New York City is about to go to the dogs, as hotels, taxis and pet-friendly establishments once again get ready to greet the 169 different breeds and varieties taking part in the 132nd Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden on February 11 and 12.
It’s not only the contestants that fly in from near and far, but dog lovers too—and many of them go out of their way to sniff out and meet some of these celebrity show dogs.
“I call it the Alma Mater Factor,” says David Frei director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club in New York.
“We have such a spiritual and emotional connection with our dogs. And if you own a particular breed, you automatically have a vested interest in those dogs, both inside and outside the ring. I think it’s only human nature to compare them to your own special pooch at home. People realize that if they gave their dog a few less cookies, a weekly grooming instead of a once-a-month bath, and did a little road work, they could be up there too. This is a sport where professionals and amateurs can work along side one another in the show ring.”
Undoubtedly, the best pooch celebrity hangout is the Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue, directly opposite Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, making it very easy for both New Yorkers and tourists to enjoy the hoopla that precedes the show itself.
The Hotel Pennsylvania is known the world over as the host hotel catering to these VIPs — Very Important Pooches. And this year, more than 1,000 of the 2,500 contestants are scheduled to check in.
One of the best places to dog watch is outside the hotel as cars and taxis, and even limos draw up to allow their four-foot occupants to leap out, followed by entourages of owners, handlers and bags of paraphernalia, including grooming tools and tables and a myriad of products to pamper and pouf.
And it’s not unusual to see dogs with their ears in special curlers and booties on their paws to keep them clean while going for a walk outside this famous landmark—not that it’s necessary for these celebrity canines to ever leave the building.
The hotel has a special doggie concierge to attend to all canine needs, both before and during the dog show.
“We believe it’s as important to cater to our four-legged guests, as well as our two-legged ones. No request is ever turned down,” says Jerry Grymek, canine concierge extraordinaire. Armed with a lint roller to ensure there’s not a hair in place, he attends to every canine quirk and bends over backward to deal with every doggie demand.
“I already know that when an owner calls down asking for an extra cot and blankets for their dog that it’s actually for themselves because their pooch has taken over the bed. I know for sure that once again this year, there will be lots of owners camping on the floor so that their dogs can get a good night’s rest.”
Further, every year the hotel converts the ballroom into the largest doggie green room and 'spaw' in the world.
“If the weather is bad, there’s no need for any dog to go outside to exercise,” explains Grymek.
With jog-a dog treadmill machines in the hotel to maintain their fitness routines, and a complete grooming center with jacuzzi-styled baths and tables with blow dryers, show pooches can easily be fluffed up and perfectly coiffed for show day.
And most importantly, a section of the room is strewn with sawdust and converted into what is undoubtedly the largest doggie restroom in the world. It’s divided up for males and females. And yes, the line is definitely longer for female dogs. Some of them simply can’t find the right spot!
While the 'spaw' facilities are strictly for the show dogs, there’s no reason why locals and tourists alike can't tour the green room.
However, Grymek says that anyone can book a personal session for their dog to “speak” to doggie psychic Annie Germani of Monroe, Mich., who will be on hand during Westminster show week to hear dogfessions.
Germani, who says that she has been able to communicate with animals since childhood confides that during her sessions some dogs can be real telltales and enjoy spilling the beans about their owners.
“I once communicated with a Borzoi that told me his owner was forever telling him where to go pee and he asked me to pass on the message to be allowed to select his own spot,” she confides.
For dog show groupies keen on getting photographs taken with a celebrity show dog or even pawdagraphs (yes some dogs have special stamps …), the best place to hang out is the foyer of the hotel. Dogs start arriving about four days prior to the show, with Saturday afternoon reaching a chaotic climax of crates and canines. Promoters will be giving out treats and samples, and this year a pianist will take center stage in the foyer, playing especially composed music to calm canine nerves.
Tickets for the two-day dog show are always at a premium and once again, the show is predicted to sell-out, leaving many standing in the freezing cold, hoping to pick up any last minute seats.
One of the most prized souvenirs of Westminster week is actually a free goody bag packed with wonderful doggie treats and coupons, which are generously handed out to passers in the vicinity on Madison Square Garden during the two-day event. The famous yellow bags are sponsored by Pedigree as part of their Adoption Drive to help homeless pets around the country. They come with no strings attached; only the hope that recipients will be generous and make a donation, however small, to this worthy cause. Because sadly, behind all the glitz and glamour of the Westminster Dog Show, lurks the reality that not all dogs are lucky enough to lead that clichéd dog’s life …
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.