Image: Westminister dog show
TIMOTHY A. CLARY  /  AFP - Getty Images
Handlers line up with their dogs during the first day at the 132nd Westminster Kennel Club Annual Dog Show at Madison Square Garden last February.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/6/2009 11:58:28 AM ET 2009-02-06T16:58:28

February is dog month in New York City, with a host of events that revolve around the famous Westminster Dog Show.

The Empire State Building gets dressed up in Westminster’s official colors of purple and gold. Stores such as Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue get creative with dog-related window displays. Pet-friendly restaurants introduce special canine menus, and hotels offer welcoming pet packages. Banners and flags go up around Madison Square Garden, the home to the dog show since the 1800s. And everyone in the city braces for the event that’s become such a major draw, billed as one of the top 10 annual attractions that bring people to the Big Apple.

This year marks the 133rd dog show. It’s still not too late to purchase tickets for the two-day event Feb. 9-10. Because it’s a benched show — which means all the dogs have to remain backstage for the entire day — the public has a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with the different breeds.

For shopaholics, the mini mall set up adjacent to the benching area is a great place to pick up samples of the latest dog foods and purchase a variety of dog-related gear — or even some high-end, breed-specific jewelry.

What is officially known as Westminster Week kicks off Friday with a SkyBark party being held at the PennTop Ballroom in the Hotel Pennsylvania, starting at 8 p.m. SkyBark is the famous Los Angeles doggie nightclub. The organizers plan to transform this rooftop New York venue into a doggie disco for this special event. Tickets can be purchased at the door. It’s $35 per person and $15 per dog. Apart from a DJ spinning the latest dance music, there will also be a pet fashion show, and well-known pet photographer Krista Droop will be on hand to photograph people and their pooches. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the North Shore Animal League.

On Saturday, The Angel on a Leash organization — the charity affiliated with the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) that focuses on pet therapy work — is hosting a two-hour benefit at the Affinia Hotel at 5 p.m. Hors d’oeuvres and light supper will be served, and guests with get an opportunity to meet seven of the eight past Best in Show winners.

“Never in our history have we gathered this kind of collection of past winners together for any event. This is like the Hall of Fame of Dogs,” says WKC Communications Director David. Tickets cost $100 per person. For information or to order tickets, visit angelonaleash.org, call 877-DOG-ANGEL or e-mail Kathy@angelonaleash.org.

The dog that wins Best in Show 2009 will be guest of honor at a luncheon hosted by the Metropolitan Dog Club on Feb. 11. The Best In Show Brunch will be at Charlie Palmer’s Metrazur Restaurant East Balcony, Main Concourse Grand Central Station. The public is invited. The $125 tickets must be purchased in advance. The reception (10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.) offers dog lovers the rare opportunity to meet WKC group judges and hear Best-In-Show judge Sari Brewster Tietjen discuss how she selected America’s top dog. For reservations and additional information, visit bestinshowbrunch.com, call 212-465-3184 or e-mail president@metropolitandogclub.com. Slideshow: Westminster Dog Show

If you are in the city with your dog, a visit to the Hotel Pennsylvania is a must during Westminster week. The hotel, on Seventh Avenue across from Madison Square Garden, plays host to more than 1,300 contestants every year, and your dog will be able to rub noses with celebrity show dogs. The hotel management converts the ballroom into the largest doggie green room in the world. There are even special doggie toilets marked “boys” and “girls.” You can book a massage for your pet, visit pet psychic Annie Germani and even have your dog’s portrait painted. Even if you don’t have a dog, it’s a great tourist attraction.

Dogs are allowed to hang with their owners on the patio sections of many New York restaurants (depending on the February weather of course). Irish pub Finnegan’s Wake and Italian eatery Petaluma are places where you could possibly catch current top dog Uno the Beagle hanging out with David Frei.

Another popular doggie hangout is Fetch Bar and Grill. The walls are covered from floor to ceiling with patrons’ dog photos, and the bathroom walls are papered with photographs of cats.

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Art lovers will enjoy the exhibition and sale of 19th century dog paintings at the William Secord Gallery, which runs Monday through March 22. More than 30 paintings will showcase the range and diversity of the time period's animal artists and showcase the many breeds characteristic of England, America and Europe, including bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, dachshunds, Dandie Dinmont terriers, English setters, foxhounds, mastiffs, pointers, pugs, Saint Bernards, White Highland terriers and Yorkshire terriers.

The exhibition opens with a reception on Monday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The gallery will be open from 10 a.m. to  6 p.m. on Feb. 10, 11 and 12 (regular gallery hours are Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m to 5 p.m.). For more information call 212-249-0075 or e-mail wsecord@dogpainting.com. Dogs are welcome, too.

Some of the most fashionable hotels in New York — including the Kimpton Hotels, W Hotels and the trendy Soho Grand Hotel — are very dog friendly. Be sure to check for special packages during February.

Whatever the weather, your dog will enjoy a walk through Central Park. The NYC Dog Walking Tour visits such neighborhoods as Greenwich Village, Soho, Lower East Side and Little Italy. While out, consider visiting one of the numerous fashionable pet stores where you can spoil your pooch with an “I Love N.Y.” T- shirt. While you're at it, treat yourself to a tote bag featuring a map of New York's best dog parks.

Other dog-related events to note in February:

Friday
A performance of "Billy Elliot," the Broadway smash hit with music by Elton John, will be held in aid of the AKC Museum of the Dog. This year marks the 24th annual benefit for the museum. For ticket information call 314-821-3647 or e-mail dogarts@aol.com.

Monday
The Take The Lead to Westminster champagne and light supper celebration, held at the Club Bar & Grill at Madison Square Garden, follows the group judging on the first night of the show. It starts at 11 p.m. This organization supports and cares for people involved in the sport of purebred dogs who suffer the devastation of life-threatening or terminal illness. Tickets cost $125 per person, and must be purchased in advance by visiting www.takethelead.org or calling 800-814-1123.

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.

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Video: NYC welcomes Westminster top dogs

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