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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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”.
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.