15 Facts About the Westminster Dog Show

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GETTY IMAGES

One of America’s oldest sporting events is also its most slobbery. Today, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show returns to New York City for the 140th time, promising one preeminent pooch the coveted title of "Best in Show" and a lifetime supply of positive reinforcement. While the show has evolved over its many years—most recently adding seven new breeds to the competition, including the Bergamasco Shephard and the Boerboel—it remains a beguiling spectacle for dog fanatics and casual observers alike. Here are 15 facts to get you competition-ready.

1. THE ORIGINAL SHOW WAS FOR GUN DOGS.

Around 1876, a group of sportsmen began to hold regular meetups in a Manhattan bar to swap hunting stories. Their trusty canine companions eventually made their way into the conversation, and the idea for a dog club was formed. The group met at a bar in The Westminster Hotel, and aptly named themselves the Westminster Breeding Association (later the Westminster Kennel Club). It was after helping to stage a dog show in Philadelphia that the group decided to hold their own to compare and showboat their pups. The first show, featuring primarily Setters and Pointers, was an immediate success. A total of 1201 dogs entered the first year, with tens of thousands of spectators by the second day. The first prizes included such items as a "Gold and Silver Mounted Pearl Handled Revolver"—an appropriate reward for an active hunter. 

2. THE SHOW HAS SEEN ITS SHARE OF TRAGEDY.

A champion collie belonging to J.P. Morgan, who spent millions on his obsession with dogs and competed in Westminster regularly, drowned itself. Its trainer called the dog’s death “a clear case of suicide” in an 1895 New York Times article.

3. YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE YOUNG TO WIN.

In 2009, a 10-year-old Sussex spaniel named Stump (registered name: Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee) broke the record for oldest dog ever to win "Best in Show." He later appeared on the cover of AARP magazine.  

4. NEPOTISM HAS MADE ITS WAY INTO THE COMPETITION. 

Dog-judging has always been subjective. Judges at the first modern dog show ever, in Newcastle in 1859, were also the owners of the show’s two winners. To this day, contestants are judged on a “subjective basis,” according to the Westminster Kennel Club website.

5. LIFE HAS IMITATED ART. 

Parker Posey, famous for playing a manic, metal-mouthed Weimaraner-owner in the 2000 dog show parody Best in Show, is a regular at the Westminster Dog Show. As she told The Wire at the 2014 WKC Dog Show, she met some personalities resembling her own persnickety character while on set: “[Director Christopher Guest] brought over a professional groomer. She came over right before a take and she criticized our dog. She said, 'The coat’s all wrong.'”

6. TOP DOG GETS THE ROYAL TREATMENT.

The winner of the Westminster Dog Show traditionally eats a celebratory lunch at famed Broadway watering hole Sardi’s—breaking New York City’s health codes which prevent animals from entering restaurants.

7. IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT GOOD LOOKS. 

The show doesn’t only value looks. A two-legged dog named Nellie participated in the first Westminster show ever in 1877, and 1980s "Best in Show" was a true underdog: Cinnar, a Siberian husky missing part of its ear, won with handler Trish Kanzler—one of the few amateurs to ever win the title.

8. THE DOGS ARE REFINED, BUT THE NAMES SOMETIMES AREN'T.

The 2015 WKC Dog Show featured a Pomeranian named Starfire's Spank Me Hard Call Me Crazy, a pug named Careva's Boodelicious, and a smooth dachshund named Turningpt Hot 'N Saucey Talkin' Trash.

9. THINGS HAVE EVEN TURNED CRIMINAL.

Eight dogs belonging to one prominent New York City dog breeder were poisoned during the 1895 Westminster Dog Show. Despite the story making the front page of the New York Times, no suspect was ever prosecuted for the crime. 

10. THIS YEAR, A CHIHUAHUA MIGHT TAKE HOME THE TITLE.

For the first time ever, a Chihuahua may be a contender for "Best in Show" at Westminster this year. In 2015, Sonnito became the most decorated Chihuahua of all time, earning 32 "Best in Show" titles in the span of just over a year. 

11. MUTTS ARE SLOWLY MAKING THEIR WAY INTO THE COMPETITION.

In 2014, mutts, a.k.a. "All-Americans," were allowed to participate in Westminster’s Agility Championship for the first time since 1884—but they’re still ineligible for "Best in Show."

