Melissa Harris-Perry: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry.
Okay, y'all, it's time to talk about the results of one of America's longest-running traditions in sport. No, we're not going back to last week's Kentucky Derby, and we're not talking about the ongoing NBA playoffs. It is time for the Westminster Dog Show. Late last night, the winners of Best in Group competed for Best in Show at the 147th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and one dog was head, shoulders, and tails above the rest.
Presenter 1: Best in Show tonight is the PBGV.
Presenter 2: It's Buddy Holly.
[MUSIC - Weezer: Buddy Holly]
Melissa Harris-Perry: Joining us now with all the highlights from this year's competition is Sarah Montague. She is audio producer, WNYC alum, and The Takeaways Westminster Dog Show reporter who's been covering the show for over 20 years. Welcome back to The Takeaway, Sarah.
Sarah Montague: Thank you so much.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's begin with the big winner.
Sarah Montague: What I'm almost immediately going to set you straight, the big winner last night was a rather low-slung dog, and it's the first time for this breed. The winner was Buddy Holly. Brace yourself, I'm about to speak a lot of French to you. This breed is called Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen. As you can imagine, nobody says this. This breed is called PBGV, sort of like a sandwich bar, and this is a first-time win for this breed. They are a French [unintelligible 00:01:49] Basset-related breed, low-slung for hunting in cover. I actually know them in that context, which we'll talk about later.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What made judges fall in love with Buddy Holly?
Sarah Montague: Buddy Holly is apparently a non-pariah of his type. He's actually known as a hound. He's part of the hound group, and dog people are always crotchety who say dog when it's a hound. There are two kinds of takes on this. One is that judges are always looking, not for the dog that's prettier than the dog next to it, which is what people often think when they look at the Best in Show group because all the dogs are very, very different, they're looking for a dog that exemplifies its type. We might want to hear first from the Best in Show judge, who is Elizabeth Sweigart, and she told me what she really loved about Buddy.
Elizabeth Sweigart: I say, he is a really beautiful dog. Beautiful head and expression, great coat, not overly trimmed, he carries his topline when he moves. Really, you can't fault him. He's lovely.
Sarah Montague: Janice Hayes is the co-owner and handler of this dog. Of course, the handlers have these incredibly intimate relationships with dogs. They're often on the road with them for much of the year, and so when she talked about him, she was just talking about what an incredible character he was and how it came out. What do you love about him?
Janice Hayes: Everything. They are the happiest, hardheaded. Lovable dogs they are. [chuckles] I love them.
Sarah Montague: Thank you so much. Congratulations.
Janice: Thank you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to talk about a couple of the other finalists and most specifically maybe the fan favorite, Winston. I live in Winston Salem, North Carolina, so of course, the town was, in particular, rooting for Winston, a French Bulldog. He did make it to Best in Show, to the finale of the Best in Show again this year. He didn't win, but the French Bulldog has now apparently overtaken the Labrador Retriever as the most popular dog breed here in the US. Does breed popularity play into the decision-making process at all at Westminster?
Sarah Montague: Absolutely not. Nobody in the fancy would ever countenance that, and in fact, to some extent, the reverse. It's very exciting about the Frenchie, they are completely, completely adorable, and yes, for the first time in 31 years, they have overtaken the Labrador Retriever. This is a statistic generated by American Kennel Club registrations, which means that if you buy a purebred dog from a responsible breeder, you are part of that headcount.
The dark side of popularity and all the people in this field talk about it with some concern is that popularity sometimes results in indiscriminate breeding by people who don't know the breed and simply want to cash in on its popularity. Nobody in this field ever really looks at things in that way. They have a long-standing standard of looking at the quality of every breed, which dogs exemplify that quality.
Then you get this amazing moment where you get seven of the most radiant examples of whatever it is this year. Winston as of last night is actually the number one dog on statistics in the country. This is like horse racing. It doesn't mean that he's going to win. He's a playful, charming dog. His handler, Perry Payson, is also very charming, and they did a great job last night against some incredibly heavy competition.
The other surprise here was the reserved Best in Show. Westminster reinstituted this a number of years ago. The winner was the Pekingese handled by David Fitzpatrick, who won two years ago. This is a young dog related to his other champion. He was not, I think, expecting to do this well. That was rather nice too.
Melissa Harris-Perry: One of the storylines that you were following this year is of Bee, the Wire Fox Terrier, and his owner. Can you tell us a little bit about this duo?
Sarah Montague: Yes. I was really intrigued by this when I was beginning to put together my notes for the show. This is a highly professionalized field. Dog shows are very popular, so all over the country, there are people at every level of expertise showing their dogs, but at this level, Westminster takes only champions. Every 1 of the 2,500 dogs in there is a registered champion of one kind or another.
It's a highly professionalized field, so the majority of dogs being shown are owned by all kinds of different people from individuals to conglomerates but generally handled by professional handlers. There are some exceptions to this, but the majority are handled by professional handlers. The owners are often people who simply did well in other kinds of fields and love dogs.
When I was looking into this, I was interested to know that Bee, who is the Wire-Haired Fox Terrier, the breed that has won Westminster most, was being handled by her owner who is called Fan Yu from China. He is not only a handler, an owner, he is a sculptor. I caught up with him after he won the breed class and asked him to talk a little bit about how those two things come into play for him.
Fan Yu: I love that since I can remember, and I started showing dogs since 2003, which is 20 years ago from this year, so it's quite special to me.
Sarah Montague: You're also an artist. How does that affect you?
Fan Yu: Yes, I'm doing sculptures as well.
Sarah Montague: Does that affect the way you work with the dog?
Fan Yu: Oh, yes. To me, showing dogs is an art so they can help each other.
Sarah Montague: What makes her special?
