They let the dogs in!
For the first time ever, "all American dogs" (i.e. mutts) will be participating in the Westminster Kennel Club Annual All Breed Dog Show.
Mutts will compete with purebreds in the First Masters Agility Championship on Feb. 8 at Pier 94 in the club's 138th annual show. The timed, skills-based competition is judged on a handler's ability to direct a dog through an obstacle course of jumps, ramps, tunnels, weave poles and a teeter totter. (Breed judging will occur Feb. 10-11.)
As opposed to the beauty pageant for purebreds, the agility championship "is all about brains -- brains and speed," said show chairman Tom Bradley. "Agility dogs are not designer dogs -- or they don't have to be," he said.
The show has taken knocks by some animal rights supporters, who argue that promoting dog breeding is unethical, given that 60% of all dogs in animal shelters wind up euthanized, according to data compiled by Statistic Brain. Bradley declined to address whether the addition of the agility segment was to remedy such criticism, but allowed that "pure bred dogs have taken a bit of a rap," in recent years.
Yesterday, the Westminster Kennel Club held a news conference at Madison Square Garden to demonstrate the "most exciting canine sport for spectators." Alfie, a little poodle-terrier mix, lackadaisically loped along the mini-obstacle course, ignoring some of the weave poles, hardly fulfilling the wishes of those who long for the triumph of underestimated under dogs. "He gets easily distracted," confided his owner, Irene Palmerini, of Toms River, N.J. "The weaves are not his strongest, but when he's in the field, he's super fast," she promised.
Still, Palmerini was delighted that dogs lacking pedigrees -- and their owners -- were finally allowed to participate in the world's most famous dog show. "Everyone in Agility is usually involved in some kind of rescue," she said, adding that a lot of breeders also are involved in rescue work, usually pertaining to their breeds.
The Show is also allowing three new additions to breed judging -- The Chinook, the Rat Terrier and the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno -- bringing its total number of breed competitions to 190.
Perry and Patti Richards came down from Westhaven, Vt., with their Chinooks, Tagluk and Talis, to demonstrate the beauty of their favorite breed, which has been designated the state dog of New Hampshire. The honey-colored, Sheperdy-looking Chinooks were originally bred by the Arctic adventurer and dog driver Arthur Treadwell Walden, who wanted a robust, trainable dog that could pull heavy loads over long distances, Perry explained. Tagluk did not look like he'd been pulling too many sleds lately. "He's a companion dog. They're couch potatoes now," said Perry.