Melissa Harris-Perry: Hello, everyone. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega, and this is The Takeaway. On Sunday night, a Pekingese named Wasabi was crowned Best in Show at the 145th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. I watched the show with my three ragtag mutts, but joining me now is Sarah Montague, The Takeaway's resident Westminster reporter. Sarah, I'm thrilled to have you here and welcome back to the show.
Sarah Montague: Thank you very much. This is my annual treat.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Well, I was thrilled to know that I would be guest-hosting for this segment. Let's talk about Wasabi who was awarded Best in Show last night.
Sarah Montague: Wasabi is an extraordinarily beautiful Pekingese. He is co-owned by a syndicate, including Sandra Middlebrooks, David Fitzpatrick as handler and breeder, Peggy Steinman, and the late Iris Love, one of New York's most irrepressible fabulous characters. She died of COVID last March and her New York Times obituary called her the Indiana Jones in Miniskirt, which tells you something about her. In some ways, what it felt like last night was a memorial to Iris, but you might want to hear from David about what makes Wasabi special.
David Fitzpatrick: He's just a fantastic dog. I've been breeding Pekingese for 50 years and he conforms to the breed standard, and he also has charisma. It's just a terrific dog.
Sarah Montague: Best in Show judge, Patricia Trotter reinforced that. She said he was a dog who thought he was 10 feet tall and behaved like a lion. They are in fact called the lion dog. What he actually looks like is a flower in a sea of his own fur, with this fabulously expressive face.
Melissa Harris-Perry: He truly has a fabulously expressive face and yet that sea of fur, I kept saying to myself, "Is there a dog in there?" How big is the dog itself as compared to that fabulous mane of fur that we were seeing last night?
Sarah Montague: That's a really good question because when the judges judge and they judge big dogs like that, the winner of the herding group was an old English sheepdog and it's much the same. They actually feel right under the fur, the hair, and coat for the skin structure, for the bone structure.
They need to know what the substance is there. She was saying he was perfectly constructed for a Pekingese, the big expressive head, the sloping body that gives them that waddling gait that's so delicious. They feel for that quite literally to be sure it's all there.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Oh, I love that. There were some new elements this year. Certainly, part of it was the location, but can you walk us through some of the other changes and what effect they had on the show?
Sarah Montague: That was really the most significant change. The show, in fact, did take place at its usual time in February of 2020. Almost immediately after that, the world shut up and Westminster came to the conclusion fairly quickly, given the tremendous uncertainty at the time, that they couldn't imagine that they were going to confidently be able to come back to the very crowded circumstances of the pier and then at Madison Square Garden.
They reached out to a number of different facilities, I understand. They happened on Lyndhurst because it itself, the estate is in Tarrytown. It is the result of three generations of robber barons flaunting their wealth in a neo-gothic style first built in 1838. It had had, for many years, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. It had a history with that, and it had a history with that because its last owner, Helen Gould, daughter of the financier, Jay Gould was a peak fancier. When I spoke to David Fitzpatrick, earlier, he said, "Well, that has to be a good omen," and so it proved.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you talk about that sense of accessibility, does the annual winner of this show impact the adoption of family pets? In other words, will we see an uptick in requests for Pekingese pups this year?
Sarah Montague: Happily, no. That doesn't happen as much as you think, and it doesn't happen under other conditions either. The year that President Obama got a Portuguese Water Dog, everybody thought it would happen then. The community is much more measured and responsible, so they spend a lot of time-- One of the reasons Westminster has been a show is so that people can go and get a look at what they're interested in, and then there are constant messages saying, "Think about the Dog that is right for your lifestyle. This is going to be a member of your family."
Patricia Trotter, the judge, had a great speech before she awarded the awards last night. She said, "The thing to remember is not every pet is a show dog, but every show dog is a pet," and that's the message.
The Pekes are relatively popular. Anyway, they're small, they're charming, they work well in apartments. My guess is that in AK registrations, they are probably fairly high up the list, but no, people don't rush to get one of those, which is a good thing.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's talk about Verb. That was the border collie who won the Agility Championship again this year, also won back in 2019. I have to say as someone who has a crew of Ruffian mutts in my home who nonetheless are quite athletic, I really love the agility aspect. How is this relatively new edition from 2014, how has it impacted the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show more broadly?
Sarah Montague: I think one of the reasons they incorporated that, there's also an obedience competition, is in fact precisely to broaden access. One of the things that distinguishes it, of course, is Westminster is a confirmation show. It celebrates the extraordinary beauty of purebreds, but many other kinds of wonderful dogs are out there and both Patricia Trotter in her speech last night mentioned that, and it's part of the tradition of Helen Gould, who was one of the country's most significant philanthropist and while she had purebred Pekesand her brother showed Saint Bernards and they were very successful, she had many, many strays.
What's called the All-American dog mixed breeds can compete in agility, so it's a wonderful way of opening the community of dogs and also to people who want to celebrate an active dog. It really is quite sensational to watch.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It's stunning to watch. Sarah Montague is The Takeaway's resident Westminster reporter. Sarah, thank you so much for joining us this morning.
Sarah Montague: My pleasure.
Melissa Harris-Perry: While most of us probably don't have a Best in Show award-winning dog, cat or chicken doesn't mean we don't love our pets. For many of you out there, the pandemic actually inspired you to adopt.
Kerry: Hi, this is Kerry, I'm calling from Brooklyn, New York. I am so happy that I got my dog, Leo. I have been wanting a dog for about 10 years and the pandemic pushed me to do something I always wanted to do. I've made up tons of excuses, and I was super anxious the day I adopted him but by the second day of having him, I knew it was all over. He just smelled terrier mix and he's just given me something to take care of outside of myself. That's been [unintelligible 00:07:11] during this time.
Gabe Snyder: Hi, this is Gabe Snyder from Richfield. I'm calling in about Luke, the Bernese Mountain Dog, who was our pandemic pub. Luke was going to be the family dog, but after I spent several weeks sleeping on the floor of my daughter's room with him at the tiny little puppy, going out with him every couple of hours through the night, walking him every morning, he became, for the first time ever in my life, my dog, and we still walk every morning.
As the apple tree in our backyard grew, he would help me to pick the apples after our morning walk, and then I could bring to friends, and he helped me meet my best neighbor friends, Rebecca and Joe, and their Husky puppy guts. Luke now has a play date every morning with guts and follows me from room to room and he's absolutely delightful.
Jack Biel: This is Jack Biel from Colorado Springs. Yes, we rescued a dog from Texas last year and he's been a good addition to the company, he's very popular in the neighborhood.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Keep the calls coming, leave us a voicemail at 877-869-8253, or send a voice memo to email@example.com.
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