I have a confession to make: I went to my first dog show in my 40s, less than a decade ago. I didn’t grow up in a showing or breeding family, though I was raised with a lot of dogs. Going to dog shows just never made it onto my agenda.

But ever since my first show, I’ve been fascinated, amazed and awed by them.

I couldn’t help but be wowed by my first one – it was the Westminster Kennel Club dog show at Madison Square Garden. I wasn’t there just to watch, either. I was there to cover it as a reporter. Despite that, I truly lived it. I waded through the benching area, taking in all the sights and sounds and smells. Being a newbie, I even loved the elimination pens set up for the dogs.

Of course, I’d watched dog shows on television, but I had no idea how different one would be in person, up close and personal. I’m afraid I wasn’t much help to my writing partner at that first show. I was too stunned to put two words together coherently. I couldn’t stop looking, no staring, at all the dogs and their handlers and the groomers and the assistants and the owners and the spectators. It was overwhelming.

Spectators watch as handlers present their Maltese at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Photo by Dan Sayers.

Despite my awe, I did work. By the afternoon of the second day, as I sat in one of those famed seats, I realized I was feeling woozy. At the same time, my body was tight and tense from moving around the Garden, up and down the steps, from one end to the other, changing seats, craning my neck, taking it all in. It didn’t help that I hadn’t eaten all day. But I didn’t care. I really didn’t.

You’re likely thinking, “Well, who wouldn’t be impressed by Westminster if they’d never been to a dog show before?”

I thought that too.

But it hasn’t stopped.

Every time I go to a dog show I’ve never attended, it’s the same.

My next show was the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, called something else back then. It was in Long Beach, Calif., where I now live.

Different venue, very different setup, lots of different people, lots of different dogs. But the same feelings for me. Wonder. Astonishment. Fascination.

Although I’ve toyed with the idea of taking a handling class, never in a million years would I see myself stepping into a conformation ring. I don’t like the limelight, despite my face appearing all over this website. I’d die of a heart attack before I even got out of my car in the parking lot, let alone to ringside.

Perhaps that’s why I so love watching. It’s something I could never do.

Yes, now you’re thinking: “Well, Eukanuba’s a big deal too.” And so it is.

Bichon Frise handlers present their dogs as spectators look on at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Dan Sayers.

I’m pretty sure I’m safe in citing another of my virgin shows though – the California Classic put on by the Kennel Club of Pasadena. It takes place in a city park, just like many shows do. It’s not particularly large, nor well-known outside the conformation world. Yet, it, too, holds me at attention on the bleachers at the end of the ring. The dogs and handlers are down in the dirt at this show. There’s a baseball game going on nearby. Kids are playing on climbers and swings. None of that matters. I’m rapt by the colors and the coats and the ears and the tails and all the legs trotting by.

Despite working in Irvine, Calif., for a dog magazine for eight years, I never managed to get to the Palm Springs Kennel Club shows until this year, right after joining Best In Show Daily.

Just the venue – the Empire Polo Grounds – blew me away. It’s a big blue sky covering big white tents, shading big fields of green. As a plus, I was back in the desert, my home for many years.

A handler presents his Standard Poodle to the judge – and to the crowd – at the Palm Springs Kennel Club in Indio, Calif. Photo by Dan Sayers.

The atmosphere was completely different than Westminster or Eukanuba or even Pasadena. With more space, people sat by rings with their dogs right beside them. Old friends chatted around the tables by the vendor building. A longtime breeder happily shared her specialized knowledge with a newcomer.

I’m happy to report that I am now able to do my job at a dog show while still getting wrapped up in the splendor.

At this year’s Westminster show, I found myself virtually chained to my carrel and laptop in the pressroom all day Monday. But I broke free just as the dogs who hadn’t won their breeds were released before Group judging. I stood and watched and stared and smiled and even laughed. What a parade of people, dogs, crates and emotion!

And there I was. All gaga once again.