The Westminster Dog Show’s Bizarre, Disillusioned World

If you have a few hundred thousand dollars to spare and a dog, then I have just the pretentious hobby for you!

The Westminster Dog Show's Bizarre, Disillusioned World

I’ve always had the foolish notion that having a great dog is entirely subjective. I mean, everyone loves their own dog. Some people enjoy the company of a poodle or schnauzer, while others like throwing the ball around with labs and gold retrievers. There is no right or wrong choice in dog and most owners consider their pup to be the best thing since Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.

How can you argue with that?

Well, the average person can’t, but the judges and participants at the Westminster dog show certainly can. At least that’s what we’re supposed to believe.

Over the course of the past couple days thousands of dogs congregated at Madison Square Garden to determine who is the best bred dog in the world. This year’s winner was GCH (Grand Champion) Foxcliffe Hickory Wind, a Scottish deerhound, which is a breed that 98% of the general public has never seen or heard of before. The Virginian bitch trotted away with the most prestigious award in the industry — The Westminster Dog Show 2011 Best in Show.

I might be alone here, but I’m not sure if dogs should earn titles similar to chess players, doctors and British knights. But after a little research I quickly found out titles were probably the most normal part of this bizarre dog show universe.

At the surface the Westminster Dog Show seems to have all the pretentiousness of the British polo match, but behind the scenes the show is firmly based in American culture. The entire show dog industry is merely a hobby for the opulent to frivolously spend their wealth in an effort prove that their Shih Tzu is the best in the world. And that kind of blind spending is just as American as Apollo Creed, obesity and strip malls.

The Westminster Dog Show is the culmination of a year-long circuit of dog shows, the Olympics of sorts for the well-groomed, well-fed and well-behaved pooches. Like politicians, dogs owners must mount campaigns for their dogs in order to get the attention of the show’s judges. Owners need to hire a professional handler, travel to roughly three dog shows per week (150 a year), and spend $100,000 on advertisements to promote their dog.

Yes, advertisements. Magazines like Dog News are 600 pages, comprised almost solely of advertisements geared towards catching the eye of competition judges. The prices of the ads range from $250 to $4,000.

Some owners even transfer gaurdianship of their dog to the profession handler for years of training during competition years.

Best In Show-worthy campaigns for these dogs can run the owner from $300,000 to as much as $700,000. The American Kennel Club estimates that the American public spends a baffling $330 million a year traveling to and partaking in dog shows.

Other than the title of ‘Best in Show,’ a ribbon and trophy the winner dog doesn’t win much else. Owners don’t strike gold with a blue ribbon pooch, in fact the hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money spent on the dogs unlikely to ever be recouped.

It’s an exhausting and relatively pointless journey that gets glorified and televised on the vaunted USA Network each year.

I have a hard time seeing the difference between owners dragging their dogs to these competitions and and the mothers who dress their 7 year-old daughters up like porcelain dolls for beauty pageants.

Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think dogs should have their hair straightened, weekly pedicures, and a place setting at the dinner table on steak night. The dogs in these competitions just don’t seem to be having as much fun as those chasing down a Frisbee or some tail at a dog park.