No audience, new venue, but Westminster barks on
New York — There will be plenty of tradition, pup and circumstance at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show this weekend.
But for the first time in its 145-year history, the storied canine competition is trading the buzz of the Big Apple for the airy grounds of a suburban riverfront estate, one of many changes prompted by pandemic precautions.
The show was rescheduled from its usual February dates and isn’t allowing in-person spectators. Human participants must be vaccinated or newly tested.
Dogs will compete as usual on green carpet for televised parts of the competition, but some other rounds will happen on an even more traditional green carpet — the lawn at the Lyndhurst estate in Tarrytown, New York.
And the sought-after best in show trophy will be awarded under a tent outside Lyndhurst’s Gothic-castlelike mansion, not in the sports palace of Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden.
“It’s a heartbreak because that’s definitely part of the prestige of going, and the nostalgia,” says handler Renee Rosamilla of Ocala, Florida. “But I’m just, honestly, thrilled that they were able to let us have Westminster this year.”
The show kicks off with an agility competition Friday, followed by weekend events including the traditional breed judging that leads to the best in show title. It will be conferred Sunday night during a live broadcast on Fox. (Earlier rounds also are being televised or streamed.)
Some off-the-beaten-path breeds are in the hunt for the big prize this year. Dog cognoscenti are keeping an eye on high-ranking hopefuls including a lagotto Romagnolo — an Italian truffle-hunting breed that first appeared at Westminster only five years ago — and a Dandie Dinmont terrier, the 15th-rarest U.S. breed, by the American Kennel Club’s count. The Dandie, named for a character in Sir Walter Scott’s 1815 novel “Guy Mannering,” is considered to be at risk of disappearing even in its homeland, the United Kingdom.
The show also is due to feature four breeds that are eligible to compete for the first time — the barbet, the dogo Argentino, the Belgian Laekenois, and the Biewer terrier.
Despite pandemic uncertainties and changes, Westminster filled its usual number of entry slots and even expanded the agility roster a bit, organizers said.
Still, with many dog shows canceled over the last 15 months, it was tough or impossible for some dogs to get the points needed to qualify for Westminster. There were 545 AKC-sanctioned dog shows nationwide last year, down more than 60% from 2019.
The last Westminster show concluded Feb. 11, 2020, when there were only 13 confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide, though the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since concluded the virus was already more prevalent. Within about a month, holding a public event was unthinkable.
The show returns to the Garden in January 2022.