A raucous crowd of reporters gathered at the Affinia Hotel Manhattan on Monday, January 28, 2013, to attend a press conference announcing several exciting changes planned for this year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show. If the number of photographers and journalists packed into the hotel’s Wharton Room is any indication, interest in the world’s most famous dog show – and purebred dogs – has never been greater.
This year’s two-day event will be held on Monday and Tuesday, February 11 and 12. David Frei, the club’s director of communications and expert commentator for the show’s live television broadcast, welcomed the packed house by introducing the team that has made every effort to accommodate the dogs, exhibitors and spectators at this year’s show, the first to be held in two separate locations.
Ongoing renovations at Madison Square Garden have severely limited the amount of space available for the benching areas. As one of the few remaining shows to require dogs to be accessible to spectators during specified hours, club members strongly believe in the value of public education through benched shows. Westminster Kennel Club President Séan McCarthy explained the club’s decision to relocate the daytime breed judging to Piers 92/94 to ensure the safety of exhibitors and their dogs, and to better facilitate interaction with the public. “More space at the piers will allow for proper benching areas,” he said. The additional space has also allowed class dogs to return to the show to compete for championship points.
Show Chairman Thomas H. Bradley III told reporters, “This is not our father’s dog show!” The experienced head of a team that has orchestrated the arrangements at the piers as well as shuttle service for exhibitors and their dogs to and from their hotels and between the piers and the Garden, understands this year represents a major change for everyone. “We’re excited about what we’re bringing to the public,” he said. “We hope you all come and enjoy it.”
Of course, planning for a show of this magnitude requires a dedicated staff of experienced managers and dog people. Frei introduced some of the team members, including Director of Operations Florence Foti, Office Manager Linda Duane and Manager of Corporate Relations Kelly Morra. Morra announced that this year, “Westminster is going mobile” with live streaming video and a new smart phone app.
The names “Westminster” and “the Garden” have been synonymous ever since the club began holding its all-breed dog show at the newly named Madison Square Garden in 1879. From the start, journalists recognized the show’s importance in the mind of the American public. In 1890, W.M. Bangs, M.D., expressed his feelings for the event in Cosmopolitan magazine saying, “These shows have been very popular and they have had great effect in forming and developing the taste of lovers of the dog; (The Westminster Kennel Club) has had great effect in improving the quality of the dogs owned for use and companionship. Of this there can be no doubt…”
This year’s show marks the first time in the organization’s long history that it’s annual celebration of dogs will be held in two separate venues. A major change such as this, however, is certainly something the show committee – and exhibitors – have mastered in the past.
Four different Madison Square Gardens have been home to Westminster for more than a century. The arena’s previous location on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets hosted the world’s most famous dog show as its final event in 1968. A year later, exhibitors at the “new” Garden had to maneuver through a major snowstorm that nearly crippled the city. More than two decades before, a tugboat strike did manage to shut down New York, forcing club officials to hold the show on one day instead of two. Reports indicate that 17 rings and a “makeshift schedule” allowed the 1946 show to be completed at 12:15 a.m., 15 minutes earlier than the 1945 show!
As experienced exhibitors are no doubt aware, the location for breed judging at the piers this year represents a return to an old tradition – well, sort of. The location at 711 12th Avenue between 55th Street and the West Side Highway was for many years home to the pre-Westminster Specialties that have since relocated to sites throughout the metro area, including the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J.
As in years past, buses will take exhibitors and their dogs to and from midtown Manhattan to the New Jersey shows on Saturday and Sunday, February 9 and 10. Due to the breed judging this year at the piers, arrangements have also been made for buses to pick up exhibitors on Monday and Tuesday at the Affinia Manhattan, the New Yorker and the Hotel Pennsylvania beginning at 5:30 a.m. each day. A transportation schedule appears in the judging program, and people with dogs will be given priority seating.
Exhibitors arriving by car will find rules and procedures for loading and unloading in the judging program as well. Every effort has been made to create a safe and efficient procedure for delivering exhibitors and their dogs to the benches. A staging area will be set up on 57th Street (westbound) between 11th and 12th Avenues beginning at 9 a.m. on Sunday and 5 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday. From this queue, a management team from Stella Show Management Co., wearing bright yellow safety vests, will direct exhibitors to the unloading area under the tents between the entrances to Piers 92 and 94.
“The goal is to move exhibitors ‘swiftly and safely’ through the unloading process and into the piers without undue interference with normal traffic,” according to club officials. Beginning at 6 a.m., Harry Miller’s Site Control company will direct exhibitors with hangtags clearly visible through their vehicle’s windshield to the unloading area. Crate handlers will be positioned inside the piers to assist with getting dogs to their benches.
Inside the piers, 12 rings measuring 38 feet by 50 feet will be set up, 4 in Pier 92 and 8 in Pier 94. The overall layout will provide for a separate aisle and holding area for exhibitors and their dogs, with spectator seating on the remaining sides. Benches for each breed are located within relative proximity to the appropriate rings. Professional handlers who qualified for multi-breed benching will work from a centrally located area.
Of course, there’s no telling just how crowded the piers will be throughout the day, so the event committee has instructed exhibitors to allow plenty of time to get to the rings. “It is our advice that you locate your ring in advance and have a route planned to get there in time for your judging.” Arriving early is also suggested for those arriving by car or van.
The piers’ spacious rings and massive areas of glass windows should be a welcome change from the Garden setting. A separate area has been designated for vendors in Pier 94, with several dining areas positioned throughout both piers. According to Show Chairman Bradley, the meal selection is so delicious, exhibitors will be “blown away” by the choices.
This year’s entry of 2,721 class dogs, champions and grand champions includes two newly recognized breeds competing at Westminster for the first time. Thirteen Treeing Walker Coonhounds and 15 Russell Terriers will make their New York City debut at the piers. Walkers will compete on Monday at 2 p.m. in Ring 11, and Russells may be found in Ring 2 on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
The Best of Breed winners from each of the 187 recognized breeds and varieties will assemble each day at a designated area beginning at 3 p.m. Buses will take the winning dogs and handlers to the Garden between the hours of 3 and 5 p.m. The remaining dogs will be released from the piers beginning at 6 p.m. each night, and loading of vehicles will follow the same procedure as unloading.
At the Garden, breed winners will be welcomed with 5-by-5 benches and appropriately sized grooming tables. Each breed’s name will appear on a placard, and the entire benching area will be dressed up in Westminster’s signature colors: purple and gold.
This year’s show promises to be a memorable event, especially for those involved in the career of one lucky dog. We’re looking forward to seeing you once again at the Garden (and the piers.)