NEW YORK — One contestant pretty much expects life to include a steady stream of London broil. Another gets all exhilarated about stopping off on the way home for cheeseburgers. Another gets to dive into a 28-foot pool on the back of a 51-foot semi every single day from May to October. Another adores Springsteen’s “Rosalita”; he listens through the speakers in his cap. Another joins his handler routinely at that bastion of versatility, the human-and-canine-capable chiropractor.
Some of the world’s most coddled yet adored athletes have convened again along the Hudson River, at Piers 92 and 94 for daytimes Monday and Tuesday, and at Madison Square Garden for the evenings. Once again there has formed the astonishing ecosystem known as the “benching area” for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, where you might see paws treated with Gold Bond Medicated Powder, or hear a man say of a dog, “All his food is cooked, by me, for him.”
It’s where you might see one Belgian Tervuren flirt with another fruitlessly, the male in a Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” bib and the female off to Ohio soon to breed with a hot guy named Tripp, on whom she has had a crush since forever. After all, as points out Elizabeth Brinkley of Richmond, who owns “Sarah” with her son Scott of Reston — they call her “Sarah” because that’s easier to state than her actual name, “Gr. Ch. Maple Run’s Angel of Music at Dante” — “Sarah” is three-quarters European, her sire having hailed from a tulip farm in the Netherlands.
It might have helped her with that Finnish judge; after all, she won Best Of Opposite Sex.
Walk through these corridors in different years, and you might hear of dogs who prefer their classical music Norwegian, or dogs whose owners taste their food for them first, or humans who spend 12 hours every Saturday blow-drying Komondors, those behemoths whose hair conjures mops. There’s tell of owners who apply pixie dust to dogs hoping for magic, or owners who paint dogs’ faces on motorhomes, or owners who did not understand what was so funny about Christopher Guest’s 2000 mockumentary “Best In Show.”
Alessandra Folz did find it funny — she’s an owner and handler with a big wit and a big laugh — even as her retired 11-year-old Weimaraner Marge owns about 20 pink collars, including the one with Swarovski crystals. In fairness, some of the collars came from friends and fans. In further fairness, it’s the least Folz can do since, as she said, “She is the top-winning Weimaraner in the history of the world, since the dawn of time, since Man ever conceived of a Weimaraner.” She also said this of Marge, who is lounging back at home in Rhode Island, maybe even on that new heated throw: “She might remain indescribable.”
She also said, “She hardly ever wears a collar.”
Then she laughed.
Robert Young of Charlotte cooks everything for Zak, his 3-year-old Polish Lowland Sheepdog who favors the London broil, the roasted chicken for meals and, on birthdays, Young’s perfected peanut butter cake. Zak also has a human godmother, Carlene Gogolin, who lives across the lake, comes over to read to him, and turns up in New York in a T-shirt of photos of Zak, including one of Zak in a top hat and bow tie, “dreaming of Westminster,” Gogolin said.
“When I have my glass of wine,” Young said, “he has his drinkable yogurt.”
Roxanne Chandler’s New Jersey-based “Kansas,” a 3-year-old bloodhound named in a “Wizard of Oz” motif because he was born during an Oklahoma tornado, does not wolf down his cheeseburgers, but likes to “bring it out a little bit,” savor the burger, “and then I blow on it so it’s nice and cool,” Chandler said. Colton O’Shea and his family aren’t particularly extreme about their Standard Poodle Ellie Mae — they’re Canadians, from Nova Scotia — but if Ellie Mae can break records as did their Shetland Sheepdog Olivia, she, too, might get a pink-champagne party with a three-tiered cake for the humans and three-tiered cake from a dog bakery in Halifax. Christina Petersen’s Bluetick Coonhound from California, Luna, saw her finickiness ebb when Petersen finally put her dry food into a blender, then mixed it with wet food, then rolled it into meatballs which, Peterson said, “She eats one by one.”
Calisthenics do vary for these athletes. Amy Dean’s Treeing Walker Coonhound from Salem, Ohio, Ozzie, joins the 16 other dogs with whom he resides for the regular pool-diving. Wendi Paradise’s 4-year-old Bearded Collie Charlie walks five times daily in Long Island (which lacks many sheep for herding), and then goes home to hear some Springsteen on occasion. “They’re a Scottish herding dog,” the Virginian breeder Sandy Rogers said. “People see all that hair and think, ‘This is a foo-foo dog,’ but this isn’t a foo-foo dog.”
And Flag, the Australian Shepherd bred at Bayouland in Louisiana and owned by one Californian, one Louisianan and two Alabamians, is a regular at the chiropractor in Lodi, Calif. “They live this rigorous life going to shows all the time,” said handler and part-owner Hayden Hadley. “So they get as tight as anybody else.” When Flag and Hadley go to the chiropractor, Flag goes first, for 15 minutes, then Hadley goes for 45 while Flag lies gently and wordlessly nearby, feeling newly “adjusted,” Hadley said, on his “hips, shoulder, spine and pelvis.”
“I can tell an immediate difference,” Hadley said. “He just moves so much more effortlessly.”
Behind all these contestants lies untold sacrifice from humans, even to the point of hundreds of harsh outings in Pittsburgh winters. That’s how Anne Trosky spent so much time with 7-year-old Shetland Sheepdog Gabriel. She long daydreamed of Westminster. On Monday in Ring 9, during the judging for the breed, there came the Westminster-debuting Gabriel, whom Trosky had not seen in four days as he bunked at his handler’s in Connecticut.
He emerged, and she wept. “There he is,” she said. “This is it. This is the big time.”