NEW YORK — A well-coiffed crowd of hundreds braved bitter cold Tuesday to converge on a pair of warehouses along the Hudson River, hoping this would be their time to shine at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Their humans came, too: veritable packs of groomers, handlers and security guards surrounding the canine competitors.
With the precision of air-traffic control, a delightfully surreal spectacle unfolded: Half a dozen cocker spaniels lined up on AstroTurf while, just a few feet away, 10 miniature bull terriers did the same in another arena. When it came their turn, 17 dark-coated Newfoundlands lumbered into a ring one by one, like bears clocking in at a circus.
Breed after breed took turns in the spotlight, getting judged against their competitors. Over the course of two days, the field of about 2,800 dogs from 203 breeds was whittled to dozens, as one dog emerged from each breed contest victorious, to a mix of whoops, polite clapping and a few tears. By Tuesday night, only one dog remained: best in show.
King, a wire fox terrier, ultimately won the top award.
The diminutive male continued the trend of male dogs dominating the competition and became the 15th of its breed to take the title. Along the way, he defeated a staggering number of dogs, including Bono, a Havanese, that took reserve best in show.
Here’s how the 143rd annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show played out.
Six finalists head into best in show
10:25 p.m. — With the conclusion of the group judging and one surprise disqualification, here are the six dogs heading into best in show:
— Burns the longhaired Dachshund
— Bono the Havanese
— Baby Lars the bouvier des Flandres
— Bean the Sussex spaniel
— Wilma the boxer
— King the wire fox terrier
What will be the deciding factor? It will be “about the performance,” best in show judge Peter Green said. “Which one really wants it.”
King the wire fox terrier wins terrier group
10:10 p.m. — King, a wire fox terrier, was judged best of the terrier group late Tuesday night, finalizing the dogs that will be moving on to best in show. Wire fox terriers have won best in show at Westminster 14 times in total, more than any other breed.
The judging of the terrier group elicited the first and only boos of the night from the crowd, who had cheered loudly for a Norfolk terrier.
Handler responds to Schipperke’s disqualification
9:35 p.m. — The handler for Colton the Schipperke, the winner of the non-sporting group that was deemed ineligible to compete in best in show because of a conflict of interest, responded to the decision that left fans confused and disappointed Tuesday night.
In a Facebook post made just as Tuesday’s finals were getting underway, handler Christa Cook explained one of Colton’s owners has a “distant working relationship” with this year’s best in show judge, Peter Green.
“We do not wish to diminish or detract from this great event, in this amazing venue, on this very special evening, therefore we will not participate in this evening’s Best In Show to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” Cook wrote.
It’s unclear when Colton was deemed ineligible or if Cook knew going into the competition that that would be a possibility — but she seemed to take the withdrawal in stride. She thanked Colton’s fans and said she had been thrilled he had been the first Schipperke to win the non-sporting group at Westminster.
“Winning Best of Breed at Westminster Kennel Club is a dream come true and a Group 1 is still beyond even my imagination,” Cook wrote. “We never had any expectation of winning the Non-Sporting Group as no Schipperke in history has ever won the Group at this show and we focused solely on creating a spectacular performance in the breed- level competition!”
Wilma the boxer wins the working group
9:08 p.m. — Wilma, a boxer, won best in the working group, becoming the first female dog to move on to best in show this year.
Bean the Sussex spaniel wins the sporting group
8:15 p.m. — Bean, a Sussex spaniel that elicited roars of approval as he entered the floor at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, won best in the sporting group. As if sensing he was a fan favorite, Bean sat upright as his owner gave a post-win interview, to the delight of the audience.
A last-minute ineligibility
8 p.m. — As the final group judging commenced Tuesday evening, word spread that Colton the Schipperke, who had won best in the non-sporting group Monday night, had been deemed ineligible to move on to best in show because his owner had a previous working relationship with this year’s best in show judge, Peter Green.
The decision, announced on Fox’s broadcast of the event, triggered surprise, a bit of confusion and disappointment among fans who had been rooting for the first-ever Schipperke to win its group.
“Put me in the disappointed category,” one viewer tweeted.
