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Heads up! Big change for Westminster this year. Read on: The 137th Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) Dog Show, which will take place on Feb. 11-12, is adding a venue. Since 1877, the prestigious dog show has been held in one of the four incarnations of Madison Square Garden (MSG).
Only two other events- the circus and the National Horse Show- have that claim to fame, though neither is held in the Garden anymore. The Garden has been home to the dog show in all but seven years of its history. Don’t worry. Westminster is not forsaking the world’s most famous arena. However, this year is going to be quite different to allow for more room and more dogs.
Starting this year, an additional venue has been added for breed judging because renovations at the Garden have reduced the space available to bench the dogs. During a benched show, all participating dogs are on view in a designated area, when not in the ring, so spectators are able to see them up close and speak to their owners and handlers.
Westminster announced the change for 2013 at last year’s show. On both Monday and Tuesday, breed judging and benching will take place during the day at Piers 92/94 located at West 55th Street and West Side Highway. Group and Best In Show judging, as well as Junior Showmanship Finals will be held, as usual, at Madison Square Garden in the evening with competition beginning at 8 p.m. on Monday and 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Tickets for the daytime at the Piers are $25 general admission and are being sold separately from evening tickets at the Garden available via MSG and Ticketmaster, so please check www.westminsterkennelclub.org for details. TV coverage is still live from 8 to 11 p.m. each night, with the broadcast shared by USA network and CNBC on Monday, but completely on USA Tuesday night. The daytime change of venue will not be noticeable to folks watching at home.
The shift to the Piers, and increase in space - in particular, benching space that has been lost recently due to Madison Square Garden’s transformation - allows Westminster to increase its entry limit to 3,200 dogs for the first time since 1991. The entry limit is the highest it has ever been since the WKC installed limits (2,500 in 1941, then 3,000 in 1970, then back to 2,500 in 1982). The limit was lowered to 2,000 in 2012 as the benching area had lost significant space.
In recent years only dogs that were already champions were invited to Westminster. The additional room at the Piers expands eligibility to include dogs that have won a major (3 points or more at one show). In addition, Best of Breed winners of national breed club specialties will be invited to pre-enter. The top five dogs in each breed in breed point standings will continue to be invited to pre-enter, as in the past. In other words, spectators will see a lot more top dogs.
Last year, because of ongoing construction and arena space gone forever, there was no room for the organized rows and overhead signs pinpointing Groups and breeds. In addition, the Toy and Terrier Groups were exiled to benching in the Theater on another floor of MSG. It was the second time that I helped compile the Best of Breed sheets to be used as background information for the TV broadcast. Since there was no organized benching floor plan as in years past, handlers camped out where they could find a spot for their crate or grooming table. A Collie might be next to a Basset rather than another Collie or Herding breed.
It was hard to guide visitors to their favorite breed because assigned rows were gone. Tracking down missing Best of Breed sheets became more difficult. A half hour before Tuesday TV time, I was still searching for “Phoebe” the elusive, Scotty breed winner, tucked away on the stage in the Theater because her Best of Breed sheet hadn’t been turned in. Her call name and win statistics needed to be verified, just in case they were mentioned on the air.
Piers 92/94 side-by-side, jutting into the Hudson River (separating New York and New Jersey) have been the setting for New York Fashion Week extravaganzas, the Armory Show, trade exhibitions and also special art and design events. Many dog fanciers may remember back to the days in the 1990s when Pier 92 hosted what has become the Meadowlands Specialty Dog Shows in New Jersey in recent years, held the weekend before Westminster. I recall going to an Afghan Hound specialty show at the Pier, and having the legendary Ch.Tryst of Grandeur rest her head on my shoulder while she was on the grooming table. Little did I know then, that her half-brother would soon be coming into my life.
As far as schlepping Westminster dogs from the Pier to the Garden and then back to their cars to go home, only the 180 or so dogs that win Best of Breed (or Variety) will have to travel between both spots. All breed winners from each day will need to be benched at MSG by 6 p.m. I spoke to a WKC steward who explained that shuttles would be helping to move these dogs, their entourages and their equipment. That’s great, but they better all hand in their Best of Breed sheets on time. We don’t want to hear last minute that they left the paper at the Pier.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Oliver” #13-15 a stray, young Pit and “Mae” #12-532 (the current shelter office dog) don’t need more room in a benching area. Instead, someone needs to find room in his/her heart to adopt each of them.
Dogs: “Fred” & “Zsa Zsa” #113-10/11- older Miniature Poodles; “Bruce” #12-334-happy Pit- gets along well with other dogs; “Buddy” #12-785- senior Beagle.
Cat: “Tara” #3-11- lovely, young domestic long hair.