Here comes the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, again. The precious, obscure breeds (coton de tulear?), the unctuous TV commentary, the poorly dressed trainers running in circles. And yet we watch. Why?
For me, it's a futile desire to see the vindication of the noble dachshund: long, low and proud, and yet never honored with Best in Show. A travesty, nay, a conspiracy. And don't even get me started on the bias, irrefutably documented, in favor of terriers, including last year's winner, a wire fox terrier named GC Afterall Painting the Sky.
Deep breaths. We love dogs. Westminster has an august history. Let's ponder the tradition of canine dignity, setting aside for another day the troubling favoritism imposed by the terrier overlords.
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The show grows out of meetings of "sporting gentlemen" who gather to discuss shooting exploits and talented dogs. The first New York Bench Show of Dogs held under the auspices of the Westminster Kennel Club takes place in 1877 in the Hippodrome at Gilmore's Garden, forerunner of Madison Square Garden. About 1,200 dogs show up, as do 20,000 human spectators.
Self-parody sets in early, foreshadowing by more than a century the invaluable mockumentary Best in Show (2000).
In 1889, "the Czar of Russia" is listed as the breeder of a Siberian wolfhound entered in the show. The next year, "the Emperor of Germany" enters a Russian wolfhound. Ruthless autocrat humor fades with the turn of the century and two world wars.
Wall Street marks its territory, as J.P. Morgan makes the first of his many appearances at Westminster, accompanying his famously coddled collies.
The award for Best in Show is awarded for the first time. This year and for the next two, the winner is a smooth fox terrier bitch named Ch. Warren Remedy. The terrier conspiracy begins. (Grr.)
The Westminster Show nods to dire times, honoring World War I hero Filax of Lewanno, a German shepherd credited with rescuing 54 wounded soldiers. Good dog, Filax, very good dog.
German shepherds don't win much, but they're popular for their intelligence and work ethic. In 1933, New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig's Afra of Cosalta takes second in the Open Bitch class.
Feminism arrives at Westminster. Mrs. Sherman Hoyt becomes the first woman handler to win Best in Show, with her standard poodle. A woman would not win again for 21 years.
Late 1930s to late 1990s
Nothing terribly interesting happens for 60 years. Then, in 1999, Kirby, a Papillon officially known as Ch. Loteki Supernatural Being, strikes a blow against ageism by becoming the oldest Best in Show winner. At eight human years (56 in dog), Kirby is also the first ever to win Westminster and the World Dog Show at Helsinki. A decade later, Stump, a Sussex spaniel, wins Westminster Best of Show at the age of 10 human years (70 dog).
Scottish Terrier Sadie (Ch. Roundtown Maryscot of Mercedes) wins Best in Show. This marks the eighth time a Scottish terrier captures the top award, second only to wire fox terriers, with 13. In 2014, a wire fox terrier wins, again. Have I made my point?
To date, cumulative dachshund Best in Show trophies: zero. We'll be watching.
Paul Barrett has owned dachshunds for 25 years. Beau of Warren Street reigns as the handsomest dog in Brooklyn, N.Y. Apologies for historical material, and thanks to Westminsterkennelclub.com.