As I mentioned in closing yesterday, first time visitors to Crufts should arrive with every intention of experiencing four days of the unexpected. While reaching Birmingham, England, by air is no more difficult than flying into any other trans-oceanic city (and truthfully, given the number of carriers crisscrossing the British Isles, is really a good deal simpler) it pays to take a page out of the chapter entitled “When in Rome…”

Much like the Madison Square Garden/Hotel Pennsylvania conjoined twins, the Birmingham Hilton/Metropole is the true epicenter for Crufts aficionados. Missing, however, is the explosive chaos of registering at the former; orderly lines, peaceful exchanges and a quiet, low-pressure hum lend an almost Zen-like quality to the busy lobbies in Birmingham. Outside, tree-lined footpaths and broad asphalt walkways arc around neighbouring Lake Pendigo, toward the 25-acre National Exhibition Center.

It pays to walk this venue on one’s own time; there is a lot of ground to cover, and lugging anything more than a handbag can soon become a pain in the nether regions. Once inside, the immediate glut of spectators and exhibitors is roughly comparable to driving down a peaceful country path, only to have your first turn morph into bumper-to-bumper traffic on a six-lane motorway. But unlike the oftentimes seasick ride one gets from careening hell-bent through a typical European venue, this flow of two and four-legged bodies is, in general, orderly and proper.

There is a lot of ground to cover on foot in the National Exhibition Center. Photo Dawne Deeley.

Despite a crowd that seemingly grows exponentially by the nanosecond in non-expanding aisles, there is little, if any, grumbling or complaining. Ceiling-hung direction boards make for easy navigating, even for the vertically challenged, while the carpeted concrete floor helps put extra steps in weary legs. Still, one’s best laid plans can often go awry. Try as one might, it is well-nigh impossible to be everyplace, all the time—and with entries sometimes numbering in the hundreds, railbirds stand three and four deep.

Yet for those who are patient, strolling the seemingly endless corridors of benched dogs has its own rewards; stop and show a genuine interest in any individual dog at any given moment, and odds are you’ll pick up more in five minutes than in an hour of standing alone.

Utility Group First Lhasa Apso Eng. Ch. Zentarr Elizabeth with judge Geoff Corish (right) owned, bred and handled by Margaret Anderson. Photo Karl Donvil.

On a somewhat more sobering note, this year brought great interest to the singling out of what the Kennel Club now refers to as “high profile breeds,” which include the Basset and Bloodhound, Chow Chow, Clumber Spaniel, Dogue de Bordeaux, German Shepherd, English and Neapolitan Mastiffs, St. Bernard, Shar Pei, Pekingese, Pug, French Bulldog, English Bulldog and Chinese Crested. (For more on the subject from BISD, read “Crufts: Changed for the Better?” here: ) A printed explanation issued through the ever-attentive press office explained thus: “High Profile Breeds (are) from time to time designated by the General Committee as requiring particular monitoring by reason of visible conditions which may cause health or welfare concerns. The list (of breeds) is kept under regular review, and is published from time to time in the Kennel Club Gazette.

Utility Group Second was Keeshond Eng. Am. Ch. Kemont's Skyline Gameboy. Photo Karl Donvil.

What this all translates to is an exacting level of assessment aimed at  targeting—and as necessary eliminating—dogs deemed to be physically unfit. On a catalog page entitled “Judging,” readers are informed that “…Kennel Club regulations lay down more clearly than ever a judge’s duty to reward only healthy dogs, and give them the authority to exclude any dog that appears to be unhealthy from competing at a show. Kennel Club officials and show officials are expected to refer any dogs that they believe to be unhealthy to the on-site vet. If the vet agrees, the show officials can exclude the dog from further competition at that show.”

Third in the Utility Group, Akita Eng. Ch. Redwitch Leather And Lace. Photo Karl Donvil.

This is no idle threat; just over three years ago the Kennel Club presented the results of its review of all breed standards. Many have been re-worked, re-vamped and re-worded to eliminate any-and-everything even remotely associated with features that might “prevent a dog from breathing, walking or seeing freely.” To most this came as preaching to the choir, but there remained a segment of protesters who felt the Kennel Club had over-stepped its boundaries, and laid down laws where it had no business doing so.

Toy Poodle Eng. Ch. Vantonia You'll See was Utility Group Fourth. Photo Karl Donvil.

Yet though the constant hammering of the Crufts “Fit for Function/Fit for Life” message occasionally verges on the tedious, it pays to remember the animal rightists baying at the British purebred fancy door… indeed at purebred doors around the world. The Kennel Club may project an air of cultured discipline and leather-elbowed class distinction, but under the civilized visage lurks a fierce and selfless drive to see this commitment through.

First in the Toy Group to the Swedish Pomeranian Belliver Unexpected Dream, owned by F. Nilsson and K. Bertilsson, handled by Mikael Nilsson. Photo Karl Donvil.

Opening day at Crufts was no exception; following the breed judging, one dog from each of the day’s Groups was eliminated from further competition. Following the requisite examination by a veterinary surgeon, neither the Bulldog (from the Utility Group) nor the Pekingese (from the Toy Group) was allowed to go further after having been awarded Best of Breed.