12. LABS ARE VOTED MOST POPULAR, BUT NOT HEAD OF THE CLASS.

Despite being the most popular dog in the country and the most common entry at the WKC Dog Show this year, a Labrador retriever has never won "Best in Show." The reason? Experts say their friendly temperament prevents them from desiring the spotlight. Labs can also be disqualified for deviating by half an inch from height standards (between 22.5 and 24.5 inches for males and  21.5 and 23.5 for females)—a regulation that was nearly challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994.

13. SOME PRACTICES ARE ANCIENT—AND WEIRD.

While nowadays some breeders cut their dogs’ tails for aesthetic reasons, the practice originated with 5th century BCE Greek statesman Alcibiades, who cut the tail of his dog so that the Athenians would have something else to talk about rather than Alcibiades. 

14. THE DOGS HAVE FRIENDS (AND RELATIVES) IN HIGH PLACES.

Matisse the Portuguese water dog (a.k.a. GCH Claircreek Impression De Matisse) has quite the pedigree. In addition to being the most decorated male show dog in the United States, he is also related to the country’s most powerful family; his cousin, Sunny, belongs to the First Family. 

15. NATURALLY, THERE HAVE BEEN SOME GREAT UNDERDOG STORIES.

Tickle Em Jock, "Best in Show" winner at the 1911 Westminster Dog Show, was a Scottish terrier and a dark horse to boot. His original owner was a butcher who sold him for 2 pounds (or about $15), which turned out to be the Scottish terrier’s lucky break. After a few years with trainer Andrew Albright, Tickle Em Jock was valued at $5000. Once, after winning the title of “best of breed,” the scrappy champ bit a judge’s wrist.

Australian Island Wants Visitors to Stop Taking Wombat Selfies

iStock.com/LukeWaitPhotography
iStock.com/LukeWaitPhotography

Spending a day observing Australian wildlife from afar isn't enough for some tourists. On Maria Island, just off the east coast of Tasmania, many visitors can't resist snapping pictures with the local wombats—and the problem has gotten so out of hand that island officials are asking people to pledge to leave the cute marsupials out of their selfies.

As CNN Travel reports, the Maria Island Pledge has been posted on signs welcoming visitors to the national park. It implores them to vow to the island to "respect and protect the furred and feathered residents." It even makes specific mention of the wombat selfie trend, with one passage reading:

"Wombats, when you trundle past me I pledge I will not chase you with my selfie stick, or get too close to your babies. I will not surround you, or try and pick you up. I will make sure I don’t leave rubbish or food from my morning tea. I pledge to let you stay wild."

The pledge isn't a binding contract guests have to sign. Rather, park officials hope that seeing these signs when they arrive will be enough to remind visitors that their presence has an impact on the resident wildlife and to be respectful of their surroundings.

The adorable, cube-pooping wombats at Maria Island are wild animals that aren't accustomed to posing for pictures, and should therefore be left alone—though in other parts of Australia, conservationists encourage tourists to take wildlife selfies. Rottnest Island off the country's west coast is home to 10,000 quokkas (another photogenic marsupial), and the quokka selfies taken there help raise awareness of their vulnerable status.

[h/t CNN Travel]

Divers Swim With What Could Be the Biggest Great White Shark Ever Filmed

iStock.com/RamonCarretero
iStock.com/RamonCarretero

New pictures and video taken by divers show what could possibly be the largest great white shark ever caught on camera, CNN Travel reports.

Deep Blue, a 50-plus-year-old great white first documented 20 years ago, was spotted off the coast of Hawaii recently in a rare close encounter. Divers were filming tiger sharks feeding on a sperm whale carcass south of Oahu when Deep Blue swam up and began scratching herself on their boat. They accompanied the shark in the water for the rest of the day, even getting close enough to touch her at times.


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"She swam away escorted by two rough-toothed dolphins who danced around her over to one of my [...] shark research vessels and proceeded to use it as a scratching post, passing up feeding for another need," Ocean Ramsey, one of the divers, wrote in an Instagram post.


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Deep Blue is roughly 20 feet long and weighs an estimated 2 tons—likely making her one of the largest great whites alive. (The record for biggest great white shark ever is often disputed, with some outlets listing an alleged 37-foot shark recorded in the 1930s as the record-holder.)

Deep Blue looks especially wide in these photos, leading some to suspect she's pregnant. Swimming so close to great whites is always dangerous, especially when they're feeding, but older, pregnant females tend to be more docile.

Though great white sharks are the largest predatory sharks in the ocean, sharks of Deep Blue's size are seldom seen, and they're filmed alive even less often, making this a remarkable occurrence.

[h/t CNN Travel]

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