Mid-February marks the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show -- six hours of semi-serious dog-watching on USA Network, broadcast live over two nights. I tune in every year, though it hasn't been the same since they lost Joe Gargiola, the divinely mushy-mounted co-commentator a few years back.
Every year the announcer rattles off the same patter about the 169 dog breeds that compete in the Westminster show; after years of watching, I can recite big chunks of this patter by heart. I'm sympathetic -- it's gotta be tough to come up with something different to say about so many dogs, many of which look the same to the casual observer.
But because this is a showcase for lesser-seen but totally cool-looking dogs that might attract new pet owners -- my fantasy dogs include the 10-foot-high Irish wolfhound; the aristocratic Russian saluki that must use $20 worth of shampoo a week; and the spooky, spectral Ibizan hound -- a fair amount of the blather is carefully coded admonitions to Stay Away. (Which I support: You shouldn't get a dog you can't manage)
Sometimes, the commentator is specific -- "the basenji is not for everyone" -- but dig the variety of nuanced warnings:
* "for households that can accommodate their needs ..." (Irish wolfhound)
* "a strong prey drive ... not the dog for everyone" (Rhodesian ridgeback)
* "spirited, self-assured demeanor" (Australian terrier)
* "They're always going to be a bit dominant" (bull terrier)
* "a dog that openly feels superior to its owner" (Scottish terrier)
Another great bit of extraordinarily polite commentary came in a segment introducing one of the four new breeds added to this year's roster -- a prosaically named hound, a plott. The winning plott was noted as being a "fearless hunter" (good, I guess) and as having had a "problem with [Westminster's] trademarked green carpet." (I think most pet owners know what's the story here!)
The remaining three groups -- Sporting, Toy and Working -- compete tonight; then, the final seven group winners go muzzle to muzzle. I root every year for the teeny tiny Chihuahua with the giant head to prevail, but to no avail. Terriers and poodles historically dominate the big win.
In fact, some sort of terrier has won 33 of the last 100 times. Is there a fix in? Is it because the bouncy, domineering terriers can't help but "bring it," as commentator David Frei suggests? Or, do they just look so darn cute sitting in the victory cup?
There's mutterings that this year's favorite is the 15-inch beagle, Uno – who ruled the Hound group and made the Final Seven. Could it be Snoopy's year? By 10:55 p.m. we'll know.