With the possible exception of a scant handful of breeds such as the German and Japanese Spitzes and Bolognese, both of these Groups look pretty familiar to North American fanciers, except perhaps in sheer numerical volume. Utility Group judge Geoff Corish faced off against 23 breeds/varieties, winnowed down from 2,634 total entries, ultimately selecting Lhasa Apso Eng. Ch. Zentarr Elizabeth as his winner. She recently represented the U.K. at the 2011 Eukanuba World Challenge in Orlando, Florida, and was the first runner up in the final.

Second in the Toy Group, Pug Eng. Ch. Pugalicious Provocateur, breeder/owner-handled by L. Brooks-Lowe. Photo Karl Donvil.

His Group Second Keeshond was American import Eng. Am. Ch. Kemont’s Skyline Gameboy; Third was another award racked up by the famous Redwitch kennel, represented by Eng. Ch. Redwitch Leather and Lace, while Group Fourth was presented to the Toy Poodle (no, that’s not a misprint) Eng. Ch. Vanitonia You’ll See. (In the U.K. all three varieties of Poodle are in the Utility Group. –Ed.)

Third in the Toy Group, Bichon Frise Eng. Ch. Pamplona Bring Me Sunshine. Photo Karl Donvil.

A brief lull, then on to the Toy Group, judged by Annette Oliver. A published author and regarded authority on Italian Greyhounds, Oliver found herself in front of 22 specimens, coming forward from a total of 2,684 Toy entries. In what could arguably be called the upset of the day, Pomeranian Belliver Unexpected Dream came out on top, courtesy of presentation by Sweden’s Mikael Nilsson. (Mikael handled the 2002 Crufts BIS winner, Standard Poodle Ch. Topscore Contradiction. –Ed.)

The gossip mill made the heavy favorite to win this Group the Dutch-bred Affenpinscher Intl. Ch. Am. GCh. Banana Joe V. Tani, in the capable hands of Ernesto Lara. ‘Banana Joe’ was America’s Number 2 Toy in 2011 and just a few short weeks ago was Group Second at Westminster. He made Mrs. Oliver’s cut.

Toy Group Fourth was Papillon Eng. Ch. Am. GCh. Lafford Fly Me To Farleysbane JW. Photo Karl Donvil.

Eng. Ch. Pugalicious Provocateur—yes, a Pug—garnered the Second place ribbon, with the 2010 Crufts Toy Group winner, Bichon Frise Eng. Ch. Pamplona Bring Me Sunshine, taking Third. Rounding out the final four was the American-owned Papillon, Eng. Ch. Am. GCh. Lafford Fly Me Too Farleysbane JW, owner-handled by Sharon Newcomb.

A good night for those expecting to see the unexpected—and tomorrow is another day…

Group Details

THE UTILITY GROUP—Judge Mr. Geoff Corish

First: Lhasa Apso Eng. Ch. Zentarr Elizabeth
(Ch. Fengola Simply W K D x Ch. Zentarr Madonna)
Owner: Mrs. M. Anderson

Second : Keeshond Eng. Am. Ch. Kemont’s Skyline Gameboy (Imp. USA)
(Am. Ch. Keeshee’s Lock Stock ‘N Barrel x Am.Ch. Skyline’s Material Girl)
Owners: Mrs. J.A. Miles, Dr. K. and Mrs. S. Cullen

Third: Akita Eng. Ch. Redwitch Leather And Lace
(Ir. Ch. Beaufleets Boogie Man x Redwitch Heated Affair)
Owners: Mrs. J. Killilea and Mrs. A. Clure

Fourth: Toy Poodle Eng. Ch. Vantonia You’ll See
(Jap. Ch. Smash JP Best Beat At Vantonia x Ch. Vantonia Gloria May)
Owners: Messrs L.A.S. Cox and T.S. Isherwood / Kaston Kennels

THE TOY GROUP—Judge Mrs. Annette Oliver

First : Pomeranian Belliver Unexpected Dream
(Eng. Ir.Ch. Belliver Unexpected Connection x Sw.Ir.Ch. Callevy’s Honeyball)
Owners: Mr. M. and Mr. F. Nilsson (Handling for Mr. F. Nilsson and Mrs. K. Bertilsson)

Second : Pug Eng. Ch. Pugalicious Provocateur JW
(Ch. Yorlander Ronaldo At Tidemill JW x Eversosweet Diamond Girl At Pugalicious)
Owner: Ms. L. Brooks-Lowe

Third: Bichon Frise Eng. Ch. Pamplona Bring Me Sunshine
(Pamplona Harry Potter x Pamplona By Request)
Owner and handler: Mr. Michael Coad

Fourth: Papillon Eng. Ch. Am. GCh. Lafford Fly Me To Farleysbane JW
(Ch. Bodebi Ray Of Success To Lafford x Farleysbane Fly High)
Owners: E. Vandermolen and S. Newcomb (United States)