First-timer's Guide To Westminster
Reprinted with permission
from Sight & Scent Magazine
By Julie Lux
(Editor's note: Julie Lux is an accomplished and longtime breeder-owner-handler of Beagles, Dalmatians and Foxhounds, and has exhibited many times at Westminster)
Possibly one of the reasons that dog showing becomes a life-long passion for many of us is that there are so many "firsts" to enjoy. From your first ribbon to first points, first champion, first bred-by champion, first group placement... the list goes on. For me, one event that I will never forget was my first time at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. After watching on television for a number of years, there is something undeniably special about walking into Madison Square Garden for the first time, seeing the green carpet, experiencing the excitement of the benching area, and watching the groups live and in person.
Coming from 1200 miles away, as we did that first year, I am happy that we went as spectators that year rather than bring any dogs.
Even with dogs, the selection is not as limited as you may think. There are a variety of hotels, at a variety of price-points, which do accept dogs. For those with deep pockets the Affinia Manhattan would be my top pick, with or without dogs. It is at the corner of Seventh Avenue at 31st Street, an easy walk to the Garden. Next choice would be the New Yorker on Eighth Avenue across the street and down a block from the back of the Garden. It has recently been renovated and friends who have stayed there recently give it high marks. However, for the total Westminster experience you still have to go with the Hotel Pennsylvania, right across from Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue. You will probably meet someone you know, or at least recognize, standing in line for what can be a long wait to check in. The rooms range from spacious to dinky, but the Penn is the top place for Westminster people-watching, shopping, and events outside of the Garden itself.
There are many other hotels in the vicinity and if the "big three" are booked, the Westminster or superintendent web sites and the premium list have a comprehensive list.
Everyone will have a recommendation on where to eat; however, if you are going for the first time, be sure to have at least one meal, any meal, at the Tick Tock Diner at the New Yorker Hotel. I can almost guarantee that you will run into judges, AKC officials, top handlers, and well-known breeders grabbing a quick bite at this quintessential New York diner. Then, for post-Garden celebrating, the Irish pub on 33rd across from the Penn is usually hopping until the wee hours of the morning!
This is New York so you will be able to find whatever type of food you love from sushi to sliders. Your best bet for dining is to talk to someone at the Concierge Desk at your hotel for restaurant recommendations.
If you are flying in without dogs, it is easy to grab a cab or airport shuttle into the city. If you are flying with dogs, there are very efficient pet taxi services that will pick you and your champion up at the airport and deliver you to your hotel. I used one of these services when we lived 50 miles away in New Jersey since neither my husband nor I will drive in the City. It was a great investment, especially the year it snowed right before we left to go home. If you are driving in, remember that parking is at a premium - and at a premium price - so be sure to check with your hotel regarding their parking policies and charges when making your reservation.
I know this should be obvious, but I am going to say it anyway: bring comfortable shoes - and more than one pair! It is true that everyone - judges, officials, owners, handlers, and spectators - wear their very best attire to the Garden. However, remember that the show begins early each morning and does not conclude until 11 p.m. Plus, there is the whole of Manhattan to enjoy - and Manhattan is a walking town. So find the perfect flats or, if the weather is wet or snowy, boots and enjoy the show that much more without aching feet.
Since most dog people especially "us girls" love to shop, February is a great time to be in New York City. The stores are taking big mark-downs on their winter clothing and spring styles are just coming in. I have found some incredible bargains at many of the big stores and remember, for a quick shopping break from the dog show, Macy's is right down the street on 34th.
There are many private and invitation-only parties in the week leading up to Westminster. However, there are also a number of benefits that are open to all for the price of a ticket, and proceeds go to support worthy causes in the dog world. The Angel on a Leash organization that promotes therapy dogs has a reception featuring previous Westminster winners on Saturday evening. The Take the Lead party following judging on Monday night, while open to all, is a hot ticket and generally sells out quickly. So check both organizations' web sites for more information and order your tickets early. (Editor's note: for a schedule of Westminster week events, please see WKC WEEK CALENDAR).
Additionally, the annual AKC Open House at the American Kennel Club offices on Madison Avenue generally takes place on the Sunday afternoon before Westminster. Check the Gazette or AKC web site for more information.
Even if you are not lucky enough to attend one of the dog food company dinners or any of the other hot ticket parties there are many other events going on. So keep an eye out at your hotel, the lobby of the Penn, and at the Garden itself for opportunities to rub elbows with the dog show elite. You will find them.
The very best thing about Westminster, whether it is your first time or your fiftieth, is being able to see so many of the top dogs in the country - as well as up and coming stars of the future - all at this one legendary show. So enjoy the city, the ambiance, and most of all the dogs. Have fun and I know that you will always remember your first Westminster, too.