A dog show would hardly seem the place for catcalls, but there they were last week in Madison Square Garden, a solid round of boos and jeers. They were directed at a stately judge, Mrs. Augustus Riggs IV, who had just picked a white standard poodle, Ch. Acadia Command Performance, as the best-in-show at Westminster. In the opinion of knowledgeable dog people the poodle deserved the win as the best of the more than 3,000 entries, but the 10,000 spectators were not all knowledgeable dog people, and they obviously favored two others of the six finalists. One was a splashy Afghan, Ch. Khayam's Apollo, handled by a show-ring rarity, a black man, Eugene Blake. The second choice was Ch. Sagamore Toccoa, a silver-buff cocker spaniel that had been the insiders' favorite before the 97th annual show began.
But the hissing made little difference to Edward B. Jenner of Richmond, Ill., the visibly elated co-owner, with Jo Ann Sering, of Ch. Acadia Command Performance. After years of futility, Jenner finally had a dog, or rather half of a dog, that made it to the top and no jeers could dim his cheer. "I've tried for 35 years to do it in the Garden!" he exclaimed as fans of the losers grumbled off into the night. "You can't believe it's going to happen!" Even Ch. Acadia Command Performance, called Bart by intimates, was happy. He kept jumping up at his handler, Frank Sabella, who had stood guard during the day while the dog rested and had his topknot put up with rubber bands in preparation for the big event. For Bart, the win means more available bitches and for the owners more money because Westminster is the most prestigious show in dogdom. There are bigger shows and—some say—better shows but none has more status.
To the diversified collection of people who are deeply involved in the dog game—Sometimes seriously called "doggy doings"—Westminster is a combination Sugar Bowl, trade fair marathon dance, bugged Watergate and two-day journey inside a rush-hour subway car, with, as one might expect, a most distinct air of its own. The conditions are grueling and they are sometimes made all the more trying by the ushers and guards that the Garden unleashes on patrons like a kennelful of attack-trained Dobermans. This year even the show catalog, which sold for $2.50, was a challenge. The printer apparently used sugared water instead of glue in the binding, and when opened in the Garden's steamy air any one of the 328 pages was likely to spring loose. When officials of the tight little Westminster Kennel Club actually were apologetic about the catalog instead of snarling, a number of dog show veterans began to wonder if maybe they weren't in the wrong kennel. For decade after decade the Westminster Kennel Club has been composed of starchy old-line New Yorkers who dissolved into the pages of Louis Auchincloss novels when the annual show was over, but in recent years they have begun to unbend, even to the point of holding press conferences. To the small clan of writers who regularly cover doggy doings, the most moving moment came when one reporter of 37 years' experience told Westminster Vice-President Robert V. Lindsay (a brother of Mayor John), "We've never had Westminster Club members come and talk to us as they have in the past few years—it makes us think we're human."
What makes Westminster a nightmare for both exhibitor and dog is the very thing that draws the public—it is a bench show. Every dog—win, lose or draw—has to stay in the Garden from nine in the morning until nine at night. After leaving the ring, dogs and owners go to an assigned cubicle in the benching area where, row upon row, they either await the next round of judging or ponder defeat while friends and strangers stop by to gab and gossip.
February 26, 1973
"A bench show is rough for the owners and rough for the dogs," said the Rev. George E. Sinkinson Jr., an Episcopal minister from Garrison Forest, Md., who has bewildered several bishops by breeding bloodhounds under the name of The Rectory Kennel. "By 5 p.m. of the second day of a bench show, you can sense the tempers start to rise." There are some fanciers, especially those involved with larger breeds, who avoid Westminster altogether. Jacquin Sanders of Pound Ridge, N.Y., a bull mastiff breeder who did not bother to visit the Garden even to gossip, said, "Westminster isn't a big show for bull mastiffs. Our big show is the specialty, the show for bull mastiffs held once a year by the breed club." Asked why he shied from Westminster, Sanders replied, "Have you ever spent 12 hours in the Garden basement with a 150-pound dog?"
There are other reasons for complaints: some fanciers find the show rings at Westminster too small to gait a dog. And last week in the showing of at least two breeds, there were growls from onlookers that the winners suffered badly from hip dysplasia. "It was like a horror movie where you hear the monster clumping down the stairs," said one ringsider of a winner that limped.
