The Barbra Streisand of the dog world at the moment is a pert, black Scottish terrier bitch named Mamie. Under her stage name, Ch. Carmichael's Fanfare, Mamie won her Oscar, her Emmy and her Critics Circle Award last week when she was chosen best-in-show at the 89th running of The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York's Madison Square Garden. But even though Mamie turned out to be the star and got most of the resulting publicity, it was the supporting cast of 2,572 less-heralded entries and their supporting army of harassed handlers and nervous owners that made the Westminster once again what it always has been—the greatest spectacle in the whole neurotic world of dog show biz.
"The Westminster is a prestige show, and you have to come to it," said one of the owners, Mrs. Hendrik Van Rensselaer of the Fezziwig Kennels in Basking Ridge, N.J. amid the howls, yowls and general confusions of the Garden basement. "Outdoor shows are much nicer, calmer and quieter. This place puts a terrible strain on the dogs. It is hard to keep long-haired dogs groomed. The rules are very strict—no dog admitted after 11:30 a.m.; no dog allowed to leave until 10 at night. No dog even allowed to leave its assigned slot on the bench except an hour before showing, when it can be groomed, or to relieve itself in the exercise pen. You spend two days and more in preparation just for a few moments in the ring. It is terrible, because you get stuck down in the Garden basement for two whole days."
Serena Van Rensselaer should know. She and her husband were there with two of the longest-haired dogs of all, one of them a 100-pound ball of seemingly shapeless fur named Ch. Fezziwig Raggedy Andy. It is one of the many injustices of the sport that Raggedy Andy's small triumph at Westminster did not even earn him a mention in
The New York Times
, but his contribution was as great as that of Mamie the Headliner, and his handlers and owners had to work and worry just as hard to provide it.
Net yet quite 5 years old, Raggedy Andy is already the winningest active Old English sheepdog in the land, the second-ranked in the working dog group and the fifth-ranked in Phillips ratings for all breeds. As heir apparent to his famed uncle, Ch. Fezziwig Ceiling Zero, a sheepdog who won more championships than any other in the world, Andy, between shows, lives a rich, full life with some 10 other sheepdogs on the red clay of his owners' six-acre estate.
Mrs. Van Rensselaer, a robust, good-looking young grandmother of five, had pulled Andy and his aunt, Ch. Fezziwig Phoebe, away from the clay a few days before she was to bring them both into the Garden. Phoebe was put in a clean-graveled shed, and Andy spent most of his time lolling happily in the family station wagon.
"It would be hopeless to try to keep these characters spotless all the time," Serena said. "They'll have their feet and their beards washed, their paws rounded with scissors and their tail plumes trimmed off. Then we'll scrape their teeth and brush them with baking soda, and give their coats a thorough cornstarching and brushing before they go into the ring on Tuesday morning." She paused for a moment, then added, "As a matter of fact, I'll try to make them look as good as possible for their long day at the Garden on Monday. The Westminster is rough because it is a show and we must be there to help draw the crowd and increase the gate."
On Sunday night Andy, Phoebe and the Van Rensselaers arrived, along with about 100 other exhibitors and their dogs, in the lobby of the Hotel Taft in midtown Manhattan. Phoebe stood on her hind legs at the desk and pawed the register while her owners signed a statement that they would pay the hotel for any damage that might be done.
Next morning all four of the hotel guests, together with Mr. and Mrs. Joseph McCabe and their two Fezziwig sheepdogs, drove through slushy streets to the Garden and its basement inferno. I went with them, and was immediately overcome by the searing smell of disinfectant and the noise—yelps, screams, barks, howls, whimpers and cries—that bombarded us from every side. "This is nothing," said Hendrik. "It's still early. Wait until people start coming after work."
The four dogs were placed in nonpartitioned slots numbered 16, 17, 18, 19—the same numbers that would identify them in the show ring. "We used to keep the dogs in wire cages," said Serena, "so people couldn't touch them, but they kept asking if the dogs were vicious, so now, for the reputation of the breed, we just let them sit out in the open and be mauled." Everybody, it seems, wants to touch a sheepdog.
A strip of blue carpet was rolled out for the dogs, and soon they slumped down, blandly ignoring their surroundings. Not so their owners. Serena began to have a fit because a sheepdog in a cage nearby had not been watered. "Someone probably shipped it to the show and it has been here all night with only some handler to look in on it," she said. "But we are forbidden to touch it, feed it or water it. One exhibitor might harm another's dog that way, you see. I suppose it's been known to happen, though I can't imagine it."