NEW YORK – In the Year of the Dog, which one will have its day at the Westminster Kennel Club show?
About 3,200 dogs are getting ready for America’s most prominent canine competition, set for Saturday, Feb. 12 and 13. As it happens, this year’s Best in Show winner will hold the title during the Chinese zodiac’s Year of the Dog, which begins a few days later.
“Of course, every year is the year of the dog at Westminster,” show spokeswoman Gail Miller Bisher said at a news conference Wednesday.
The TV show centers on picking the top purebred dog from as many as 202 breeds and varieties at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
But Westminster’s agility contest this year includes a record 29 mixed-breed dogs, about 9 percent of the total agility field. Added five years ago, agility has become a popular feature: The televised final round is expanding this year to 60 dogs, instead of 50.
A wirehaired dachshund named Nova hopes she’ll be one of them – or at least owner Sara Zislin does. It’s the first Westminster trip for both.
Short-legged, long-bodied dachshunds aren’t too common on agility courses, but 4-year-old Nova took to the sport right away after seeing Zislin’s mother practice with her border collies.
“She wanted a turn,” said Zislin, of Trenton, New Jersey. “I’m so impressed by her. I love representing a different breed.”
Westminster has often drawn protests from animal-rights activists who oppose dog breeding, and show organizers this year are seeking to emphasize purebred fanciers’ commitment to dogs. A new award recognizes breed clubs for rescuing their breed’s dogs when needed: The first winners are clubs supporting the bearded collie, English cocker spaniel and great Pyrenees.
Great Pyrenees Club of America volunteers took in over 80 of the large, livestock-guarding dogs last year from a Florida home where they were neglected, said Rhonda Dalton, a longtime club member from Monmouth Junction, New Jersey.
The English Cocker Spaniel Club of America Health and Welfare Organization rescued about 55 cockers a few years ago from a Wisconsin home, raising $55,000 to cover dental work and other care they needed, members said.
“We do it all because we want these dogs to have a good life,” said founder Dr. Marsha Wallace of Alexandria, Virginia.
Each of the three clubs will be presented with $5,000.
The Westminster show will be televised on various 21st Century Fox-owned channels; some early rounds are also being streamed on the club’s website. Best in Show judging will be on FS1 on the night of Feb. 13.