Robert Abady, the outspoken breeder of Bouviers, was present the first day even though he scorns shows as rife with politics. "Westminster is the culmination of the farce that goes on all year long," he said, looking around at the crowd. "Hostilities are rampant underneath but everyone comes with a smile."
For all the bitching, Westminster is still tops, even though, as Mrs. Barbara Ottum, a breeder of St. Bernards, of Falmouth, Maine, said, it is more of "a rat race" than a dog show. Asked why she came, Mrs. Ottum said, "We love it." Tom Renner, a fellow St. Bernard breeder, said, "We're complete idiots." Another masochist, Don Sturz, a golden retriever breeder from Bellmore, N.Y., said, "I keep telling myself every year I'm not coming back, but, well, it's a big show, it's close, you meet friends, and people come by and ask if you have puppies for sale." Bob Schneider, who gave up directing TV commercials to raise German short-haired pointers and otterhounds, said, "Every year my wife and I say we're not coming back. But economically it has to be. We have a boarding kennel, and between boarding and grooming and the fact that I hope to get my professional handler's license, well, the show has prestige and the contacts are invaluable."
Many visitors to Westminster spend most of their time wandering around the benching area talking to breeders about what dog would be best for them or their children. Some are in the market for a puppy of a certain breed. Mrs. Gwen Swann of Bury St. Edmunds flew over from England with her daughter Joanna, just for one day, "specially to see the Paps." The Pap or Papillon is a froufrou-type dog that is descended from the dwarf spaniel that was a favorite of Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette. It is named Papillon, French for butterfly, because its erect, fluffy ears stick out from its head like the wings of that insect. Mrs. Swann exports her dogs to this country and she was interested in seeing what type of Papillons the Americans are producing. "I exported Lace Wings Litany, one of the most famous sires," she said. "He's dead now." Mrs. Swann, a Margaret Rutherford type, has been breeding, showing and judging Paps for 30 years, but this was her first visit to Westminster. She found the show less tiring than Crufts, the big English show that attracts twice as many dogs as Westminster and which she had attended the previous week. Mrs. Swann not only found the U.S. Paps different but remarked that Americans were more emotional about their dogs. "Americans pick up their dogs and cuddle and kiss them," she said. "That, the English would never do. Someone might see!"
The benching area, crammed with dogs and friends of dogs, was also lined with booths where vendors displayed leads, crates, dog food, sentimental doggy stationery, nutritional supplements and scoops, including one that boasted the snappy slogan, "It's in the bag with Dogmatic." The most prominent display was manned, and manned is the word, by Captain Haggerty. The captain, who rarely uses his first name, Arthur, is 6'3", weighs 330 pounds and has a bullet-bald head. Haggerty made captain as commanding officer of the U.S. Army K-9 Corps, and he is in the dog business up to the furrows on the back of his neck. The president of Captain Haggerty's School for Dogs Inc., he has an encyclopedic knowledge of canines and he will advise, for $25 per consultation, a prospective owner on what breed might be best suited to meet his individual needs. Should an owner wish, he will also train a dog in obedience, for the stage or show, for hunting or full police-dog work or even to pull a sleigh. Captain Haggerty rents dogs, too. As of last week he had over 300 "compound dogs," mostly German shepherds with a few Dobermans, leased out to guard factories, warehouses, offices and construction sites. Another 40 of these animals were at home in Walkill, N.Y., as "backup dogs."
The former president of the Bronx County Kennel Club, Captain Haggerty has noted that many persons today are buying dogs because they feel threatened. "No matter what anyone who buys a Dobe tells you," said the captain, "they're buying it for protection." American Kennel Club registration rankings bear out the trend to big dogs. Ten years ago, six of the top 10 breeds were small. Now five of those—Chihuahuas, Pekingese, cocker spaniels, Pomeranians and Boston terriers—have dropped out. In their places are Irish setters, St. Bernards, Labrador retrievers and Dobermans. One small breed, the miniature schnauzer, has also moved up into the top 10, but this is also a dog that doesn't do much backing down.
