By noon, it had been quite a day for Razzle Dazzle.
She’d already walked off with a repeat ribbon as the best bulldog at the Westminster Kennel Club show Monday, and now it was time for a catnap. So she put her big, wrinkled head down in her crate and tried to take a snooze.
No luck. Minutes later, the backstage crowd at America’s most prestigious dog show kept clamoring for a closer look. The 3-year-old bruiser woke, raised up and unleashed a full, throaty bark. Co-owner Robert Speiser did his best to shield her from all the commotion, pressing his body against the front of her crate.
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"Go back to bed, honey," he whispered.
Madison Square Garden was steamy for the opening session of the two-day event. More than half of the 2,500 dogs were housed right off the main floor and thousands of fans jammed in on a holiday to see them.
"It’s a madhouse," said Jane Bates, co-owner of a top golden retriever called Treasure.
Sadie the Scottish terrier loomed as the clear favorite to win best in show Tuesday night. Treasure, Razzle Dazzle, a crowd-pleasing puli and an alert Doberman pinscher were poised to contend for the silver bowl.
Judging began at 8 a.m. Monday, with 173 breeds and varieties competing. They included three newcomers: the Irish red and white setter, the Norwegian buhund and the Pyrenean shepherd.
The hound, toy, nonsporting and herding groups were to be judged Monday night. The sporting, working and terrier groups were set for Tuesday evening, with judge Elliott Weiss ready to make his best in show pick shortly before 11 p.m.
Clint Livingston hoped to be in that best of seven showdown. He handles Treasure, along with 16 other champion dogs at Westminster. It’s a family affair – brother Brian brought 12 and sister Colette had four. Naturally, their mom and dad were in the business.
"She wouldn’t let me show unless I made straight A’s," Clint said.
Lesson learned well. The valedictorian of his high school class in Texas, he began coming to Westminster in 1984 and has done his share of winning in best of breed and best of group judging.
With so many dogs, the family got its own corner grooming area, away from the pack of people and pooches. They also employed five assistants, and the constant whirl of brushes, clippers and blow dryers made it look like Livingston Spa.
This year, Clint is handling a petits bassets griffons vendeen, a long-haired dachshund, a German shepherd, a Chinese shar-pei and an Australian cattle dog, among others. Inevitably, the siblings wind up competing against each other.
At one point Monday, the boys found themselves in the same Australian shepherd ring. Brian took the top prize. Clint, meanwhile, dutifully dashed off to show his brother’s Finnish spitz.