So on Friday, February 10, I made the somewhat impulsive decision to attend the Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Gardens on the following Monday. I've always wanted to go, but have never had the nerve to take a full day off work and dive into this crazy subculture.
But this year I did it.
I had no clue what to expect when I bought tickets. They started judging breeds at 8:30 AM, but I didn't make it to the Garden until about 10:30 AM. During breed judging they have 7 separate rings operating throughout the venue, and the audience can basically wander around as they please, either taking a seat up above or standing down below near the action. I got a front row spot for the border collies!
It was a little difficult finding my way around (and it was my first time at Madison Square Garden) so I mostly just wandered around until I found new cool things. For instance, I thought I would need to be an owner or handler to get down on the floor at the rings, but it turns out anyone can hang out down there.
During the day it seemed that the audience was composed mostly of owners and handlers and breeders and others with some sort of investment in the show. The conversations around were very serious and along the lines of "Oh, that's Patrick's border collie... he's the one to beat" and "Last year our dog took third in his breed but this year we're winning for sure." I very much enjoyed the conversations I overheard.
Eventually, after more wandering around I found the "benching" area. I had read about this in the show guide online, but could not for the life of me figure out what benching was. Turns out, that's where they groom the dogs. I couldn't believe that they just let the public wander around back there. It was crazy.
It was by far the most crowded part of the entire event. I really enjoyed seeing all the dogs "off stage" but I felt bad that they had so much going on around them, and so many people petting and prodding at them. It was completely overwhelming for me and I wasn't tied to a table and being photographed over and over!
They did the Junior Showmanship competition in the afternoon, so I left for a couple hours and came back to see the group judging.
This part of the show was totally different from the first part. There was not as much freedom to move around, benching was surprisingly more insane, and there were cameras everywhere. I had only bought general admission tickets, so I settled into a decent seat at about 6:15 and had to wait for the 8:00 show.
It was really fun watching the group judging in person. I've watched it on television most years, but it's really great to see what the dogs are doing when they aren't on camera. The basenji was absolutely adorable jumping in and out of his box during the hound group. During the toy group judging, after the pug and his handler moved off camera, the handler got down on all fours and nuzzled the pug for a few seconds, which was both strange and adorable. That was fun to see. The picture above is of the dalmation winning the non-sporting group.
I'm really glad that I went to this event, but I don't think I would go again. It's much easier to see the dogs on television, after all, and I'm not the type who really enjoys live events. I did like attending alone during the first part because I moved around at my own pace, but it would be much more fun to go with a friend for the second half, especially since then you can take turns saving seats and you can get drunk and not feel pathetic (oh yes, that's the other thing: I was surprised at how much drinking was going on at this thing, even during the day!).
Anyway, this is my review, and although I know of only 3 people who actually read this blog regularly, I am hopeful that someone looking for more information about attending the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will come across this entry and will find it useful. Hey, you never know, there are some weird search phrases that lead people to this blog, if you can believe that.