West­min­ster open to ‘ev­ery­dogs’

An­nual show not just re­stricted to pure­breds

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - JEN­NIFER PELTZ

NEW YORK — When the United States’ fore­most dog show added an event open to mixed breeds, own­ers cheered that ev­ery­dogs were fi­nally hav­ing their day.

They see the West­min­ster Ken­nel Club’s new agility com­pe­ti­tion, which will al­low mutts at the elite event next month for the first time since the 1800s, as a sin­gu­lar chance to show­case what un­pedi­greed dogs can do.

“It’s great that peo­ple see that, ‘Wow, this is a re­ally ta­lented mixed breed that didn’t come from a fancy breeder,’” said Stacey Camp­bell, a San Fran­cisco dog trainer head­ing to West­min­ster with Roo!, a high-en­ergy — see ex­cla­ma­tion point — husky mix she adopted from an an­i­mal shel­ter.

“I see a lot of great dogs come through shel­ters, and they would be great can­di­dates for a lot of sports. And some­times they get over­looked be­cause they’re not pure­bred dogs,” Camp­bell said.

Roo! will be one of about 225 agility dogs whizzing through tun­nels, around poles and over jumps be­fore the West­min­ster crowd. And, if she makes it to the cham­pi­onship, on na­tional TV in Fe­bru­ary.

An­i­mal-rights ad­vo­cates call the de­vel­op­ment a good step, though it isn’t end­ing their long­stand­ing crit­i­cism that the show cham­pi­ons a my­opic view of man’s best friend.

West­min­ster’s fo­cus is still on the nearly 190 breeds — three of them newly el­i­gi­ble — that get to com­pete to­ward the best-in-show tro­phy; more than 90 per cent of the agility com­peti­tors are pure­breds, too. But West­min­ster rep­re­sen­ta­tives have made a point of not­ing the new open­ing for mixed breeds, or “all-Amer­i­can dogs,” in showspeak.

“It al­lows us to re­ally stand be­hind what we say about West­min­ster be­ing the show for all the dogs in our lives,” while en­hanc­ing the 138-year-old event with a grow­ing, fun-to-watch sport, said David Frei, the show’s long­time TV host.

Some dog or­ga­ni­za­tions have al­lowed mixes to com­pete in obe­di­ence, agility and other sports for years. The Amer­i­can Ken­nel Club — the gov­ern­ing body for West­min­ster and many other events — fol­lowed suit in 2009. It has since en­rolled some 208,000 mixes and dogs from non-rec­og­nized breeds as el­i­gi­ble com­peti­tors.

One of Amer­ica’s old­est sport­ing events, the West­min­ster show had a few mixed breeds in its early days but soon be­came pure­bred ter­ri­tory. This year, more than 2,800 dogs are due to be judged on how well they fit breed stan­dards that can spec­ify ev­ery­thing from tem­per­a­ment to toe con­fig­u­ra­tion.

That has long made West­min­ster a flash­point for the pure-bred-ver­sus-mixed-breed de­bate.

Pro­po­nents say breeds pre­serve his­toric traits and help pre­dict whether a puppy will make a good po­lice dog or hik­ing com­pan­ion, for in­stance, fa­cil­i­tat­ing happy pet-owner matches.

An­i­mal-rights ac­tivists ar­gue that the de­sire for pure­breds fu­els puppy mills, for­sakes mixed­breed dogs that need homes and some­times prop­a­gates un­healthy traits.

West­min­ster pres­i­dent Sean McCarthy says the club supports con­sci­en­tious breed­ing and is “a big be­liever in dogs that are well cared for, loved and healthy,” pure­bred or not.

But to crit­ics, the show spot­lights a skin-deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of dogs while down­play­ing darker sides of breed­ing, and adding some mixed breeds out­side the main event goes only so far.

“It’s def­i­nitely a step in the right di­rec­tion,” says Daphna Nach­mi­novitch, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent for Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals. But there are bet­ter ways to help dogs than “sup­port­ing this an­ti­quated en­ter­tain­ment show,” she said.

PETA mem­bers have protested West­min­ster, once get­ting into the show’s cen­tre ring with signs in 2011. The group plans to demon­strate out­side the show this year.

Irene Palmerini con­nected with Al­fie, a poodle mix, when she spot­ted him seven years ago in a mall pet shop, seem­ing ea­ger to get out of his crate. She wasn’t look­ing for a dog, but couldn’t re­sist him.

Nor was she look­ing to take up canine agility, but he had en­ergy that needed a fo­cus.

Now, she’s gear­ing up to bring Al­fie to West­min­ster, with ex­cite­ment and a bit of in­credulity.

“I’m rep­re­sent­ing every­body who just sits on their couch with their dog,” said Palmerini, of Toms River, N.J. “He’s just our pet.”

Amy John­son/Great Dane Pho­tos

Roo! clears a hur­dle dur­ing a late 2012 event in Or­lando, Fla. The husky mix will be one of close to 225 agility dogs com­pet­ing at the an­nual West­min­ster Ken­nel Club’s show.

Seth Wenig/The As­so­ci­ated Press

Al­fie, a poodle mix, ap­proaches a hur­dle dur­ing an agility test at a re­cent West­min­ster Dog Show news con­fer­ence in New York.

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