As reporter on the happenings at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for five years running, I look forward to wearing all my best winter clothes during my time in New York City for the series of events (business networking, attending dog fashion shows, and more) surrounding Westminster.
This year I had the privilege of sharing my veterinary perspective on all things canine with former judge and Westminster’s director of media, Karolynne McAteer (see my interviews with McAteer on the WKC Dog Show Live Stream Curated Channel: Monday’s, starting at 00:18, and Tuesday’s, starting at 00:56).
I’ve been eagerly anticipating a new event to the 2014 competition. The inaugural Masters Agility Championship has the unique attribute (for Westminster) of including dogs from all breeds and their mixes as competitors.
Instead of being labeled mongrels, hybrids, or some other less endearing term, the sporty mixed-breed participants are positively termed the "All American Dog." For me, the All American Dog conjures up classic Americana images of working dogs accompanying police officers, firefighters, and military service members.
I feel that the inclusion of agility within the breed-specific show sends a positive message to the viewers and general dog loving community. McAteer similarly states that “Westminster honors the diversity of the dog with the addition of the agility, and therefore the diversity of all dogs.”
It was great to see a variety of sizes and general appearances in the pure and mixed breeds that launched themselves over and through the obstacle courses at Pier 94 in New York City. The obstacles used in AKC agility trials include open tunnel, closed tunnel, pause table, weave polls, dog walk, seesaw, tire jump, A-frame, jumps, and broad jumps.
The bond between handler and owner was exceptionally displayed, as a disciplined connection needs to be present for the master and dog to efficiently traverse the agility course. In a perfect example of the well established human-animal bond, a handler fell to the ground and her Collie ran over to graciously give a reassuring lick on the face. The audience collectively let out a sigh and supportive clap as the duo finished the course with heads held high.
Among the medium to large-sized competing dogs, the most common seemed to be the Border Collie (Herding Group), but the Australian Shepherd, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Husky, Poodle (standard), and other breeds and mixed breeds were also present.
Smaller competitors included the American Eskimo Dog, Brussels Griffon, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, Chinese Crested Dog, French Bulldog, Papillon, Poodle (toy), Schnauzer (miniature), Shetland Sheepdog, and their mixes.
Watching the fit versions of these mixed and pure breeds excel at the agility competition was a nice departure from my normal observations of them as veterinary patients with less-than athletic bodies and ambulating with a lumbering gait from carrying excessive weight (before I slim down their body condition scores to a healthier state with calorie control and whole-food diets). After all, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), more than half of the dogs (and cats) in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
As these athletic dogs are great representations of health and fitness for their species, they are handled by people who similarly appear to prioritize their own physical well-being. In the words of McAteer, “Form follows function and in order to function you have to be fairly fit.” Perhaps seeing these agile canines traverse the agility course will motivate owners to get off the couch and commit to daily exercise benefitting both pet and person. I certainly hope more emphasis will be placed on the merits of canine fitness in future messaging to Westminster’s audience.
The big winner of the agility trial was, big surprise, a Border Collie! Kelso is a 7-year-old hailing from Cape Elizabeth, ME (handler Delaney Ratner). The winning All American Dog was also recognized – Roo, a Husky mix who traveled from San Francisco, CA (handler Stacey Campbell) to NYC for the event. Check out Steve Surfman’s excellent photo of Roo sprinting her way through the weave poles.
Congratulations to Kelso, Roo, and to all the canine competitors. I look forward to future wintry trips to New York City to report on Westminster’s Agility Championship and Dog Show.
Roo the winning All American Dog at the 2014 Masters Agility Championship at Westminster
Photo Steve Surfman
Dr. Patrick Mahaney