Oh, those big, brown eyes. That face. That fur -- and those paws. You beautiful dog.
Pardon the doggie reverie, but it's time for Westminster: the 130th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, live from New York's Madison Square Garden.
Tomorrow and Tuesday, 2,622 dogs -- representing 165 breeds and varieties, from the Affenpinscher to the Yorkshire terrier -- will compete to be named Best in Show. The group competitions and Best in Show will be televised on the USA Network, starting at 8 p.m.
No breed has a lock on Best in Show. Last year's winner was Carlee, a German shorthaired pointer; in 2004, Josh, a Newfoundland; in 2003, Mick, a Kerry blue terrier who also won the British title at Crufts.
For dog owners and handlers, Westminster is a chance to compete with the best; for breeders, a chance to spot prospects for future matings.
For the TV audience, though, it's a visual feast, a chance to marvel at the many breeds, colors and sizes of Man's Best Friend.
Man and dog go way back, to early humans who forged a mutually beneficial bond with wolves. Dogs descend from wolves, but dog breeds are largely man's creation, with a specific purpose for almost every breed. The Airedale terrier, for example, was developed in England in the 1800s to hunt otter and small game. It descends from the Old English terrier and the otterhound, according to an American Kennel Club history. The much-loved golden retriever, also from 19th-century England, was intended, as its name suggests, to retrieve game shot by hunters. Its ancestors include the Tweed water spaniel, the Irish setter and the bloodhound, the AKC says.
This year, Westminster officials say, Samoyeds and Cavalier King Charles spaniels have the largest number of entries (42 each). Other breeds with many entries include golden retrievers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks, with 39 each. There are 92 dogs from Maryland.
Judging involves three stages.
Breed: Each dog belongs to one of the 165 breeds and varieties recognized by the AKC. The animal is compared to its breed standard, "a written description of the ideal specimen of that breed."
Group: Breed winners advance to group competition. There are seven groups: Working Dogs, Terrier, Toy and Non-Sporting, which will be judged tomorrow night, and Sporting, Hound and Herding, which will be judged Tuesday.
Best in Show: Group winners compete in this round, and one dog is chosen. Best in Show is always a tail-wagging moment; in 2001, the winning 3-year-old Bichon Frise, a tiny fluffball known as J.R., appeared to clap its paws with delight. It posed for pictures inside the show trophy. Of course.
...................... For more information, visit westminsterkennel club.org and akc.org.
A breed apart
Each dog at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is judged in comparison to the standard for its breed. Here is last year's Best in Show winner, Carlee, a German shorthaired pointer, with excerpts from the standard for her breed, used by permission of the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America.
The German shorthaired pointer is an all-purpose gun dog capable of high performance in field and water ... an aristocratic, well balanced, symmetrical animal with conformation indicating power, endurance and agility and a look of intelligence and animation.
The hips are broad with hip sockets wide apart and fall slightly toward the tail in a graceful curve.
The tail hangs down when the dog is quiet and is held horizontally when walking.
The back is short, strong and straight, with a slight rise from the root of the tail to the withers.
The head is clean-cut, neither too light nor too heavy, and in proper proportion to the body.
The ears are broad and set fairly high, lie flat and never hang away from the head. Their placement is just above eye level.
The nose is brown, the larger the better, with nostrils well opened and broad.
The hair is short and thick and feels tough to the hand; it is somewhat longer on the underside of the tail and the back edges of the haunches.
Thighs are strong and well muscled. Stifles are well bent. Hock joints are well angulated and strong with straight bone structure from hock to pad.
The neck is of proper length to permit the jaws reaching game to be retrieved, sloping downward on beautifully curving lines. The nape is rather muscular, becoming gradually larger toward the shoulders.
The shorthair is friendly, intelligent, and willing to please. The first impression is that of a keen enthusiasm for work without indication of nervous or flighty character.
The coat may be of solid liver or a combination of liver and white such as liver and white ticked, liver patched and white ticked, or liver roan.