A dog show would hardly seem the place for catcalls, but there they were last week in Madison Square Garden, a solid round of boos and jeers. They were directed at a stately judge, Mrs. Augustus Riggs IV, who had just picked a white standard poodle, Ch. Acadia Command Performance, as the best-in-show at Westminster. In the opinion of knowledgeable dog people the poodle deserved the win as the best of the more than 3,000 entries, but the 10,000 spectators were not all knowledgeable dog people, and they obviously favored two others of the six finalists. One was a splashy Afghan, Ch. Khayam's Apollo, handled by a show-ring rarity, a black man, Eugene Blake. The second choice was Ch. Sagamore Toccoa, a silver-buff cocker spaniel that had been the insiders' favorite before the 97th annual show began.
But the hissing made little difference to Edward B. Jenner of Richmond, Ill., the visibly elated co-owner, with Jo Ann Sering, of Ch. Acadia Command Performance. After years of futility, Jenner finally had a dog, or rather half of a dog, that made it to the top and no jeers could dim his cheer. "I've tried for 35 years to do it in the Garden!" he exclaimed as fans of the losers grumbled off into the night. "You can't believe it's going to happen!" Even Ch. Acadia Command Performance, called Bart by intimates, was happy. He kept jumping up at his handler, Frank Sabella, who had stood guard during the day while the dog rested and had his topknot put up with rubber bands in preparation for the big event. For Bart, the win means more available bitches and for the owners more money because Westminster is the most prestigious show in dogdom. There are bigger shows and—some say—better shows but none has more status.
To the diversified collection of people who are deeply involved in the dog game—Sometimes seriously called "doggy doings"—Westminster is a combination Sugar Bowl, trade fair marathon dance, bugged Watergate and two-day journey inside a rush-hour subway car, with, as one might expect, a most distinct air of its own. The conditions are grueling and they are sometimes made all the more trying by the ushers and guards that the Garden unleashes on patrons like a kennelful of attack-trained Dobermans. This year even the show catalog, which sold for $2.50, was a challenge. The printer apparently used sugared water instead of glue in the binding, and when opened in the Garden's steamy air any one of the 328 pages was likely to spring loose. When officials of the tight little Westminster Kennel Club actually were apologetic about the catalog instead of snarling, a number of dog show veterans began to wonder if maybe they weren't in the wrong kennel. For decade after decade the Westminster Kennel Club has been composed of starchy old-line New Yorkers who dissolved into the pages of Louis Auchincloss novels when the annual show was over, but in recent years they have begun to unbend, even to the point of holding press conferences. To the small clan of writers who regularly cover doggy doings, the most moving moment came when one reporter of 37 years' experience told Westminster Vice-President Robert V. Lindsay (a brother of Mayor John), "We've never had Westminster Club members come and talk to us as they have in the past few years—it makes us think we're human."
What makes Westminster a nightmare for both exhibitor and dog is the very thing that draws the public—it is a bench show. Every dog—win, lose or draw—has to stay in the Garden from nine in the morning until nine at night. After leaving the ring, dogs and owners go to an assigned cubicle in the benching area where, row upon row, they either await the next round of judging or ponder defeat while friends and strangers stop by to gab and gossip.
"A bench show is rough for the owners and rough for the dogs," said the Rev. George E. Sinkinson Jr., an Episcopal minister from Garrison Forest, Md., who has bewildered several bishops by breeding bloodhounds under the name of The Rectory Kennel. "By 5 p.m. of the second day of a bench show, you can sense the tempers start to rise." There are some fanciers, especially those involved with larger breeds, who avoid Westminster altogether. Jacquin Sanders of Pound Ridge, N.Y., a bull mastiff breeder who did not bother to visit the Garden even to gossip, said, " Westminster isn't a big show for bull mastiffs. Our big show is the specialty, the show for bull mastiffs held once a year by the breed club." Asked why he shied from Westminster, Sanders replied, "Have you ever spent 12 hours in the Garden basement with a 150-pound dog?"
There are other reasons for complaints: some fanciers find the show rings at Westminster too small to gait a dog. And last week in the showing of at least two breeds, there were growls from onlookers that the winners suffered badly from hip dysplasia. "It was like a horror movie where you hear the monster clumping down the stairs," said one ringsider of a winner that limped.
Robert Abady, the outspoken breeder of Bouviers, was present the first day even though he scorns shows as rife with politics. " Westminster is the culmination of the farce that goes on all year long," he said, looking around at the crowd. "Hostilities are rampant underneath but everyone comes with a smile."
For all the bitching, Westminster is still tops, even though, as Mrs. Barbara Ottum, a breeder of St. Bernards, of Falmouth, Maine, said, it is more of "a rat race" than a dog show. Asked why she came, Mrs. Ottum said, "We love it." Tom Renner, a fellow St. Bernard breeder, said, "We're complete idiots." Another masochist, Don Sturz, a golden retriever breeder from Bellmore, N.Y., said, "I keep telling myself every year I'm not coming back, but, well, it's a big show, it's close, you meet friends, and people come by and ask if you have puppies for sale." Bob Schneider, who gave up directing TV commercials to raise German short-haired pointers and otterhounds, said, "Every year my wife and I say we're not coming back. But economically it has to be. We have a boarding kennel, and between boarding and grooming and the fact that I hope to get my professional handler's license, well, the show has prestige and the contacts are invaluable."
Many visitors to Westminster spend most of their time wandering around the benching area talking to breeders about what dog would be best for them or their children. Some are in the market for a puppy of a certain breed. Mrs. Gwen Swann of Bury St. Edmunds flew over from England with her daughter Joanna, just for one day, "specially to see the Paps." The Pap or Papillon is a froufrou-type dog that is descended from the dwarf spaniel that was a favorite of Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette. It is named Papillon, French for butterfly, because its erect, fluffy ears stick out from its head like the wings of that insect. Mrs. Swann exports her dogs to this country and she was interested in seeing what type of Papillons the Americans are producing. "I exported Lace Wings Litany, one of the most famous sires," she said. "He's dead now." Mrs. Swann, a Margaret Rutherford type, has been breeding, showing and judging Paps for 30 years, but this was her first visit to Westminster. She found the show less tiring than Crufts, the big English show that attracts twice as many dogs as Westminster and which she had attended the previous week. Mrs. Swann not only found the U.S. Paps different but remarked that Americans were more emotional about their dogs. "Americans pick up their dogs and cuddle and kiss them," she said. "That, the English would never do. Someone might see!"
The benching area, crammed with dogs and friends of dogs, was also lined with booths where vendors displayed leads, crates, dog food, sentimental doggy stationery, nutritional supplements and scoops, including one that boasted the snappy slogan, "It's in the bag with Dogmatic." The most prominent display was manned, and manned is the word, by Captain Haggerty. The captain, who rarely uses his first name, Arthur, is 6'3", weighs 330 pounds and has a bullet-bald head. Haggerty made captain as commanding officer of the U.S. Army K-9 Corps, and he is in the dog business up to the furrows on the back of his neck. The president of Captain Haggerty's School for Dogs Inc., he has an encyclopedic knowledge of canines and he will advise, for $25 per consultation, a prospective owner on what breed might be best suited to meet his individual needs. Should an owner wish, he will also train a dog in obedience, for the stage or show, for hunting or full police-dog work or even to pull a sleigh. Captain Haggerty rents dogs, too. As of last week he had over 300 "compound dogs," mostly German shepherds with a few Dobermans, leased out to guard factories, warehouses, offices and construction sites. Another 40 of these animals were at home in Walkill, N.Y., as "backup dogs."