5 Things You Don't Know About Westminster
But before any pups are deemed top dog, they experience a whirlwind weekend in N.Y.C. We coaxed Frei – who's celebrating his 21st year with the organization – into giving us the inside scoop.
Entry is exclusive. "To attend the show, your dog has to be an American Kennel Club champion, and has to make it through our entry process," Frei says. "Spots are in high demand – your application needs to be in the right place at the right time." The top five dogs from each breed are automatically invited, "so we know we're getting top dogs," Frei explains. This year, 865, or about one-third, will be from that pool, with the remaining dogs "coming right out of the mailbox."
You can play along at home. While judges have the final word, it doesn't hurt to root for your favorite pooch. "Our judges look at the dogs in terms of a total picture. They should be equal parts artists and engineers," Frei says. Judges first observe breed-type characteristics, like head shape, bone structure and eye color as an "artist," then as an "engineer," they get hands-on, feeling to determine if all the parts are in the right places and that the dog is properly groomed. "You put all that together, and that's how you get a great score," Frei says.
Visitors are allowed backstage. In true bench-show style, Westminster opens its backstage area to all audience members. "That's the heart and soul of the show," Frei says. "You can get up close and personal with the dogs, pet them, talk to owners and handlers about the breed," he says. "It's especially good if you're looking for a family dog."
Three breeds are debuting. The Irish Red and White Setter, Pyrenean Shepherd and Norwegian Buhund are appearing at Westminster for the first time. "We've added 25 new breeds in my 21 years, and we're adding six more next year," Frei says. As for ages? The oldest dog competing is a 12-year-old Shiba Inu, while the youngest is a 10-month-old bull terrier. "Remember, the oldest dog ever won last year," Frei says. "We'll see if we can keep that AARP crown going."
It's all for charity. Sure the days in the ring are intense, but at night, pups and their handlers let loose! "We did two events on Friday, which both benefited the ASPCA," Frei says. Saturday night was a benefit for Frei's own animal therapy charity, Angel on a Leash, which drew the five past Best in Show winners. And tonight, Take the Lead, an organization that supports purebred owners who face life-threatening illness, hosts an event at Madison Square Garden. "It's a tight-knit group," Frei says of the dog-showing world.
More than anything, though, Westminster is all about the dogs! Says Frei, "People aren't the stars here! The dogs show up to have fun, and that's what matters."
Meet last year's Westminster winner, Stump!
Learn more about Wesminster here. And be sure to tune in to the USA Network Tuesday night at 8 p.m. to see who wins Best in Show!
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