Wandering the Westminster Dog Show on Valentine’s Day.
A middle-aged show-dog handler in green cargo shorts and black Birkenstocks crouches in front of a gray kennel. “Wait until you see what Daddy brought you for dinner,” he says to the purebred Cesky terrier within. I watch as Daddy carefully unwraps a Burger King Whopper. “You’re a star,” he tells the dog, breaking off a piece of the meat patty and sliding it through the crate’s metal door. In just under an hour, Daddy will put on a Paisley shirt and an ivory suit; he’ll take the terrier, officially known as Bluefire Heart of a Warrior, for a walk on the pristine Astroturf at Madison Square Garden before the thousands of people gathered on Valentine’s Day for the 141st Westminster Dog Show.
Established in 1877, the Westminster Dog Show is the second longest continually held sporting event in the United States, after the Kentucky Derby. The Jumbotron at MSG offers a kind of potted history, with sepia photos of old New York fading in and out; the narrator’s refined, sonorous voice floats over a violin. A hundred and forty years ago, he explains, a group of “sporting gentlemen” gathered at the bar of the bygone Westminster Hotel on Sixteenth Street and Irving Place in Manhattan to drink and brag about their hunting feats. Looking for a venue superior to the sporting field for comparing hounds, they agreed that what Manhattan really needed was a dog show. They formed the Westminster Kennel Club, named after the hotel bar, and soon after the first annual New York Bench Show of Dogs was held at Gilmore’s Garden, the predecessor of Madison Square Garden. The Westminster Dog Show, the narrator informs us, is a “quintessential part of American culture,” having survived both world wars, the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the rise of the Internet. Read More