The Westminster Kennel Club dog show is opening a doggie door this year to mixed-breed competitors.
While Labradoodles, puggles and who-knows-whats won’t be able to vie for the show’s coveted best-in-show award, they’ll be included in its new agility trial.
It’s a notable embrace for the nation’s premier canine event, which also is adding three breeds at next month’s show: the Chinook, the Portuguese podengo pequeno (pronounced po-DEHN-go peh-KAYN-yo) and the rat terrier. No mixed-breed dogs have appeared at Westminster since the 138-year-old event’s early days, organizers said last week.
But this year, Alfie the part-poodle, part-terrier will be among the dogs weaving around poles, walking up a plank and springing over jumps on the agility course.
Alfie’s background isn’t pure. Owner Irene Palmerini spotted him in a mall pet store, marked down to $99. She wasn’t planning to get a dog, but she fell for the curly-haired, black-and-white puppy and took him home to Toms River, New Jersey.
He proved to have more energy than even four-mile daily walks could absorb, and agility training provided an outlet. About seven years later, Palmerini is thrilled that Alfie will be among the mixed breeds — or “all-American” dogs, in Westminster speak — going up against purebred competitors at the elite event.
“I didn’t breed this dog to do agility. He’s just my pet,” Palmerini said. Agility “is just about performance. It doesn’t matter what your dog looks like. It doesn’t matter who their mother or father was.”
The pros and cons of pedigreed and mixed-breed animals have long been a sensitive subject in the dog world; animal-rights activists have protested Westminster itself. They say it’s insensitive to breed dogs while others wait in shelters to be adopted. Purebred enthusiasts, meanwhile, consider breeding a way to develop and preserve different traits and help people select a compatible pet.
Westminster leaders say the show, which is held in New York, is a celebration of all dogs, and they’re pleased to make a place for mixed-breeds.
“We’re very excited about the fact that Westminster can play a leadership role in embracing, really, the sport of dogs,” purebred or not, said Westminster President Sean McCarthy.
While mixed breeds may now have nosed their way into the competition, Westminster’s main event will still be selecting the best-in-show dog February 11 from more than 2,800 entrants in 187 American Kennel Club- recognized breeds and varieties. They include 76 Labrador retrievers, 58 golden retrievers and 52 French bulldogs, but also challengers from some lesser-seen breeds — such as roughly 30 Tibetan mastiffs, show chairman Thomas Bradley III said.
As for the newcomers, the Portuguese podengo pequeno is a compact rabbit hunter. The rat terrier is, well, just what it sounds like. Bred to rid farms of rodents, they’re known as game, versatile and intelligent — “they can think for themselves,” said breeder Robin Lutwinas of Enfield, Connecticut.
The Chinook, New Hampshire’s official state dog, was developed there as a sled-puller with power, endurance and a companion-dog temperament, said breeder Perry Richards of West Haven, Vermont.
“These guys work. And then lie on the couch and watch a football game,” added his wife, Patti.
— Associated Press