A chaotic symphony of shrill shrimpy yips and robust, meaty borks clashed beautifully with the chorus of “God Loves a Terrier” looping inside my brain on Saturday, as I joined the enthusiastic thousands coursing through Piers 92 and 94. We were there to Meet the Breeds—the borzois, the bloodhounds, and other exemplary specimens representative of the various different dog types competing in the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this week—and also, to enjoy feats of canine athleticism displayed during concurrent agility tests.
All the dogs were very good: there is a reason that the American public has fiercely cleaved to the Westminster tradition for well over 100 years, and it is that there exists no purer form of pleasure than strolling through a dog fair and petting all the smiling eager pups at your leisure, even if you do have to brave Midtown and hordes of equally eager strangers to do it. The contestants stood at the ready, their tails wagging their whole butts as they beckoned you over to their booths. Some sprawled languorously across Persian rugs trucked in to enhance their elegance; some waded out into the fray to lean on lucky passersby; some (the pugs) hunkered costumed and confused on table tops, apparently unsure about so many unknown hands.
I introduced myself to as many of these magnificent beasts as I could. A gangly, gamey otterhound licked me straight across the face. A beaming Bernese Mountain Dog, already 96 pounds at nine-and-a-half months old, parked his rump in my lap, and it was an honor. A coolly incurious Aghan Hound named Arya—full name Aryadanceswithswords, all one word, yes she is a model—permitted me to pet her but declined to acknowledge my presence, her long satin locks a wall of shiny platinum indifference.
“They’re violently intelligent,” professional groomer, breeder, and handler Anna Stromberg firmly assured me, clearing up the apparently widespread misconception that Afghan Hounds lack intelligence. The rumor has persisted not because their glamorous appearance—their streaming satin hair used to sell your hair products and Hondas—prompt people to assume a vapid interior life, but because “they look through you,” Stromberg explains. “They’re like, ‘You mean nothing to me.'” Arya’s owner, Diana Kassir, described her as “very stubborn” but actually quite personable: you must earn the Afghan Hound’s affection.
The Cardigan Welsh Corgi required less convincing. Paisley, a two-year-old corg-o who enjoys herding sheep, regarded me with large trusting eyes (one ice blue, one brown) and happily accepted scratches behind her big velvet ears. Cardigan Welsh Corgis are “the corgis with the tail,” breeder Angela Reilly clarifies, not to be confused with their arguably more famous cousins, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi—the ones that look like little foxes crossed with Wonderbread loaves, historically preferred by Queen Elizabeth II. “They’re very versatile dogs,” capable of corralling larger animals (and sometimes their humans) with gentle nips and head bumps; of completing obstacle courses; of eradicating vermin from barns. Corgis have many talents.
The same could really be said of every dog who showed up for Saturday’s meet and greet, though: bulldogs, according to breeder Laura Aline, “can sniff out a donut a hundred feet away.” Shar Peis, according to some signage I saw, are “overly active, perpetual yappers, [and] neat drinkers.” Rose-eared Pharaoh Hounds can spring to roughly the height of a 10-year-old, according to one attendant’s visual estimation.
I feel ill-equipped to qualify excellence, and of course, everyone’s understanding of what makes a champion will be different: even the tiny, wind-up toy breeds fully embodied their own particular brand of compact beauty. Objectively speaking, though, when it comes to Tuesday’s Best in Show competition, the Bernese Mountain Dog should win. Statistically speaking, a terrier probably will.