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The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is a two-day, all-breed benched conformation show that takes place at Madison Square Garden in New York City every year. The first Westminster show was held in 1877.
The first Westminster show was first held on May 8, 1877, making it the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the United States behind only the Kentucky Derby, which was first held in 1875. The show originated as a show for gun dogs, primarily Setters and Pointers, initiated by a group of hunters who met regularly at the Westminster Hotel at Irving Place and Sixteenth Street in Manhattan. They decided to create a kennel club called the Westminster Kennel Club specifically for the purpose of holding a dog show. The prizes for these first shows included such items as pearl handled pistols, of use to the hunters and terriermen who worked these dogs in the field.
The first show took place in May 1877 at Gilmore's Gardens (the Hippodrome). That show drew over 1200 dogs and proved so popular that its originally scheduled three days became four, with the club donating proceeds from that fourth day to the ASPCA for creation of a home for stray and disabled dogs.
The Westminster Kennel Club predates the formation of the American Kennel Club by seven years, and became the first club admitted to the AKC after AKC's founding in 1884. Breed parent clubs (e.g., the Afghan Hound Club of America) create the standards for judging their breeds, with the AKC administering the rules about shows and judging.
Dogs are judged against their breed standards, to see how close each dog matches the standard, which is a written description of the ideal specimen of that breed. Standards may include references relating form to function in the performance of the job that the dog was bred for, and may also include items that seem somewhat arbitrary such as color, eye shape, tail carriage and more. While many breeds no longer need to perform their original jobs and are bred mostly for companionship, they should still have the innate ability and physical makeup to perform those jobs, and this is what the judge looks for.
Because of space considerations at Madison Square Garden, the entry is limited to 2,500 dogs and fills immediately on the first day that entries are accepted. Since 1992, the club has invited the top five dogs in each breed to be pre-entered (determined by the number of dogs defeated at shows during the previous year) to assure that all the top dogs have the chance to compete.
Today, Westminster takes place over two days and nights every February. During the day, the dogs compete at the breed level (i.e., against other dogs of the same breed). Each Best of Breed winner (BOB) advances into its respective group, of which there are seven (Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding). Group competition is held during the evenings, and the seven group winners advance into the final competition, which one judge will select one of them as the Best In Show winner. In 2014, the show allowed mixed-breed dogs to compete in an agility event.
Competition in Junior Showmanship (for handlers ages 8–18) has been held since 1934. The eight finalists all receive scholarships for post-secondary schooling. In addition, each year the club (through its Westminster Kennel Foundation) awards veterinary school scholarships for students from six schools.
The show has been broadcast on live television since 1948. The program typically airs on a Monday and Tuesday. The Monday night broadcast is shown on CNBC and the Tuesday night broadcast on USA Network. At the Garden, it has enjoyed sellout status since 2005, as tickets sell quickly once they go on sale each Fall. Indicative of its amazing worldwide popularity, more than 700 press credentials are issued to media attending in person from more than 20 countries. In addition, each year the Westminster Web site (www.westminsterkennelclub.org) has millions of visitors from around the world (about 12 million page views by users from more than 170 countries).
The winning dog becomes "America's Dog" for the next year. It begins its reign with a media tour on the day following the show with appearances on virtually all television network morning shows, a visit to the Observation Deck at the Empire State Building, and much more.
The event is embraced in New York City every February, with salutes from such world-famous partners as the Empire State Building, which lights its tower in purple and gold (Westminster colors) during the show; Saks 5th Avenue, which features a street window with a Westminster-themed display; and the New York Stock Exchange, which invites the winner to ring the opening bell following its big win.
Animal-rights advocates such as PETA have routinely protested the show, arguing that the propagation and celebration of purebreds ultimately adds to the millions of dogs who end up at and die in shelters. The AKC considers dogs to be property and has lobbied against mandatory spay-and-neuter programs, referring to such legislation as "anti-dog."
The USA Network has broadcast the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show since 1984.
David Frei has co-hosted the event since 1990. His partners have been Al Trautwig (1990-1991, 1993), Bud Collins (1992), Joe Garagiola (1994-2002), Mark McEwen (2003-2004), Lester Holt (2005, 2007-2008), Debbye Turner (2006), Mary Carillo (2009, 2011-Present), and Tamron Hall (2010).
In 1884, the AKC began requiring that all dog participants be registered with the AKC and recognized for conformation show competition. In 2012, there are 185 breeds and varieties eligible for Westminster. This includes six new breeds: Entlebucher Mountain Dog, Norwegian Lundehund, American English Coonhound, Finnish Lapphund, Cesky Terrier and Xoloitzcuintli. Because of the show's popularity and prestige, starting in 1992 the AKC limited entries by requiring that dogs must have already earned their breed Championship before appearing at Westminster.
There is no prohibition against a winner competing again in a future Westminster show. In fact, seven dogs have won multiple Westminster championships: six dogs in consecutive years (including Warren Remedy, the only three-time champion of the event) and one dog in non-consecutive years. Not since 1972, however, has there been a repeat winner. (See List of Best in Show winners of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.)
Through the 134th Westminster Show (February 2010), Best in Show has been won by the Terrier Group 45 out of the 103 times that the prize has been awarded since 1907, more than twice as many wins as any other group. The single breed that has won the most is the Wire Fox Terrier, which has won 13 times. Two of the most popular dog breeds in the United States have never won Best in Show, the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever.
The 2010 winner of Best in Show was Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot (aka: "Sadie"), a Scottish Terrier. Sadie had already won 112 best-in-show ribbons at other shows, including winning the other two major United States shows (the National Dog Show and the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship) immediately prior to her Westminster win.
The oldest dog to win Best in Show was a Sussex Spaniel named Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee (aka Stump), at 10 years of age in 2009. The youngest dog to win was a Rough Collie named Laund Loyalty of Bellhaven, at 9 months old in 1929. One dog, a Smooth Fox Terrier named Ch. Warren Remedy won Best in Show three times (1907–1909), and six other dogs have won twice. Dogs (males) have won Best in Show 68 times to 35 for bitches (females).
Following is a list of WKC Best in Show winners since 1990.
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