Pooches show their best side at Westminster

Thousands of dogs put their best paw forward at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show backstage in hopes of advancing toward the gold.

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Release the hounds.

Thousands of dogs strut their stuff in New York City at the 141st annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show on Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, judges began looking over an expected 2,800 contestants at exhibition halls on piers on the Hudson River. But before the dogs put their best foot forward for the judges, they were meticulously preened and primped backstage by their handlers. Now in its 141st year, the show is the second-longest continuously running sporting event in the United States after the Kentucky Derby.

"So we're here today at the 141st annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show and we have nearly 2,800 dogs entered in the show this year from 49 states and 16 other countries," said Westminster spokeswoman Gail Miller Bisher.

"And so today, Piers 92 and 94, we have the breed judging, so this is where the dogs are trying to advance or trying to win Best of Breed and then advance to the group judging at Madison Square Garden," she continued.

Three new breeds just added to the Westminster Kennel Club's registry are the Pumi, the Sloughi and the American Hairless Terrier.

 

"They're actually not new breeds, they're just new to the U.S. and so we have the Pumi, which is a Hungarian herding dog that will be in the herding group and it's historical for that breed because whoever wins Best of Breed today will be the first Pumi to be at the Garden at Westminster, so it's a big deal," Bisher said. "And then we also have the Sloughi, which is an ancient African sighthound hunting dog."

Five-and-a-half-year-old Toby the Sloughi has been the No. 1 Sloughi in the country since 2014, according to his owner, Erika Wyatt. He's a two-time specialty winner and was the Best of Breed Sloughi at the AKC National Championship in Orlando in December.

"This is a breed that is naturally very aloof, they're not bred to be extremely outgoing or gregarious, and so they are naturally reserved around strangers," said Wyatt. "And plus, Toby lives in the country, we live on 12 acres at home and we traveled here and he can't believe there's so little grass in New York City."

Nancy Nelson traveled with Zsa Zsa, her 5-year-old Pumi from Norwalk, Connecticut.

"We'd like to say they're really cute. So we say they're Curious, Unique, Tenacious and Energetic," Nelson said. "So Zsa Zsa lives up to her name. She's very enamored of Ms. Gabor and misses her very much. She loves to shop. She likes to get out and about. And her favorite street in New York is 47th street where all the jewelry vendors are."

Nearly 200 breeds and varieties were eligible for this year's Westminster competition. After judges select the best of each breed, the top dogs go to the main event at Madison Square Garden where they are narrowed down to best of each group: hound, toy, non-sporting, herding, sporting, working or terrier, which go on to compete for the "Best In Show" title.