Because of Colton’s ineligibility, there will only be six finalists competing for best in show. Runners-up in the group competitions are not allowed to compete in best in show, even in the event of the best-in-group winner dropping out.
Dogs vs. ‘bitches’
At this rate, the winner of best in show Tuesday night is likely to be a male, again.
The four finalists from Monday night — Burns, Bono, Colton and Baby Lars — were all male, as was last year’s overall winner, Flynn the Bichon Frise. In total, male dogs have won best in show at Westminster 72 times, while female dogs have taken the title 39 times, according to Westminster spokeswoman Lisa Peterson.
The 2017 winner was a German shepherd bitch named Rumor, that went on to have show puppies of her own. One of her offspring was in this year’s competition, but he was ousted Monday night by Baby Lars, a bouvier des Flandres that won the herding group.
As The Washington Post’s Karin Brulliard reported in 2017, one common explanation for this gender imbalance from dog owners at the show is that, “as in much of the animal kingdom, male dogs are more impressive: They’re bigger, furrier and generally ‘showier.’“
Female dogs are also likely to be retired earlier from competition to breed, whereas male dogs can continue their careers uninterrupted.
One exception Tuesday was Jetta, a 7½-year-old Lagotto Romagnolo from Tucson (by way of Sweden), that won her breed at Westminster in 2017, then took a year off to have puppies. Owner Adrienne Perry noted that it was a rare return to competition for a female dog. Jetta was also among the oldest competitors at Westminster this year.
An early dismissal
At the tail end of the daytime judging Tuesday afternoon, the benching area began emptying out around 3:30 p.m.
Normally, this would be a no-no, subject to possible fines by the Westminster Kennel Club. Westminster is one of the few dog shows in the country that is “benched,” meaning dogs (and their humans) must stay in an assigned cubicle whenever they are not in the competition ring — the idea being that members of the public can then visit the dogs and learn about various breeds.
On Tuesday, however, the weather in New York had taken a turn for the worse, with snow and freezing rain making roads around the city dangerously icy. Worried about travel conditions for its hundreds of competitors, show organizers announced that everyone was excused from their benching duties.
“That never happens,” said Carol Rappaport, a breeder and handler who got word of the early dismissal while on the phone with a reporter. “Usually we have to be here until around 5.”
Many dogs were whisked out of Piers 92 and 94, bundled up or ensconced in kennels. For other breeds, the weather was not an issue: One Newfoundland trotted down a slushy bike lane alongside its owner, impervious to the snow.
‘This is one big family’
For Rappaport, it was an unusual conclusion to an event she has been attending for four decades. Technically, her first-ever trip to Westminster was before she was even born.
Her parents, breeders of Bedlington terriers, attended the show in 1975 when her mother was pregnant, weeks before Rappaport arrived. The following year, she returned to Westminster in a stroller. It became an annual event: Rappaport said she can remember spending whole competitions passing time and playing in the benching area, where dogs hang out when they’re not in the ring.
“The first Westminster I ever remember was, I think I was 8 or 9, because I was too young for juniors,” Rappaport said. “They used to throw their coats over me, and I’d just sleep there [in the benching area] half the day.”
Rappaport, now 43, has since attended 39 Westminster dog shows, mostly to show Bedlingtons as a professional handler. It is such a part of her life that it has taken acts of nature to cause her to miss shows: Three times, epic snowstorms kept her from traveling from Nebraska, where she was living at the time, to New York. In 2013, she was on a doctor-ordered bed rest for a high-risk pregnancy.
“I was literally sitting at home screaming at the television,” Rappaport said of watching Westminster from afar while eight months pregnant. “I know all the participants. This is one big family, so of course you’re screaming at the television for what you want to win. And of course, you’re frustrated because you can’t be there.”
Rappaport now lives in northeastern Pennsylvania — and has not missed a Westminster since the birth of her daughter. Over the decades, she’s watched the sport evolve, but the one thing she said she misses most is experiencing the entire show at Madison Square Garden. In 2013, the daytime judging for both days of the competition moved to Piers 92 and 94 in Manhattan because of space constraints.
“Showing on the floor of the Garden — it was the epitome of the show world,” Rappaport said. “There was nothing like being on the green floors under the Jumbotron.”