By Jennifer Glickel and Mariel S. Clark
MIDTOWN WEST — It was a dog day afternoon in Manhattan as thousands of pooches, their owners, breeders, groomers, judges and fans descended upon Madison Square Garden for the 134th annual Westminster Dog Show on Monday.
From New York City favorites like Yorkshire Terriers to massive St. Bernards, more than 2,500 dogs from 173 different breeds compete for top dog in the event, which runs through Tuesday night.
"Coming to New York City for Westminster is a little mind-boggling, but I'm so excited," said Haley Pemble, 15, who came from Washington State to participate in the junior handler competition. "It's an honor to be here. But I have to say with all this mayhem I may or may not want to come back."
The Garden floor was a flurry of activity as spectators crowded around the edges of the show rings. The people were noisy, but the dogs, all 2,573 of them, were mostly quiet — save for the occasional bark of a basset hound, much to the dismay of its handler.
Backstage, dogs were primped, groomed and prepped to go in front of judges. In the air was a nervous hum of energy, though most of the dogs calmly accepted the weight of the mission ahead of them.
"This is the second time that he's won best in breed, so it's a particularly exciting achievement," said Hans Boelaars, the breeder of Manhattan pooch Mondrian, a cavalier Charles king spaniel. "He won three years ago and then again today, so it's great for the breed that he stays so beautiful."
This year three new breeds joined the show: the Norwegian buhund, the Pyrenean shepherd and the Irish red and white setter.
Australian shepherds faced some of the stiffest competition with 44 dogs entered. Other breeds were limited to just a few — there was a lone Dandie Dinmont terrier and only a pair of kuvaszok, which are large, white-haired working dogs.
Dogs from the hound, toy, non-sporting and herding groups will be judged on Monday. Sporting, working and terrier groups will be judged Tuesday with the coveted best in show award to be bestowed Tuesday night around 11 p.m.
The dog show is an elimination-style competition. All the dogs of the same breed or variety go head-to-head — or tail-to-tail — in front of a judge who picks the one that best exemplifies the breed.
"Every breed has its own standard of excellence," said James Reynolds, who has been judging for 42 years. "As a judge you are looking to see how closely each dog comes to meeting their breed's standards."
"A common misconception that people have is that we're judging one dog against another but really we're judging them against the standard of excellence."
In the basset hound category, the winner was Ch. Blossomhil's Mamma Mia, affectionately known as Violet to her owners.
"Her father won here two years ago, so it's like a family tradition," said Violet's handler Mike Stone.
Violet, and the rest of the best of breeds will be judged against others in their group.
The highest prize, best in show, will be given to one of the seven group winners.
The best in show title brings with it fame and fortune for dog and owner alike. Last year, a 10-year-old Sussex Spaniel nicknamed "Stump" became the oldest dog to win best in show and went on to grace the cover of AARP magazine.