStock.com/PamWalker68
iStock.com/PamWalker68

Attention, animal lovers: A mule in Fort Hood, Texas with more than a decade of U.S. Army experience is up for adoption. Tina the Army mule has been a part of the Fort Hood military base's 1st Cavalry Division Horse Detachment for most of her life, and now KWTX reports that she needs a place to spend her retirement.

Foaled in 1999, the Fort Hood 1st Cavalry adopted Tina in 2006. Since then, she has assisted in parades, weapons demonstrations, cavalry charges, and color guards for the division. She has experience pulling an M1878 Escort wagon in a harness as well as standing by calmly for ceremonies.

She worked as a draft mule until 2018, and now that she's retiring, Fort Hood officials are looking to find her a forever home. Tina has no health problems or dietary restrictions and enjoys eating Coastal Bermuda hay and pasture grass. Her sister Dolly, who died of bone cancer in 2018, was the only mule she's ever been paired with. Though Tina can perform light solo work, her new owners should be cautious about pairing her with another mule.

If you're interested in making Tina a part of your family, Fort Hood would like to hear from you. You can contact the current owners by emailing your request along with any questions to 1CDHorseCavalryDetachment@gmail.com by March 7. Once your inquiry is received, you'll be sent an application packet with instructions on how to proceed.

[h/t KWTX]

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