Top dogs from 14 foreign countries and across the United States, including some from New Hampshire, will be strutting their stuff in New York City at the 143rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show Feb. 10-11.
“It’s the crème de la crème” of dogs shows said Kristle Costello, who lives in Brookline. “It is like qualifying for the Kentucky Derby.”
Costello arrived in Manhattan earlier this week with “Morgan Manor Maestro,” a 10-month-old French bulldog she co-owns with his breeder, Gale Golden, of Marlborough, Mass.
Costello began her journey into the world of purebred dogs at age 12, showing rottweilers.
“I wanted a smaller dog that was more portable but that still thought they were a dog,” Costello said of how she made the transition from sharing her home with dogs that weighed more than 100 pounds to less than 30 pounds.
Unlike thoroughbred racing, where the fastest horse wins, dog showing is more akin to ice skating: it comes down to a judge’s opinion of how closely a dog fits the standard — a written description of the ideal specimen of that breed.
“He’s a lovely little dog and really likes to show,” she said of her canine friend, affectionately known as “Bastian.”
His best physical attributes, his co-owner says, include his heart-melting expression, the set of his bat-like ears and that he has the “slightly roached topline,” which the breed standard calls for instead of being flat-backed.
During the two-day show, 2,800 dogs from 204 breeds and varieties will be painstakingly coiffed, then walked and trotted with precision to compete in Best of Breed judging with the winners advancing in pursuit of clinching the Group First title for the terrier, working, hound, herding, non-sporting, toy and sporting groups on the green carpet of Madison Square Garden.
The group winners will then face off for the coveted Best in Show title.
The sport isn’t for the weak of heart or for those with a small bank account. Enthusiasts agree they willingly make personal sacrifices for the benefit of their show dogs with little reward except for bragging rights, highlighting their breeding stock and bringing attention to the canine companions that they cherish.
While dog show enthusiasts on the East Coast rub elbows competing at various venues nearly every weekend, Costello said, Westminster attracts dogs, handlers and owners from the West Coast, resulting in an annual reunion.
Carol Krygowski, a retired registered nurse from Rindge, will travel to Manhattan with her 5-year-old Belgian Tervuren.
Named “Henri,” the dog has been a constant in Krygowski’s life since she acquired him from Norfolk, Mass., breeder Theresa Horky of Birch Kennel when he was nine weeks old.
He accompanied her to the nursing home where she worked every day until she retired two years ago, and she credits daily exposure to the hustle and bustle of a health care facility for allowing him to remain unperturbed in the most chaotic of environments.
“He loves people and commotion. At the nursing home he went through fire drills, the rattling of food carts and laundry carts. The residents loved him and he has quite a following,” she said.
Henri is more than just a pretty face and has earned multiple AKC performance dog titles, including therapy dog novice, and canine good citizen advanced. More recently he has logged 50 visits to the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Jaffrey to interact with patients and residents. He has also been dubbed as a novice trick dog and been similarly recognized for his prowess in coursing, giving chase to a plastic bag attached to a lure that goes whizzing by over a specially designed course.
Henri heads to New York with three herding group placements in less than a year, and Krygowski said his strong suit is his square build and European type. That may bode well for Henri because the judge assigned to judge the Tervuren breed is from Europe. He will be shown by professional handler Susan Burrell of Danville.
“It’s a social event; you make friends even though you’re competing. It’s good for the dogs, they meet people and it makes them friendlier. And I meet people. It’s just a good time for dogs and people,” Krygowski said.
Krygowski enjoys seeing different breeds, explaining that as she gets older there may come a time when she can no longer own a big dog, so she looks at small dog breeds for a future companion.
“I can’t image not having a dog,” she said.
Dayle Reynolds of Swanzey, who breeds and shows cairn terriers, is no stranger to Westminster, having competed there most recently two years ago.
Her introduction to the breed — the same breed of Toto from the “Wizard of Oz” — came through her parents who owned a cairn terrier before she was born. She acquired her first cairn while in high school, a relationship that lasted 16 years.
“They are smart, funny, everything that I am not. I’m shy. They’re out there. They like to play or do whatever you’re up to. But it has to be on their terms — as they are terriers,” she said.
While her homebred dog American Grand Champion, Silver Champion (AKC pending), Canadian Champion Oliver Twist N’ Shout will be jauntily jogging in the breed ring at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Reynolds will be watching the judging from afar.
She had downloaded the app on her phone, and plans to watch between ferrying two of her other terriers to the veterinarian for their annual rabies shots.
“Oliver lives up to his name. He’s just a sort of rock n’ roll guy,” she said.