The Westminster Kennel Club dog show has to be one of the worst ideas ever.
Start with Manhattan in February, a bitter-cold month not beyond the season for shut-it-all-down blizzards. Take a couple of thousand dogs, many of whom have never seen the likes of the traffic and noise they'll face on the streets of Midtown. Take those streets, where the dogs will turn the snow yellow for blocks around Penn Station, leaving the crowds of daily commuters stepping carefully and less than amused. Add stressed-out dog handlers under maximum pressure to get the dogs there, set them up in hotel rooms and have them perfectly groomed for competition.
Finally, add tens of thousands of people coming to see the dogs during the two-day show, packing the staging areas of Madison Square Garden so tightly that sometimes it's nearly impossible to move from one aisle of dogs to the next.
Dogs panting. Spectators sweating. Handlers stressing. I've been there, several times, and I can assure you: It's miserable. But it's Westminster, the one and only. Which means if you have a top show dog, you're going to move heaven and earth to be there -- and most of them will be on Feb. 14 and 15.
This year will be Westminster's 129th -- the event is second only to the Kentucky Derby as the country's oldest sporting event -- but only the 16th for David Frei as broadcast commentator, who more recently picked up additional duties as the club's director of communications. When I teased him about the character based on him in the movie "Best in Show" being the only one who didn't seem a little bit ... well ... crazy, he laughed graciously.
"The question I get most is, 'Is it really like "Best in Show,"'" he said, admitting that the parody wasn't that far from the mark. "It's a target-rich environment, but we can all laugh, and the movie did to a lot to bring our sport to the public."
The sport may need help getting attention, but Westminster doesn't. Entries for the show close in minutes, with the top five dogs in each breed getting an invitation and other champions left to try to get their entry in before the 2,500-dog limit is reached, typically in under an hour.
"We never get all the top dogs, but we're close," said Frei. "You'll always get a few retired, having puppies. This year, 97 out of the top 103 will be there."
This year's show will have more golden retrievers than any other dog, with 53 entered. It'll also see the Westminster debut of three breeds new to full registration status with the American Kennel Club -- the Neapolitan mastiff, the black Russian terrier, and the Glen of Imaal terrier.
"It does take a special effort to be a part of it," said Frei, acknowledging the difficulties of holding a dog show during a Manhattan winter. "People are here because they want to be here. A lot of the top dogs spend the rest of the year ducking each other, showing in different parts of the country. But all the great dogs are here, all at the same time."
Westminster may be a very bad idea for a dog show, but for the dog who wins ... well, there's just nothing like it.
Some dogs to watch
Westminster's all-championship show draws the best dogs from around the country -- and a few from around the world. Going into the competition, a few dogs are thought to have a better shot winning the top prize, including:
-- Champion North Well Chako JP Platina King (Coleman). The toy poodle was bred in Japan, but he had made his mark in the United States, where he's the top-ranked dog of all breeds heading into Westminster.
-- Ch. Yakee If Only (Jeffrey). The Pekingese is also an English show champion; his dad was best in show at Cruft's, the top English show. Jeffrey is the No. 2 dog in the nation.
-- Ch. Heathers Knock on Wood (Knotty). The bloodhound scored big by winning the AKC-Eukanuba National Invitational in January over many of the same dogs he'll compete against in New York. Is he on a roll?
-- Ch. Kaleef's Genuine Risk (Genny). The German Shepherd is known both for her effortless, almost floating stride and for her handler, James Moses, who knows how to win with German Shepherds at this level of competition. He has done it before.
-- Ch. Clussex Three D Grinchy Glee (Stumpy). The Sussex spaniel's trademark is a tail that never stops wagging. If his owners and handler had tails, they'd wag them, too, with all the winning he has done. Stumpy competed for best in show last year as winner of the sporting group.
The toughest competition at the breed level will be among boxers, says Westminster's David Frei. Three of the top-ranked dogs in the country will meet in the boxer ring, but just one of them will move on to try to win the working group. The toy breeds have the toughest group competition, with Coleman likely to square off against Jeffrey -- but don't rule out the Pomeranian or the pug.
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will be televised at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central Time) on Feb. 14 and 15 on the USA Network. The event is broadcast live on the East Coast and delayed for other time zones.
Litter-box cake should get a laugh
Q: A while back I put aside your recipe for cake made to look like a cat's litter box, but now I can't find it. Would you please repeat it? I want to take it to a potluck for our dog-training club. -- L.Y., via e-mail
A: It's amusing to me how often people ask for this recipe, considering that I rarely cook at all. Directions for Litter Box Cake come from the files of the Veterinary Information Network (www.vin.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More than a few veterinarians have used the recipe for open houses in their clinics or hospitals. The most important part of following the recipe? Be sure to use a brand-new litter box and scoop.
I hope the members of your dog-training club have strong stomachs and a good sense of humor, because this cake really does look like the real thing.
LITTER BOX CAKE
1 pkg. spice cake mix
1 pkg. white cake mix
1 pkg. white sandwich cookies
Green food coloring
12 small Tootsie Rolls
1 box vanilla pudding mix (not instant)
1 brand-new, freshly washed litter box
1 brand-new, freshly washed litter box scoop
Prepare the cake mixes and bake according to their directions. Prepare the pudding mix and chill until ready to assemble. Use a blender on a low setting to crumble the white sandwich cookies in small batches; they tend to stick, so scrape often. Set aside all but about 1/4 cup. To the 1/4 cup of cookie crumbs, add a few drops of green food coloring and mix by using a fork.