Not everyone at Westminster was happy about the trend to big breeds. Don Dubé of Mardonof Kennels in North Attleboro, Mass., who was at the show with his St. Bernards, said, "We had the highest increase in registrations of all breeds, and that was unfortunate. When a breed becomes popular, the quality goes down." Dubé was not referring to the dogs at the show or to reputable breeders but to those animals produced by operators of so-called "puppy mills" who breed dogs by the thousands when a fashion sets in. The puppy-mill plague affects any number of breeds including the poodle, No. 1 in AKC registration, and the German shepherd, No. 2. Contributing to the problem are well-intentioned but ignorant "backyard" breeders, the man down the street who has a boxer and wants to breed it with yours. Poor-quality dogs result, and the breed suffers. At the benches at Westminster there was some discussion of the German approach—where a breed club has to approve matings, and puppies that do not run true to type in appearance or temperament are destroyed. It is highly unlikely that this system will be accepted here in the foreseeable future, but meanwhile dog buyers are urged not to patronize pet shops but to seek out established breeders who stand behind their stock as sound.
Aside from seeking security, some people buy dogs for status. Bench talk at Westminster credited status for the rise of the Irish setter and the Shih Tzu, whose registrations have almost doubled to over 5,000 in the four years since admission to AKC registry. The Shih Tzu, a perky, long-haired little beast, was bred in days of old by eunuchs vying for position in the Chinese court, and today it seems destined to replace the less even-tempered Pekingese as the favorite lap dog of the storied fat lady nibbling bonbons as she sprawled on a chaise longue. The Irish setter is one of the most beautiful of all dogs but it is a breed that demands constant attention and training. "The Irish setter seems to be bought by an Irish Catholic husband who wants an Irish dog," said Captain Haggerty, himself without a trace of a brogue. "He goes off to work, leaving the dog with his Irish Catholic wife who is busy with the four Irish Catholic children who are two years old, three years old, four years old and five years old. Then they all wonder why the dog doesn't behave."
Breeds rise and fall in popularity as life-styles change. Mrs. Helen Ginnell of Bedford Hills, N.Y., a well-known breeder of dual purpose (show and field) Labradors, said, "The cocker spaniel is like silver fox. Who wears silver fox today? There's a sort of reverse status. The American water spaniel may be coming up. It's the first time I've noticed them at Westminster. Owning an American water spaniel is like wearing blue jeans instead of silver fox. The same with the Australian terrier."
Perhaps the most interesting trends involve dog people themselves. In place of the grand old kennel owners of yesteryear are an increasing number of blue-collar exhibitors. Archie Bunker is deep in doggy doings. An intellectual type who requested anonymity said, "I'm very close to a guy who went all out for Wallace. I was for McGovern. If it weren't for our interest in the same breed of dog we wouldn't even talk to one another."
Another trend is family involvement. Don Sturz got into golden retrievers because his young daughter was afraid of dogs. That was five years ago. Last year she won a junior showmanship ribbon. As a matter of fact, Sturz stayed late on the closing night to watch his son in the junior showmanship finals. Junior showmanship, in which youngsters 16 or under are judged on their ability to handle, is not everyone's cup of tea (as the finals began, one woman stalked out of the press section, loudly asking, "Is this adult entertainment?") but the junior showmanship judge was Mrs. James Clark, who as Anne Hone Rogers got her start in junior showmanship and went on to handle three best-in-shows at Westminster.
And finally, some people are getting bored with just looking at their dogs lying around the house. Shows are one important outlet, field trials for hunting dogs another. The number of dogs shown has jumped from 200,000 to 700,000 in the last 10 years, and beagle, retriever and spaniel field trials have burgeoned. Hound enthusiasts from the show ring have started their dogs on the coursing trail. Just last year terrier fanciers formed the American Working Terrier Association. Trials are held in which terriers atavistically recall their hunting background and go to ground in an artificial "earth" with tunnels—to earn a certificate of gameness. According to Robert Belviso, a Kerry Blue man at Westminster, the driving force behind the working terriers is Jim Scharnberg of Valley Forge, Pa., a 35-year-old advertising art director who shows up at trials wearing knickers and a foraging cap. The working-terrier people even allow crossbred terriers to participate, and one dog that has them fascinated is the Jack Russell terrier from England. The Jack Russell can be registered neither in England nor with the AKC here but it is so spirited it has won a sort of superstatus in the canine underground. As Helen Ginnell said, "If someone asks you if you know the Jack Russell and you say yes, note how disappointed they are. That's status!"