For the fourth(!) year in a row, I'm honored to serve as an embedded photojournalist on the front lines of the dog show circuit. Here's my dispatch from day one.
The bowtied emcee of the day's ceremonies was there to greet me upon arrival and take my coat (which proceeded to be thrown into a mosh pit of coats in an overtaxed media room closet, trampled on, and never seen again). He offered to suggest potential story angles. I deigned to grant him my ear.
First Chinese handlers at Westminster? Too obvious. Call me when they annex the Tibetan Spaniels.
Something about a breeder and a kidney transplant? Unless he donated a kidney to his dog, or better yet, received one from it, I'm not interested.
Instead I drew from all my professional training to create my own angle for the day...
...cute puppy pictures! Omigodomigodomigod, there were like, ten thousand adorable dogs, just there for the petting. Westminster is always overrun with single, middle aged, slightly overweight chocoholics who think the height of fashion is a t-shirt with a picture of their dog screenprinted on it. And I'm not ashamed to say, they were able to keep themselves much more composed than I did.
But as fun a field trip this is for me, it's all business for the competitors. And with the prestige of a ribbon at stake, not to mention the potential windfall from breeding fees, not one thing is left to chance. That means an intense grooming regimen that includes mani-pedis, hair trimming, combing, all sorts of bows and ribbons, and even make-up. Some dogs love the attention, like this Yorkie, about to put in a Bumpit.
Others wonder how far they could get if they tore out their groomer's jugular and made a break for it.
The results of grooming vary wildly as well. Everyone favorite laughingstock, the Standard Poodle, goes in looking like a real dog, but emerges resembling nothing so much as those hedge animals that came to life in The Shining.
The Old English Sheepdog, on the other hand, could go in for a full Heidi Montag, bride-of-Frankenstein plastic surgery smörgåsbord, but there's really only so much that can be done.
The beauty of the show is the sheer size of it. The American Kennel Club recognizes 163 different breeds, so whatever you want, they've got a ton of them. You want to see 20 Sheepdogs duke it out? No problem.
You want to see middle-aged women bending over? They've got that too.
It was a President's Day, so there were many more children that usual at this year's show. That meant owners had to constantly shoo away kids with sticky hands from their potential million-dollar dogs. But after they were judged, the dogs were ready to interact with the masses.
Some, like this horse of a Borzoi, regarded toddlers as a potential snack.
Others consigned themselves to their fate. Like Jellybean the Pug, who had to endure a torrent of grabby little hands. I told her to just lie back, and think of England.
A little like the NBA All-Star game of the dog show world (posses and all), Westminster can be a great place for celebrity spotting. This little fellow is Munch, a native Long Islander and star of stage and screen (or at least that Iams commercial.)
He's a big star as far as dogs goes. He knows how to skateboard, and has shown it off in a few commercials. He's got more friends on Facebook than I do. And he managed to turn a room full of hardened reporters into sniveling babies, begging to have their pictures taken with Munch.
(Note to self: "Munch and Me." Possible buddy cop pic?)
Westminster is also a good place for celebrity wannabes. Ever since Uno the Beagle won Best in Show and the hearts of America two years ago, the Beagles have been prancing around like they own the place. And the groupies indulge them, cooing, "awww, so cute, just like Uno!"
I worked with Uno. I knew Uno. Uno was a friend of mine. Bitch, you're no Uno.
And so I bid good night to Westminster, and take my leave under the watchful eye of the Pom King, surveying his realm from atop his castle, surrounded by his spoils of war: two ribbons and a Diet Coke.
Day two report coming up tonight.