At Westminster’s Hotel HQ, It’s a Crazy Scene

Tag along as Randi mingles with some hard-core dog enthusiasts at the Pre-Westminster Fashion Show, held at the Hotel Penn in NYC.

I’m a dog lover, and proud owner of Maximillian, an adorable 8-month-old Lab/shepherd mix.

Some people think I’m a little crazy for occasionally throwing a Snuggie for dogs on him, but after mingling with some hard-core dog enthusiasts at the Pre-Westminster Fashion Show, I realize that maybe I don’t love my little guy enough? I’m not so sure…

It’s Friday night, February 10, and I don’t know what exactly to expect when I show up for the doggie fashion show, a swanky annual benefit for Animal Care & Control of NYC, at The Hotel Pennsylvania.

I meet Jerry Grymek, who has been doing PR (not public relations — pooch relations) for the past 10 years at the Hotel Penn, host hotel for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. “We have it down to a science,” Jerry tells me. “We welcome all with open paws. We are a five-paw hotel and the only hotel to offer all of these services.”

All dogs are welcome to experience the amenities being offered this special weekend in the lower lobby: a masseuse for canines, a pet psychic, a gym for pooches complete with treadmills, all the way down to his and her relieving areas just for dogs. PAW-some!

“This is Miss America for dogs,” says Jane, the owner of Snickerdoodle, a sort of mini collie pup. “We’ve been waiting for this all year, and this is her time!” Jane is dressed in complementary colors to Snickerdoodle. They match perfectly. Actually, almost every owner and dog I encounter are dressed exactly alike.

The thing I notice most about the pre-gaming Westminster-goers is that they seem to relish in having their furry friends in the limelight — obviously; that’s why they’re here to begin with. I feel as if I am on the reality TV show Toddlers and Tiaras, except without any toddlers.

“She’ll pose for you. She loves the camera! She knows what one is.” I am here with my photographer to get shots of the happenings in the hotel lobby, but I quickly realize that each pet owner thinks I am some kind of “VIP” and is handing me a business card with his or her canine’s stats on it. Three people ask me if I am interested in representing their dog for acting and modeling gigs.

Paul Newman, white Basset Hound
Paul Newman, white Basset Hound

I happen to meet several “famous” dogs this night. Among the standouts: the world’s only poker-playing dog, Jilli, and her sweet owner, Rick; Baby Cakes, a Cocker Spaniel who just made her debut on Russian television (and who happened to crawl under a ladies’ room stall door to say hello to me); and a determined owner of a famous Basset Hound. “We need a hound win this year! Hounds need more wins!” the owner says. I excuse myself right as the basset seems to get into a scuffle with a Renaissance-dressed spaniel.

I find myself bumping into what I think are numerous baby carriages, but not with babies — they’re for the dogs, of course. (Note to owners: This is not a good idea inside a crowded hotel ballroom; why can’t you just use a leash?) I have never been surrounded by so many dogs in my entire life.

The good thing about animal lovers in general, especially “dog people” versus “cat people,” is that most of them are extroverts. On this night I make friends quickly with a group of women — we all have something in common: We are the few humans in attendance without animal companions for the evening.

“It’s just easier to leave them at home,” the woman next to me says. “We actually thought we would be going to Madison Square Garden for the show. I had no idea it wasn’t until Sunday. I was hoping I could just kick back with a beer, but this is kinda fancy.”

Then we learn that we both have mutts, something that seems to be looked down upon by the majority of the people we have encountered so far. I describe how as soon as I told any of the dog owners or distributors that I have a mixed-breed, I could immediately sense them judging me for owning a mutt. I was excited to meet a man with two handsome German Shepherds, but once I said, “Oh, I have a Lab/shepherd mix,” he didn’t seem so interested in talking to me anymore.

“People really judge you on what kind of dog you own here. It’s so terrier-dominated. It’s always about f—ing terriers, dammit!” my new friend tells me as she looks for more drink tickets in her purse.

Lesbian Chihuahua wedding in New York City
Same-sex canine marriage at a doggie fashion show. Only in New York, right?

What seems odd to us is that it was more acceptable that during the pup-nuptials (yes, a very Brady wedding group ceremony took place for four dog couples onstage before the fashion show) a lesbian Chihuahua couple got hitched and no one seemed to mind — yet owning a dog that is a plethora of different breeds has caused more of a commotion than same-sex dog marriage? Only in New York.

But even if mutts are soundly disqualified from competing in Westminster (no worries, the third annual Brooklyn Mutt Show is in late March), it put a smile on my face to see a few “adopt me” dogs, wearing bright vests, being paraded during the fashion show and throughout the crowd. No one seemed to mind them, and it was hard to not want to take them all home.

As for spoiling my dog, I don’t think I’ve reached the level where I’ll be taking Max to the S’paw at Hotel Pennsylvania this year for a massage or psychic reading. Or outfitting him in any mega dog bling.

I have to say these Westminster people really take their business seriously. When I wanted to laugh at them, I thought back to the days I used to feverishly compete in pageants. Were people laughing at me back then? Probably. I definitely have a newfound respect and fascination for what they do and their dedication.

Photos by Olivia Hall, a New York-based photographer. You can follow Olivia on Twitter: @BlackOlive15.

Randi Newton

View posts by Randi Newton
Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Randi Newton lives in New York City and has been researching and writing about pets and pet behaviors for a number of years now. She has cared for a variety of pets over the years, including a Shepherd Lab named Maximillian and a Cockatiel named Squeaker.

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