DANELINKS.COM                                                                                                                                                                                                2.1.06

GOING TO THE GARDEN
     by Sue Mahany



“The” dog show of shows… New York City…. Broadway…. The Statue of Liberty….. The Plaza Hotel…. Sardi’s….. The Empire State Building…. Tavern on the Green… Limousines and Celebrities…. Sequins and Tuxedos…Wall Street….Green carpet and purple velvet ropes…. The “press”….Central Park and Horse drawn carriages…The Ritz Carlton…………
 

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It is, and is a wonderful experience. In my opinion it is much different for the spectators than the exhibitors. 2500 champions are entered each year in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, with the stands packed with approximately 15,000 people for the Groups in the evening. Strawberries float in champagne and sequins and tuxedos abound. Four Groups are judged on Monday night, with Working being the first. The following night the following three Groups along with Best in Show are judged. It is truly an exciting time if you have an entry in the Group.

Getting to the Group is another story. First you have to make the entry, find a hotel, maneuver through the lobby, get past security and get to your room. Your crate has to be benched, so you need to get a forklift operator or have a cart to wheel your benching equipment into the Garden and to the bench during the appointed times on Sunday. Oh yes, then the car must be parked. That is before you have to get the dog walked and to the benching area by the appointed time the next morning. And only one exhibitor pass goes with the dog. The rest of your party still has to buy tickets along with the general public.

Making the entry is somewhat of a win of its own. Finally over the last four years, the Top 5 dogs in each breed get an automatic entry prior to the opening of the general entry. You still have paperwork to fill out and there is a deadline for that, but at least you don’t have to worry if you can make it before it meets the limit. If you are not in the Top 5, you need to fill out the regulation paperwork and get it there on the day the entries open, preferably in the first half hour of opening as the limit is historically reached within 50 minutes.

Once the paperwork is sent in, or before, you need to start looking for a hotel. There are not many to choose from that are within walking distance, and will take large breeds. The most common selection is the Hotel Pennsylvania. It has the longest running telephone number in the history of New York City. You will be able to recite this along with the recording quite nicely as you will hear it over and over again, up to ten times a day, if that is how often you call. We normally start calling around Thanksgiving. Usually we are somewhere on the Florida circuit in early January when I am able to actually get a reservation. If anyone out there has a better way to get through to them, I would love to know your secret.

There obviously are other options than staying in a close hotel. Many exhibitors prefer to stay in Secaucus New Jersey, which has plenty of grass and much less hassle than being in the City, but for me the morning drive seemed less desirable than dealing with whatever negatives staying within walking distance provided. Those more familiar with the City often stay in Jersey.

Now things are looking pretty good. You have survived the drive and have mastered the efficient all in one stop. You can clearly multi-task as the car is filled, humans and dog walk, and food to go is grabbed, then back in the car. When you get really good, all of this can be accomplished in less than 15 minutes.

You have a confirmed reservation, paperwork in hand, and you have your entry back. You have made it into the Garden and you have a room as you specified with confirmation in hand. You make it through the tunnel and into the City and find the Hotel Pennsylvania, or whatever other “dog hotel” you may have been able to get a reservation at. There is a spot in front and you park. The friendly doorman opens the door and helps you (sort of ) with some luggage. One person stays with the dog and the other confidently goes to the front desk, with confirmation in hand. You wait up to an hour in the hectic lobby, full of excitement, visiting with many you know. You finally reach the front desk, and they tell you your room number. Home free you think!

Up to the room you go and drop off a load, noticing that the room is nothing like what the reservation says. Not to worry, you can surely straighten that all out after you get everything to the benching area.

Off to do that and that goes pretty well. You and the dog return to the hotel, and leave the car to be parked by the staff at the hotel. No need to walk the dog right now, as you were thinking ahead and just did that last stop when you filled the car up. This will save time on your departure, as you will have avoided the need for an immediate gasoline stop as you leave.

Now it is time to tackle the mishap about the room. The line at the front desk has grown, so up to the room you go with the dog and call, explaining that this room is not what your confirmation says. They apologize and say that is all they have, and the confirmation doesn’t guarantee you would get that room, merely notates what you requested. Oh well, you are at the Garden! You can deal with the room.

I am sure most of you have seen the movie “Best In Show” and I have to say that based on my personal hotel experiences, the utility closet would be considered an upgrade at a “dog hotel”. The first (and by the way last) time that my husband Steve accompanied us he slept in his clothes in a wooden chair. There also were no curtains in our room, and we had a nice view of the Garden. I guess the roaches in the bathroom and the grayish water that trickled from the faucets was too much for him. At least the water was hot.

And then there was the year that we had a confirmed reservation for 3 people with 2 double beds and got the room with one twin size bed. So much for confirmations. Let’s not forget to mention the time I had no shower curtain and NO hot water. No tub either. It was just a corner of the room with about a 2” raised ridge in a semi circle. Invigorating in the morning to say the least. Where were those spectators staying again?? Did “the Donald” have some extra room in the Tower?? Was the Plaza full? Central Park was across the street, that would make dog walking easier! Oh well, you are at the Garden!

Now it is Sunday night. Danes show in the morning. Dinner is something grabbed nearby, and we usually prefer The Harp Bar. It is within walking distance, reasonable and good. We generally get there at least twice during our stay. After dinner you go back to the room. It is time to walk the dog and get ready to crash for an early morning. You get the dog and go downstairs, ready to go to the grass. WHAT GRASS?? People in New York curb their dogs. Concrete works just fine for most. What about Great Danes?

Remember Central Park with all the lush green areas? You got it, the spectators are there! Time to improvise. You search and search and finally find a spot. I have learned to make that one of the first priorities as we enter the city. Find the closest grass!

