words: paula mejia 
photography: steven brahms

For a few days in February, as lithe models slink down catwalks during New York’s Fashion Week, a canine spectacle takes over Madison Square Garden. The Westminster Kennel Club hosts the crown jewel of dog shows, bringing together the finest breeders, handlers, groomers, and animals. Terriers have won the most titles, collecting 46 Best In Show ribbons, but this year’s champion was from the sporting group, a three-year-old German shorthaired pointer named CJ (full name: GCH Vjk-Myst Garbonita’s California Journey).


It was a year of firsts, even in this 140th year of competition: seven new breeds became eligible to show, including the American miniature shepherd, the Boerboel, and the Bergamasco sheepdog, a shaggy-rug specimen boasting three different kinds of matted hair.


The Westminster extravaganza kicks off the first major competition of the calendar year. Forget any chance of an offseason, though: showing is a rigorous, year-round affair. Talented dogs train nonstop, roughly from the time they’re six months old and deemed worthy of showing. “From January on, you can basically drive up the Eastern seaboard and show through the end of the year,” says Michael Leonzio, a Chow Chow breeder from Maryland.


The carefully coiffed hairdos and classic styles— which vary depending on the breed—take hours to prepare and require constant touch-ups with hairspray. According to handler Lindsay Gorder, “Their hair is worth its weight in gold.”

2016 served as the inaugural run for the Masters Obedience Championship, an invitation-only competition where dogs are judged on their performances in exercises such as directed jumping, heel work, and scent discrimination.


Show announcer David Frei called his final Westminster, after serving as the show’s distinctive voice for 26 years. He was known for bringing humor, candor, and tongue-in-cheek descriptors to his commentary. To wit: Frei introduced a Glen of Imaal terrier as “canine propelled rotisserie,” and described a Portuguese water dog as having “a bit of creative mischief in its heart.”




It was the only third time in Westminster history that a German shorthaired pointer had taken the trophy, but the competitor who drew the loudest cheers from the crowd was a classic suburban companion: a bulldog named Annabelle.