Melissa Harris-Perry: Well, we've gone to the dogs here on The Takeaway in the best possible way. In fact, we're dog gone excited to be covering the 146 Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Late Wednesday night, all the winners of the best in group competed for the final Award, Best in Show. The winner, a historic shocker.
Speaker 1: I'm very honored to announce that at the 146th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the Best in Show winner is the bloodhound.
Speaker 2: [unintelligible 00:00:35] best in the show.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Trumpet the bloodhound took home the top prize and Trumpet is the first bloodhound to win. Joining us with news and highlights from this year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is Sarah Montague, audio producer WNYC alum, and The Takeaway's Westminster Dog Show reporter who's been covering the show for 22 years. Welcome back to The Takeaway, Sarah.
Sarah Montague: Thank you very much, Melissa "Wolf."
Melissa Harris-Perry: Girl right on back. Tell us about Trumpet the bloodhound.
Sarah Montague: I was really excited by this when the hound group is my favorite group. One shouldn't have favorites, but I do. This was an exciting first with this breed, bloodhound has never won before. It's a really interesting example of what the show is actually about, which is this business of matching up form with function. Bloodhounds are professional working hounds, they rescue people and track down criminals and can actually give testimony in court. The judge was looking for a dog that exemplified the things that that kind of job suggests. Here's a clip of him explaining what it was he saw.
Judge: Oh, he was a stunning type, gorgeous construction, and flawless in motion. Never put a foot down wrong, beautiful representative.
Sarah Montague: That was Dr. Donald Sturtz, Jr, who was last night's Best in Show judge. He's doing judge speak. They have this private language with a save form and function. For a take that's a little more personal. Here is owner-handler, Heather Buehner, who showed the Trumpet to his triumph last night.
Heather Buehner: Well, he's a bloodhound. He will do as he wants, but he's a fun dog. He's happy and he's super smart.
Sarah Montague: That was Heather speaking after her group win in the hound class. She was incredibly emotional last night. There wasn't in fact any way to get near her, but I had a wonderful conversation with her aunt, who talked about the fact that Heather came up in junior handling, which a lot of professional handlers do. Apparently, when she was still in junior's, a judge said, "When you look at her, you don't see a dog and a handler, you see one entity," and that was really evident last night.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, Trumpet comes from quite a bloodline, right? He's four years old, but his father Nathan was best in the hound group back in 2014.
Sarah Montague: That's very common, because in fact, what you're doing in this environment is trying to breed the best line of dogs you can. When a kennel has a proven champion, they really hope to continue that line, and because of course, dog generations are very much shorter, judges are often saying, "Oh, I remember his grandfather or I'm glad there are puppies on the ground, see you in a couple of years." It's really a family affair from every perspective.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, let's talk about Winston who is the runner-up or in Westminster language, the Best in Show reserved. Tell us a bit about him.
Sarah Montague: It's often said, "Oh, it's a beauty contest, and how can they possibly measure the French Bulldog against the bloodhound, they don't look anything alike." You're not. You're measuring them against the best version of themselves. French Bulldogs were bred in the 19th century in England, to entertain English lacemakers, then they went down to France and became the Vogue. They are amongst the leading registrations in this country now. French is a breed to charm. What you're looking for is incredible charm. After his group win in the non-sporting class, handler Perry Pearson had this to say about Winston.
Perry Pearson: If you look up the [unintelligible 00:04:15] beautifully packed with the letdown [unintelligible 00:04:19], the upper arm the shoulder and how pretty the neck was to the shoulder, [unintelligible 00:04:24]
Sarah Montague: That lovely attentive expression.
Perry Pearson: The expression, the eyes, and ears. The eyes are beautiful.
Sarah Montague: We should explain to aggravated listeners, the reason all this sounds so gobbled is we are able to approach the competitors only in the middle of the show on the floor, but you can get the glean excitement. Perry also produced an unheard-of moment. He was so happy with his group win that he invited every single one of us to come in the group shot with Winston. Somewhere floating about social media, I probably appear next to this great face with the beautiful eyes, nobody will pay any attention to me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Last year's winner was about as different a kind of dog from this year's winner as one can imagine. Talk to me a bit about whether or not that is common to see, for example, a toy and then a sporting, or if really it is just each year is a clean slate.
Sarah Montague: Each year it's a clean slate. I'm going to do the thing where you recuse yourself [unintelligible 00:05:22] I would say as the personal friend at this point, I've known him for a couple number of years. He's a wonderful handler and breeder. David Fitzpatrick is one of the leading lights of this community. Coming back to Westminster after this horrible interlude, and having that pair win was very special for everyone, but there is absolutely no formula about this.
Every year, a different group of dogs is rising to the surface all over the country all year round. Every year, that remarkable collection comes to the show, is winnowed down to seven group winners, all of whom will be different. Sometimes there's consistency. In fact, this year in the working group, Striker, the Samoyed was the winner last year and was also the winner this year of that group.
Dogs have show careers that last generally about three or four years intensely. Sometimes if they're really good, you see them over and over again, but that's entirely the question of the judge, the decisions of the judges. There's no, "Oh, this year, it's time for the hound, or this year it's time for the toy." It's what every judge says, best dog on the day.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, as you make this point about Striker, I was noticing that Striker already had a full Fanclub going on on social media. Tell me a little bit about fan favorites.
Sarah Montague: That's really interesting. I actually did a piece about this for the station a number of years ago when social media was first coming in. This turns out to be a big deal on the circuit because these dogs have followings. Let's admit the part of this, of course, is calculation. A lot of what goes into dog showing professionally is that there's lots of advertising, "Here's my great dog, hope you will keep an eye out next time you see it," but a lot of this has to do with creating that sense of community.
What they really, really don't want is for people to think that dogs' shows are snobbish or only for people with tons of money. I think the social media side makes these dogs accessible to people. It's less true, of course, now that we're out at Lyndhurst, but at the garden, I had a wonderful conversation with David Frei, who hosted Westminster for television for 27 years. He said the year that the Beagle won, the fans sounded like the day the Knicks won the championship. That hysterical. I think social media helps to build up that momentum and excitement because they can be doing that up to the moment the choice is made. I'll bet there are tons of #Trumpets out there right now.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, apparently, you also met an artist of the dog show who was sketching some of the dogs and this was something new that you had not seen before.
Sarah Montague: Yes. I think to some extent, this is one of the facets that Lyndhurst has just provided. As you know, this is the second year of the show was moved out of the Lyndhurst stage at Tarrytown. The Westchester Kennel Club had it's show there for many years. It was a good blueprint. If they had to take the show out of door safely at a different time of year, this has meant everything feels freer and more open.
Instead of being scrunched into the garden, people are just taking their ease and I was looking, I sat down, and there's a man holding a notebook, which says "Masterpieces of the National Portrait Gallery." I said that surprising. Of course, I know my job, I sidled up to him with my phone and said, "Gabriel, what are you doing?" He turns out to be a professional painter and artist. He has an interest in Newfoundlands. His family has had them for a while, and members of his family were showing Newfoundland that day, but he's been sketching for about five or six years. From an artist's point of view, he talks about what makes it intriguing to look at dogs as subjects in art and not just as competitors in the ring.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Sarah Montague, Westminster Dog Show reporter. This is always one of my favorite conversations of the year. I love this role. Thank you for your canine coverage.
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