February 8, New York City
- The Westminster Dog Show kicked off on Saturday with an historic event -- the show's first-ever agility competition
, in which mixed breed dogs jumped, ducked, climbed, and dodged alongside purebreds. A dog in the larger category takes the first jump.
The 225 dogs were chosen from a lottery of pups eligible to compete at the Excellent or Masters level in agility. Sixteen of the lottery-winning dogs were "all-American," or mixed breed dogs
, and one spirited husky mix, Roo! (the exclamation point in the name gives you a hint as to her personality), won the 24-inch category and took home the title of top all-American dog.Kelso the Border Collie
claimed the overall championship, letting out a celebratory bark as he turned a tight corner at astonishing speed.Dogs competed in their first runs on one of two courses based on their size, and the final round was a "time-to-beat" competition.Westminster's first agility competition marks both the growing popularity of the sport, and also the efforts of the Westminster Kennel Club
to honor all dogs, purebred or no, and their positive roles in our lives. The move comes after years of animal rights activists protesting the show and dog breeding in general, and some do still plan to protest the Best in Show competition this Monday and Tuesday.
Agility is a sport that requires obedience training and a deep bond between dog and handler, and no small amount of energy. Showgoers were treated not only to the exciting competition, but also to pups and handlers who didn't mind a little coat-ruffling petting before their turn in the ring, a marked difference in tone from the traditional Best in Show competition, in which dogs are benched to be washed, clipped, groomed, and primped, and showgoers are often asked to watch with their hands to themselves. Panda, an all-American mutt, took home 4th place in the 20-inch competition.
Still, if you're going to win at agility, a certain type of discipline is definitely required. "I don't think a lot of people realize the time that goes into it," said Lisa Tibbals of North Haven, CT, whose dog Castle may have gotten cold feet due to all the hubbub. Castle had a couple false starts, darting for jumps out of order, before getting into the groove. Said a friend and fellow competitor, "He made his own course!" Castle soaks up some love after his first run.
"The best part, I would say, is just connection with my dog and having fun with my dog," said Rose Savkov
, dog parent to a Staffordshire bull terrier mix.