The Canis familiaris, the domesticated dog, although almost infinitely varied in appearance because of geographical conditions, accidental mating and man's thoughtful guidance of his breeding, still retains the basic traits that have endeared him to the human throughout the millenniums. No matter what his size or color, he has long been regarded as a friend, companion and valuable piece of property. Tobias, it is recorded, set out on his father's business accompanied by his dog and the angel Raphael. Ulysses, returning to Penelope after 10 years of high adventure, was recognized by Argus, his hunting dog, who then expired, overcome by joy and old age. The Irish in the first century gave spaniels as tribute to the king, and by that time the Romans had noted that certain types of dogs suited some purposes better than others and categorized them in groups that correspond closely to those used in today's dog shows (SI, Feb. 14, 1955). Since then, the interest in, and indeed dedication to, perfecting a breed, in insuring the reproduction of certain desired characteristics generation after generation, has resulted in strict standards of judgment. It is the gathering of a number of highly bred dogs for comparison and rating according to these standards that is the modern dog show.
In the course of any single year over 700 licensed dog shows and some 675 sanctioned matches are held in America, a tribute to the enthusiasm of owners and the popularity of dogs. This week in New York's Madison Square Garden (Feb. 13-14), 2,561 of the nation's finest will gather for the climactic event of the canine year, the Westminster Kennel Club's 80th Dog Show. Open only to blue-ribbon winners (except for puppies) the club, due to lack of space, annually turns back hundreds of entries; for although it is not the biggest show in the country it has never lost its reputation as the best.
Among the events seldom scheduled at other shows that help set the Westminster apart is the best-team-in-show award. Won last year by Mrs. Patricia G. Corey's golden retrievers (above), Ch. Candy, Ch. Fancy and Ch. Tabby of Goldendoor and Ch. Lorelei's Sam, the dogs are the first of this breed to win this event at any show. All will be competing again this year in the class for individual champions as well as in the team event, for the capture of the best-team-in-show award is a coveted honor for the serious breeder. All four dogs must be owned by the same person and be as nearly identical as possible. The dogs, judged first as individuals against the breed standard, are then studied as a team for uniformity in looks and action; and understandably it is no small achievement for one owner to breed four dogs that are not only as similar but also as perfect as possible. Mrs. Corey started working toward this goal six years ago: nettled by the lack of suitable retrievers for family hunting trips in Scotland, she began breeding her own. Choosing the golden retriever, a breed originating in Scotland around 1870 by crossing some Russian circus dogs and a bloodhound, she managed in a relatively short time to breed the four champions that won an impressive 200 ribbons in 16 months of showing.
Of the 112 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, major-domo of the dog show, 108 will be represented this year at the Westminster, some by sizable numbers, others by a lone delegate. The poodle, for the second year, has the greatest numerical strength, with 192 entered. Dachshunds are also coming in considerable force, as are collies and boxers; but a single coon-hound, one giant schnauzer and a solitary Alaskan malemute are making unsupported appearances.
THE FIELD IS OPEN
Relatively few of last year's winners are returning to the scene of their triumphs. The dogs that earned the show's top trophies will be missing. Bulldog Ch. Kippax Fearnought, who went best-in-show, is retired in California; and best-American-bred winner, boxer Ch. Barrage of Quality Hill, was not entered in time. But noteworthy contenders are certainly not lacking this year. In the terrier group, for example, Mrs. Robert B. Choate's Sealyham, Ch. Robin Hill Brigade, last year's breed and group winner, is returning to try for more laurels. Sealyhams, first bred by an English captain interested in a scrappy dog for hunting fox, badger and even polecats, are seldom used for their original purpose in this country, but their snowy coats and smart appearance have made them popular as pets and successful as show dogs.
A newcomer to the Westminster but no novice in the show ring is Mrs. Harold Florsheim's wire fox terrier, Ch. Travella Superman of Harham, winner of 20 best-in-show titles. Wire fox terriers, as a matter of fact, have won more best-in-shows at the Garden than any other breed (11 times since the honor was first bestowed in 1907), but it is 10 years since they last captured the coveted award.
No member of the toy group has ever won best-in-show at the Westminster, but they are always in there trying. This year a small dog with a big reputation will try once more. Ch. Star Twilight of Clu-Mor, alltime Yorkshire terrier winner and recipient of last year's best-of-group title, is expected to provide quality competition. Owned by twin sisters, Mrs. L. S. Gorden Jr. and Miss Janet Bennet, the pink-ribbon-and-pearl-trimmed terrier could conceivably compete with Mrs. Bertha Smith's toy poodle, Ch. Wilber White Swan, winner of 15 best-in-show awards, or Mrs. Robert Levy's toy poodle, Ch. Blakeen King Doodles, winner for the second time for the Ken-L-Ration Bench Award in the Southern Division with 39 toy group firsts.
The toys are not the only group without a Westminster best-in-show. A hound has yet to receive this honor, and tracking it with relentless purpose is Tom and Pearl Sheahan's bloodhound, Ch. Fancy Bombardier. Last year's second-place hound, Bombardier has since collared three best-in-shows.
Boxers have won more Westminster best-in-shows in the last decade than any other breed. Probably the most famous of these winners is Ch. Bang Away of Sirrah Crest, world record holder of 121 best-in-shows. Although not entered in this year's event, Bang Away will be in New York (along with almost 1,000 other dogs who come for the satellite canine activities that surround the Big Show) as guest of honor at several banquets, and will receive the Ken-L-Ration Pacific Coast Division award for the third time from the hand of Dog Fancier Perle Mesta. Bang Away's daughter, Ch. Baroque of Quality Hill, owned by Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Wagner, will be at heel to receive the Midwestern Division of the same award and then proceed into the competition of the Westminster.
It is not impossible that she will face Ch. Rock Falls Colonel, the English setter owned by Mr. and Mrs. William Holt (SI, Jan. 10, 1955), second only to Bang Away in number of show bests to his credit—100. The Colonel is coming out of a short-lived retirement for the show.
Until the final moment comes, however, even while the almost final choice is still circling the green matted ring, the experts can guess and the owners can dream, but no one can really know to which dog will go the supreme honor, to be acknowledged dog of the year in America's show of the year.