Step into the holding area of Madison Square Garden this week, and you might just get French kissed by a new friend. That’s because it’s the annual Westminster Dog Show, and spectators are welcome to ogle the superstar canines behind the scenes at New York City’s Pier 94 and the Garden as the dogs and their handlers awaited their big moment in the spotlight on the AstroTurf show ring.
Out there, the dogs are all poise. But back here, it is a different kind of show, as spectators crowd past the lineup of kennels, with their resident canines in various states of preparation and repose behind the velvet ropes.
You might run into a six-toed Norwegian lundehund named Fiona, lying docile and belly-up in her owner’s arms. You might be greeted by the low barks of Thor the bulldog — last year’s top show dog — hidden halfway in his kennel, his Lamb Chop plush toy at his side. The Pyrenean shepherd, Princess Silene, may deign to place her paws on your shoulders and bestow her royal blessing in the form of an enthusiastic lick to your face. Or maybe you’ll seek out the animal underneath the pile of white fluff that is the toy poodle Cami, as her handler teases her locks into perfection and her owner watches, stoic. Hair spray, combs, treats—for humans and animals alike—and toys litter every surface, and a distinctive small wafts through the crowd.
Only seven of the over 2,600 contestants at the four-day Westminster show advance to the elusive Best in Show category; the final winner was selected Tuesday night, the title going to Siba the standard poodle; the runner-up, or reserve, was Bourbon the whippet. Other contenders: Bono the Havanese, Wilma the boxer, Conrad the Shetland sheepdog, Vinny the wire fox terrier and Daniel the golden retriever, a crowd favorite.
But at the end of the day, they’re all good dogs. Backstage after Siba was named winner of the non-sporting group late on Monday evening, her handler Chrystal Clas sang her charge’s praises. “She just has this confidence in herself, this attitude. She keeps me on her toes. She’s so elegant and full of herself and funny,” Clas said. And although Siba was happy to pose for photos, regal with her snout held high and groomed within an inch of her life, Clas says that’s not always how it goes. “She plays and runs in fields and comes in all muddy, and you would never know that she’s a show dog,” she said.
Take a look at the behind-the-scenes controlled chaos of the Westminster Dog Show below.