Here we go, Monday morning! Up early with anticipation, you get the dog and go downstairs to walk the dog again. But where oh where is the elevator? You wait and wait and eventually make it down. Darn it, that curbing thing again. You don’t worry as you have found your own secret patch of grass late last night. Unfortunately, so has everyone else.

Back upstairs you go and proudly announce to the rest of the group that the mission has been accomplished. Once inside the building for benching you CANNOT leave the building until 8 p.m. that evening. Thank goodness you got the job done as the common exercise pens inside total 3-4 for 1,250 dogs. Maybe everyone else’s Danes are less modest, but mine have never cared for the sawdust exercise pens with a herd of people and dogs waiting in line.

Everyone gets ready, and you load up the cooler, water, spray bottle etc. and head across the street. You and the dog make it to the benching area. You find your spot and the rest of your party eventually makes it there. This sure looked a lot bigger yesterday. And it is hot in here, and so many dogs and people! Not to worry, you are at the Garden!

When it is time for you to go to the ring, you start out. You have checked this out earlier and know you just need to go the end of the benching area and then left around the corner about a half a block’s distance. Why can’t you move? Where did all these people come from? Why won’t they get out of the way! After what seems like hours you make it to the ring, wet down coats, coolers, etc. in hand.

The handler and the dog are set and one of you needs to get to the exhibitor/assistant area with the cooler and the rest of the things. Now security won’t let you into the roped off area next to your ring. Oh yes, the exhibitor button that you need to get through. You find it and go ringside.

As you look around the facility you see PEOPLE EVERYWHERE! Breed judging is never seen on television and looks pretty much like a regular crowded dog show, with spectators surrounding 3 sides of every ring. Hardly anyone is in the stands as they are all on the floor. There are 8 rings set up as I recall. The vast elegance and spaciousness of the Group Ring that we are so used to seeing on television is nowhere to be found.

The carpet is slippery, the ring is small, but you are at the Garden! After a nerve-racking time, you win BOB, or go BOS, or get an Award of Merit or go back to the benching area with the memory of being at the Garden. No matter what, you all go back to the benching area. It is still hot and still busy, but you have plenty of time left to be on the bench.

Now you have the opportunity to educate the public. Actually, you have about another 8 hours to talk to them as you are there until the Working Group starts at 8 p.m. Monday evening. If you have won the breed, you have a few things to occupy your time. You have to pick up the paperwork to complete a questionnaire to help the television announcers when your dog is in the ring. Many people stop by and it is a fun time. You need to keep an eye on the rest of the Working Group winners to see who your competition is.

Now, what about lunch? Sardi’s or another famous New York restaurant? Can’t do that, as someone has to stay with the dog. Little fingers throw something into the crate or maybe PETA has come to rescue all those dogs that are mistreated by being crated. Someone better go to "The Harp” and get some food. We draw straws and the winners get to eat at the Harp before coming back with a semi cold cheeseburger.

Staying with your dog constantly is not a requirement, and many people do hire private guards to stand in front of their dog crates while they all leave to eat and enjoy the city. That works well for many, and there is nothing wrong with it, but that just has never been what appeals to us.

The hours pass and it soon becomes time to get ready for the group. We go in shifts to the Hotel to shower (unless you had only cold water in your shower that morning, and then you are set for the day) and change.

Back to the Group ring to participate or just to watch. At this point, it looks pretty much like it does on television. Lovely green carpet, gold and purple breed boxes and television and press everywhere.

Having both placed at the Group level and lost at the Breed level, I can say that the basic events of the evening are about the same. The only difference is the number of telephone calls and the adrenaline level. Once the Group is over, or when you are released from the bench, you head back to the hotel with the dog and all of the “stuff” that has been accumulated all day. You must tear down the benching area and take it back to the hotel. The next 3 groups will be setting up their areas soon.

We usually have a late dinner with friends after we watch the remaining groups. We usually get back to the hotel and get ready for the next day, which is now a free day.

Now you can enjoy the City! Take in a Broadway play, walk through Central Park, experience tea at the Plaza and have fun. It truly is a fun city with much to offer. The Statue of Liberty is awesome! If you do go to Ground Zero, be sure to visit the small church across the street. That was the headquarters for all those working and the memorabilia and presentations inside are very emotional and you will experience things you will never forget. Relax and get ready for your departure the next day.  Tonight it's time for the remaining Groups and Best In Show.

Back to the room so you can pack for an early departure the next day. Morning arrives and the appointed dog walker heads off for that little patch of grass. The elevators are especially busy this morning as the next 3 groups have arrived and now all 7 groups are competing for grass. The others pack and call for the car. Somewhere between an hour and four hours after you call the car is located and delivered, and it is time to start the journey home. We have now learned not to valet park, as self-parking eliminates a lot of the tension when trying to leave.

This is just a recap of some of my experiences when exhibiting a dog or attending the Garden as a spectator. Having participated on both sides, the trip home is always filled with memories. When attending without a dog, you can experience a lot of things the city has to offer. It is still fun and exciting but cannot come close to the thrill of seeing your own dog on the green carpet, and walking out of the Garden seeing the Empire State Building illuminated in purple and gold.

Even with the traffic and logistics, congestion and cab rides, I would recommend at least one trip as exhibitor or spectator to the Garden to all. It is one of the “Greatest Shows on Earth”.


Editor's note-
Pictured above in the GROUP ring at Westminster KC is BIS BISS CH. DANE LANE'S CELEBRATION bred / owned by Steve & Sue Mahany.  BRADY won BOB (twice) and GROUP II that night at The Garden.  That is the highest Group placement a Great Dane has won at that show in several years.

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