Scenes From the National Dog Show

Yes, of course, there are cute puppy photos in this post

Until a few days ago, I was a dog-show virgin. Given my unfathomable love for  canines—and my exhaustion from the news coming out of Penn State lately–I decided it was time to go to the dogs.

To an outsider, the 10th annual National Dog Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks looked on Saturday like a giant beauty parlor for 2,000 pampered pooches. All purebreds, of course. Mutts need not apply.

Pedigrees ranged from Afghan Hound, which I actually had heard of, to something called Xoloitzcuintli, a newly-recognized breed and my personal favorite.  It sounds like the generic name for a psychotropic drug.

Pronounced “show-low-eats-queen-tlee,” or, mercifully, “Xolo,” it’s really just a fancy way to say Mexican Hairless. I looked it up.

My previous knowledge of the idiosyncratic world of dog shows came from two sources: The brilliant satire, Best in Show; and USA Network’s hushed, reverential coverage of the Westminster Kennel Club show. In my mind, they were interchangeable. Nothing on Saturday dissuaded me of that notion.

Dog-show people, if you’ll pardon the expression, are a different breed. They  speak their own language. The Exercise Pen, I learned, was not a workout area, but a small curtained corner where dogs went to relieve themselves.  (May I be excused to go to the Exercise Pen?)

While the animals were immaculately groomed, some of their handlers could have used more styling.

Photography by Penny Jeannechild

This was most evident when they were running with their dogs for the judges. A few words of advice: Heavy men should unbutton their suit jackets. Well-endowed women should wear better bras.

Between breeds, an interesting variety of dog-themed music played over the public-address system–”Takin’ Care of Business,” “Bad to the Bone,” “Hound Dog.” I was puzzled, however, by “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa.

The atmosphere was not without its glamour, mind you. Judges wore tuxedos, and NBC was in the house to tape the festivities for a two-hour broadcast at noon on Thanksgiving Day. More than 18 million watched last year.

Dog-show people don’t do it for the money; there isn’t that much of it on the show circuit. Also, it’s a very expensive sport, with trainers, handlers, supplies and travel. Dog-show people do it for prestige, for breeding rights and most of all, for love.

I get it. When it comes to loving our dogs, there is no end to human silliness.

Photography by Penny Jeannechild

My wife and I readily acknowledge that we’ve become the Horrible Dog People we used to make fun of.  We have a wooden sign next to our doorbell that reads: A Spoiled Rotten Sheepie Lives Here. We bought a king-size mattress to accommodate said sheepie and our psychotic Westie.

The thought of primping them up and pimping them out is too absurd to contemplate. I’ll leave that to the professionals. My dogs would rather eat a ribbon than wear one. In my world, that alone makes them champions.