I am standing on line waiting for an elevator at Pier 92 off of the West Side Highway, surrounded by well-groomed men and women in sequin jackets and bow ties who are chattering away while their equally well-groomed pure bred companions sniff the air aimlessly. All of the dogs are exceedingly polite except one—a Dalmatian who starts tap dancing in place trying to get his owner's attention.
The Dalmatian's owner ignores him until he starts barking, but she doesn't reach down to stroke him or put him at ease; instead she stomps her foot back at him, and apologizes to the other owners. "He's impatient," she says to her human friends, before turning back to her favorite grump and addressing his pleas directly: "It won't open any faster that way!" They are bickering like an old couple, with barely any physical affection, and no one raises a finely-plucked eyebrow at it.
This is one scene you'll see as you mill about the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which left a trail of slobber all the way from W. 55th Street to Madison Square Garden this week. Altogether there were 199 breeds and over 2,700 dogs, as well as three times as many groomers, handlers and owners, who turned out for the 140th edition of the show.
— Westminster Dog Show (@WKCDOGS) February 16, 2016
All the owners we talked to agreed that it is the most important, most cherished dog showing event in the country—if you are at all involved in the world of show dogs, your street cred would take a serious nosedive if you missed out—but most also griped about the financial burden. It costs thousands of dollars to participate in the event (between the entrance fees, grooming costs, plane and hotel tickets, etc), and there is no monetary prize for the winners, only "the esteem of winning Westminster." It's about bragging rights, it's about taking part in a sacred American tradition, and most of all, it's about petting an excessive amount of dogs.
— Modern Dog magazine (@ModernDogMag) February 16, 2016
After covering the event three of the last four years, I'm happy to report that these pup-centric owners mostly don't resemble the characters from movies like Best In Show. The event is not really about respect or ribbons—it's about getting to socialize with their fellow pet-loving friends, and proudly push their little buddies into the spotlight.
The dogs are, by and large, very welcoming of all the attention (and used to the large crowds); the groomers and handlers are flamboyant and friendly; and the fans strolling from aisle to aisle unsubtly shoving their faces toward the dogs' crotches are, at the very least, obscenely sincere in their passion for all-things dog. We can promise that you'll never have a more serious conversation about best bitches anywhere else.
Click through to check out tons of photos from the first day of the event above, and we'll have more coverage (including video) of the pups in the coming days. And if you want some advice about the proper etiquette for approaching the animals, just make sure you use your normal human voice initially (before lapsing into nonsensical noises).