Fan Yu: I think the love.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We're going to take a quick break right here, but sit tight, we'll be back with more on the Westminster Dog Show in just a moment.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You're back with The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and we're still talking about the Westminster Dog Show with The Takeaway's Westminster Dog Show reporter Sarah Montague. Sarah, there was a new venue this year, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York. Can you tell us about it?
Sarah Montague: As you might imagine, the show had to move out of town, out of Madison Square Garden, its longtime home. After the pandemic, they needed to take the show somewhere outdoors. For the past two years, it's been at the Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, but they really wanted to come back to New York City. They've always been a New York City show, but they couldn't work it out with the gardener together, or at least they were looking at other possibilities.
They wound up this year at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Queens, beautifully, handsome site, which almost everybody but me probably knows already. Very spacious and open.
There were lots of positive comments about how roomy it was and how great it was to have the space. It's interesting in a way because at Lyndhurst, they had to build everything from the ground up, so it was like a Harry Potter moment with a fairy castle in the middle of the lawn.
Here, this is an established world-class sports site, which meant to look as if it was wearing a Westminster Kennel Club costume with Westminster Kennel Club signature colors, gold and purple, everywhere they could possibly put it but also tons of pictures of tennis greats. They played into that by having some of them voice over a really charming slideshow that was taking place while the show was gearing up of all the old champions and then the groups. Some champion would come on and say, "Here's why this is a great breed," and kind of play into their own sport. They made a nice marriage of one institution with another, and it worked out really well.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to talk about Golden Retrievers for a moment. They are wildly popular, the third most popular breed in the US, and a long-standing popular breed, but they've never won Best in Show. Given that, as you point out, each breed is competing against itself, not against others in the sense of perfection relative to the standards for the breed, what's going on with Golden Retrievers,
Sarah Montague: As it happens, they ran something last night showing which breeds were the most popular. Wire-Haired Fox Terriers have won the most, 15 times. The second breed to win most was the Scottie, Scottish Terriers. The third was the English Springer Spaniel. There is no magic formula here at all. The judge mandate is best dog on the day, and there's no real reason why one dog over another couldn't win.
Although it rarely happens when the breed is very new to Westminster. Sometimes it needs more time to get a sense of what that dog's culture is, I think. No, I have no magic answer to this. I'm interested that you mentioned this because I had a charming moment in the grooming tent backstage, I was roaming around looking for friends, and there were two Goldens waiting on the grooming table. I thought they were a special effect.
They were sitting facing outwards, and they were almost identical. It looked like some tricks that you'd see in a movie. They are gorgeous. Years ago, I did a piece about them. I stopped some woman on the street at random and said, "Tell me about your Golden." She said, "He's just love." Then he licked my microphone.
Melissa Harris-Perry: [chuckles] That totally sounds like a Golden. There was a first-year competing breed this year, the Bracco Italiano. I'm both interested in the breed, but also, how does a new breed get introduced to this competition?
Sarah Montague: I didn't even prime you for that great question. First of all, I'm a real fan of this breed. I happen to run into them accidentally. When I lived in the country, somebody had one. They look weirdly like elongated Bassets, but they are not. They are a Italian breed, a working breed. Sporting dogs are used to hunting. They're kind of cream and orange, and they have these elongated muscles. They look a little bit like gumby Bassets. Very, very elegant.
It's interesting that you should mention what it takes to become registered because when people who are new in this context, they think it means that the breed is new. In fact, frequently, the breed is ancient, which is the case here. There are breeds in the AKC roster that go back 4,000 or 5,000 years. New means that the breeders and handlers have demonstrated that there is sufficient genetic diversity for you to have a breed and maintain it healthily inside the system.
It can often take up to a decade. There are a variety of stages, the names of which I do not know, that moves your breed forward into the process. Then eventually, there is a decision made to incorporate it into the AKC registry, and then it becomes part of the system. That means that when that happens, the American Kennel Club is the institution that controls this. Once that's happened, it means that breed is eligible for Westminster, so usually, the following year, you begin to see the first examples of it at Westminster.
Melissa Harris-Perry: One of the joys for me of watching is simultaneously watching social media and all the folks who are posting pictures of what they call Best at Home, their own dogs, sometimes rescues and mixed breed dogs lazing about on couches, and this kind of thing. I guess, clearly, the world of the fanciers is quite different than simply the dog lovers in the world, but we really do love this. There is an attachment and attraction to watching. I wonder if you have a sense of what it is that this competition brings for ordinary viewers in terms of our enjoyment and maybe a communal experience of it.
Sarah Montague: I think that is absolutely the case. You'll notice that I asked Fan Yu what it is that makes Bee, his Wire-Haired Fox Terrier, special, and he said--
Fan Yu: I think the love.
Sarah Montague: You can actually feel it. I'm in the room with them, of course. I particularly noticed that in the working group, working dogs are huge. They're the big muscle dogs and the [unintelligible 00:13:45] of the world. Every one of them was lolling about playing with its handler, and I can imagine that anybody looking at that television could really see that, could see this moment of respite and love. That comes across as strongly as the beauty and power of them. I think it is absolutely true.
Despite the fact that it's an enclosed environment and it's incredibly special, it's an outward-facing show. It's an outward-facing sport. The real desire is to reinforce how lovely it is to have them. When they announce the breeds and their histories as they come in, they always end with, "Here's the way in which this could be the perfect family pet for you if you're this kind of person, if you're this kind of family." They very much want to see these special show dogs be ambassadors for everybody.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Sarah Montague, our dog show reporter. I just have to say thank you so much for the many years of K9 coverage that you've brought to us here on The Takeaway. I am so pleased that despite the show ending in just a couple of weeks on June 2nd that we were able to get a final report from you. It warms my heart. Thank you so much for this.
Sarah Montague: My pleasure.
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