I have a girlfriend and a cat, and at Westminster I feel like I'm cheating on both. When's the last time you fell in love at first sight? When your heart and soul was completely handed over within seconds of meeting someone? When you and a complete stranger fell into a slobbery make-out session, with extra tongue, and you didn't care who saw? This is the dog show, where a random Golden Retriever will climb up on you just because you made eye contact, and it is the biggest meat market on Earth.
On Valentine's Day, love was in the air at Westminster. Dogs were decked out for the occasion, while people were straight up getting married. The breeders of a Tibetan Mastiff named Major literally wed right there in the backstage benching area, in front of god and dog.
One thing to keep in mind is that every dog is eligible—no one is fixed. There's no money to be made from winning dog shows. The real cash comes from breeding your successful dog, ideally to another successful dog, and Westminster is filled with only successful dogs. Breeders exchange cards, so it's like networking in a way, but the subtext hanging over the show is that the end game for every dog is to plow/get plowed by its contemporaries. See this dobie? She's lovely. Before her life is through, she's probably going to be inseminated by half of the other Dobermans she met today.
As none of the dogs are fixed, literally all they want to do is meet other dogs. This Lab's sadness is palpable when she stares forlornly at the parade of he-dogs walking past.
You think this little terrier doesn't want to slip his lead and go hump everything in sight? Then you don't know this terrier.
A sad Golden Retriever? This should never be. (You have no idea how close this slideshow came to being a Buzzfeed-style "25 photos of Golden Retrievers at Westminster.")
This poor service dog had it the worst. She was working, so she couldn't mingle with dogs or people. If there's anything more heartbreaking than a sweet dogs wearing a vest that says "please don't pet me," I'd like to see it, and then commit suicide.
Love did blossom elsewhere. The Bernese Mountain Dog is perhaps the friendliest breed of dog there is, and this one seemed to have radar for the nearest child. Day: made.
This Dogue de Bordeaux is a selfish lover. He rolls over, presents his belly, and lets an endless parade of willing johns do the scratching.
Nobody is loved like a winner. These crates contain yesterday's group winners, who will compete for tonight's Best in Show ribbon. You'd presume their owners and handlers would prefer to keep them relaxed back at the hotel today, but show regulations require them to be in the arena all day. So they lounge in their crates, sealed off from the world as much as possible.
But even champions have to piss. Ian the Dalmatian, who won the non-sporting group yesterday and tonight has a 1 in 7 chance of being named Best in Show, emerged from his crate long enough to make a bathroom run. (At Westminster, the bathrooms are pits filled with sawdust shavings.) As Ian did his business, word went through the crowd: a champion is among us! By the time Ian emerged from the privy, he was surrounded by a very Westminster sort of paparazzi: middle-aged women with cell phone cameras.
This is a mop. Sorry, not sure how this got in here.
This is Schmitty the Weather Dog. As best I can tell, a dog becomes a Weather Dog by patiently wearing a vest and bow tie while his owner tells you the forecast.
A Golden Retriever and a nun. America! Jesus! Puppies!
Part of love is jealousy. I knelt to photograph this stunning husky, and almost immediately found myself being barked at by her compatriot.
That's him barking because, and I shit you not, I was paying attention to a dog that wasn't him. Dogs, like people, can be needy.
This is Hondo the Leonberger, and I thought he could be The One. It's not captured in these photos, but Hondo was all over me—licking my eyes and my ears, standing up to put his paws on my shoulders. When 150 pounds of Leonberger says he's going to make out with you, you don't say no. And much like Susan George in Straw Dogs, I'm not sure I wanted to say no.
Hondo was rough but tender, and for a moment I believed his lyin' eyes.
Later on, I saw Hondo pulling his old "I'm a friendly dog" routine on another human. I was absolutely crushed, but I should have known better. You can't keep someone that pretty to yourself. You have to let him fly free, like a bird.
There will be other Hondos. There will be other Westminsters. Until next year.