Once I get out of Madison Square Garden and get myself re-Loratadine'd, I'll write longer on the Westminster Kennel Club's 136th Annual All Breed Dog Show, generally better known as Fluffy and Licky's Histamine Rodeo and Goofstravaganza. Seven hours of dog show, as it turns out, is quite a lot of dog show, even if it is less than half of how much dog show will actually happen on Monday; the Garden shuts down at 11pm, some 15 hours after the first dogs ran their two laps of the ring. But seven hours with dogs is seven hours with dogs, which is to say that it's awesome and ridiculous and my eyes are indeed starting to itch. Was it worth it? Yes, it was worth it. Does it not look worth it?
It was worth it. It's worth it despite the sense that every dog is being very well documented and very robustly played-with by what seems like a very large group of people, and that doing so yourself is maybe piling on. The good thing about dogs, or one of the very good things about dogs, is that they do not mind being piled upon in that way. They like being photographed.
They, in this case an Ibizan Hound, do not even mind being documented by event staff and ladies in suits made of flammable-seeming and unusual fabric. This would be a good place to make up some stat about the volume of iPhone video footage taken at the dog show every year. There is no number I could make up that would be too large, or unbelievable in any way. There is so much, and everyone is doing it. This was not the only member of the MSG security team I saw doing it. This, like everything else that happened on Monday, does not bother the dogs.
Nor do the dogs here, fancy breeds and parentages be damned, mind being engaged w/r/t belly scratches. Young Biebs at upper left in the photo below was in some respects an outlier among the crowd, since the majority of non-voting-age people at this event are girls between the ages of three and eight. They are happier than pretty much any non-dog organism in the place. The dogs, being dogs, will play with anyone in any way that person desires, more or less.
These dogs are, in that regard, like every other dog. That essential dog-ness is not, oddly, the greater part of the judging process, at least relative to the comparative grace and gloss of the dogs' gaits and coats. The actual finer points of the judging are based on points entirely too fine for me to recognize. But what makes these dogs awesome is evident, even to an allergy-afflicted lay-doofus like myself.
Much of that has to do with how beautiful they are, even after all that blow-drying and making-up and baffling grooming. But much, too, has to do with their doggish inner life: how much they seem to like being here, and how gracefully they bear a 12-hour torrent of high-volume baby talk from strange people. That is, strange as in "not-previously-known," although of course there are all definitions of the word strange on display here. There are a lot of people wearing jewelry themed around a particular breed of dog. There are harsh and improbable accents. Sweatshirts advertising a certain breed of dog the way a sweatshirt might advertise, say, the Knicks or the Jets or whatever. It's New York, but it's mostly Times Square.
In many instances, the dogs seem to bear all this much-ness much better than the people who brought them here. What exhausts the people—doing the same thing, which can easily and reasonably be mistaken for nothing, for 15 hours on end—is not the sort of thing that exhausts dogs. It is, instead, the sort of thing that defines being a dog, in a broad existential sense.
One breeder/handler I talked to had shown her toy fox terrier in the day's first showings, at 8 a.m., and was stuck at her bench area, answering questions about her dogs, until 7 p.m. Her hair and glitter-embedded suit retained the crispness that only styling products and advanced polymers can provide, but the breeder herself looked as tired as anyone would if said person had been blow-drying a terrier at 5:30 a.m and been up and on ever since. At least you can bring a book or something, I told her. "I should've brought a bottle of vodka," she said. The dog, for her part, was happily panting away in her crate.
The terrier didn't win any awards, although I couldn't really tell you why. What makes some of these dogs champions and others not is, for the most part, beyond my lay-doof capacity. The judging is opaque and fondle-intensive and seems to prize some oddly un-dogly attributes.
But knowing why the winners win is not a requirement, really. There are spectators who do and spectators who don't; people who are here to coo at and scratch upon dogs and people who are here to talk dead-serious and densely jargonic breeder talk.
But it's easy enough to sense the single fundamental reason why there are all these people in Madison Square Garden, on what is after all a work day, to play with and cheer for and giggle over dogs that aren't theirs. That reason is love, and here as everywhere else you pretty much know it when you see it. And you see it freaking everywhere.