After the cakes cool to room temperature, crumble them into a large bowl. Toss with half the remaining cookie crumbs and the chilled pudding. Gently combine. Line a new, freshly cleaned litter box with plastic wrap. Put the mixture into the box. Put three unwrapped Tootsie Rolls in a microwave-safe dish and heat until they're soft and pliable. Shape the ends so that they're no longer blunt, curving them slightly. Repeat with three more Tootsie Rolls and bury them in the mixture.
Sprinkle the other half of the cookie crumbs over the top of the mixture. Scatter the green cookie crumbs lightly over the top so they look like the chlorophyll in some cat-box fillers. Heat the remaining Tootsie Rolls, three at a time, in the microwave until they're almost melted. Taper the ends as before, then plop them on top of the cake and sprinkle with cookie crumbs. Serve with a brand-new, freshly washed cat-box scoop.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Dyson vacuum earns its cult following
Last year when I was at the Cruft's dog show in England, the biggest dog show in the world, I made a point to talk with the folks at the Dyson vacuum cleaner display.
I had to wait in line to do so.
The reason is easy to understand: The English company makes vacuums with so much power that they can pull pet hair out of carpets that have already been gone over by other brands. Two years ago I bought the first model made available in the United States, the DC-07, and recently was sent the newest, the DC-14 "Animal," to try out.
The Dyson's cult status is such that the pet lovers I mentioned my "test drive" to were visibly envious.
The funky purple DC-14 "Animal" has some advantages over my DC-07, most notably the addition of a small beater head that fits on a wand with enough reach for an entire staircase. The attachment allows the user to get pet hair off upholstery and carpeted stairways almost as efficiently as the upright draws fur from floors.
I didn't see a notable improvement over the astonishing suction power of the earlier model, but since the DC-07 is the best vacuum I've ever owned, maybe it's hard to improve on it much.
One of the things I like most about the Dyson (in addition to the powerful suction) is how easy it is to empty the clear plastic cylinder where the dirt ends up. Just snap the cylinder free, walk out to the trash can and pull the trigger to release muck.
Dyson might consider adding power drive and a retractable cord in future models, but that shouldn't stop anyone from considering this vacuum now.
The Dyson "Animal" is not cheap compared to most vacuums -- $549 is about the best price I found online. But it's a bargain when compared to high-end models that top a grand or more.
Choose veterinarian before you need one
While it's always better to establish a working relationship with a veterinarian before your pet gets sick, it's essential to do so when you're sharing your home with birds, reptiles or other less-common pets.
That's because not all companion animal veterinarians are comfortable with treating pets other than dogs and cats, and not all veterinarians keep up with the latest information on reptiles and birds. Taking your bird or reptile in for a well-pet checkup with a veterinarian who specializes in these pets can help you prevent problems, by spotting illness early or by helping you to fix incorrect care that will hurt your pet down the line.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
Glamorous Persian is most popular purebred cat
With a glamorous image worthy of the Hollywood studios in their heyday, it's no surprise that the Persian is the most popular breed of cat. Persians come in a dazzling array of colors and markings, including solid colors, tabby, calico and just about anything else you can imagine.
Persian cats are as treasured for their personalities as their distinctive looks. Affectionate yet undemanding, a Persian is more likely to get your attention by adopting an especially fetching pose than by plonking herself down on the newspaper you're trying to read.
All that beauty doesn't come without a price, and grooming a Persian cat is not an optional activity. Persian coats will become tangled and matted if not combed on a daily basis, and they usually require periodic professional grooming as well. A matted Persian is not just unsightly; mats are painful and can lead to abrasions and skin infections if not removed promptly. The Persian is not for you if you aren't willing to make sure his coat stays in good shape.
Pros: The arresting beauty of these kings and queens of catdom is behind their enduring popularity. Persian cats are also wonderful companions: serene, quiet and affectionate, and never noisy or pesty.
Cons: The coat requires considerable attention and often professional grooming. And these cats shed -- a lot. Their popularity also means there are many unethical breeders. Genetic problems include dental and sinus abnormalities related to the distinctive Persian facial structure, and polycystic kidney disease (PKD), which can be fatal. Ultrasound screening of breeding cats can prevent this disease, so obtain your Persian kitten only from a breeder who guarantees against PKD in writing. -- Christie Keith, www.pethobbyist.com
(For more information about the Persian cat, visit the Cat Breed Center at www.cathobbyist.com/CatBreeds.)
PETS ON THE WEB
A place for sharing pictures of pets
Fotolog (www.fotolog.net) was last year's sensation, the place for people to post pictures of everything and anything, including lots of pets. But Fotolog has stumbled, with a site that's barely functioning and a business plan that seems to be based on begging subscribers for more money.
The hot new place to put your pet photos is Flickr (www.flickr.com), with its clean design and reliable programming. Flickr makes it easy to organize images and share them with friends and family, as well as to join in communities of people who may soon be your friends based on your common interests. There are communities organized around subjects as narrow as picture of dogs' noses.
Many of the pet-loving denizens of Fotolog have migrated to Flickr, taking their pet pictures with them. "Cat" and "Dog" are two of the most-popular categories on the Web site (searchable by "tag"), with plenty of other pets pictured, too. A basic account for posting images is free.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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