It’s getting doggone strange out there

The 134th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show kicks off at Madison Square Garden Monday night, and I can’t help but approach the event like a rookie mailman: Nervous, anxious and downright terrified of what could possibly happen next.

That’s because 2010 so far has been a shocking dog year, fraught with peril and controversy. For the sport’s hardcore devotees — an elitist group of aficionados who make the US Open tennis crowd look like the cast from MTV’s "Jersey Shore" — the past few weeks have been highlighted (or lowlighted) by a nonstop parade of mishaps, scandals and negative press.

First, there was the seemingly endless doggie trail of NSFW photos leaked to the trashy canine celebrity news site DMZ.com. One by one, some of the world’s top showdogs were captured in the nude on camera. Brazenly walking up and down city streets, cavorting in front yards — it seems you weren’t a real dog until you were photographed licking your own genitalia in public.

On the popular dog gossip web site "Dogspin" last week, there was a clip of "Dogden," a three-year-old pup whose career has been sidetracked by injuries, taking a photograph of his own doggy parts in a kennel mirror. The pics revealed that he had "nothing to be ashamed of" in the doghood department. Nevertheless, the pup apologized to his fans on his personal web site.

"It’s been an embarrassing time for all of us, but also a time for reflection," champion pointer and breed representative "Captain Jeets." told Dog Fancy. "Dogs of all breeds — the Brittanys, the Ibizan Hounds, the Coated Wheaten Terriers — acknowledge that the rash of naughty photos leaking online just has to stop. If a human shoves a camera in your face, put on a Burberry sweater vest. Or a fireman’s hat. Or a bowtie. Do something. Just be sure to cover up. We need to stop giving away the goods for free."

Just as the canine community was rebounding from the rash of raunchy photos, a kennel-rattling news item involving all-time great "Eldrick Da Dog" shook the dog world to its knees.

"Eldrick," who knows his way around a dogleg or two, was photographed with a bevy of bitches hanging all over him in popular Las Vegas nightclub "Chow" on Jan 12.

Considered a "one-bitch hound," the 11-year-old future Hall of Famer told the Associated Dog Press on Jan.13, "I’m outraged and disappointed by these allegations and want to clear my good name. The dog in those photos was not me."

Alas, one by one, bitches came out of the woodwork with tales of canine canoodling, sending the champion showdog further into the doghouse.

When top sponsors began to unleash him from rich endorsement deals, Eldrick went into seclusion. We haven’t heard from him in weeks, but reports claim he has enrolled in obedience school.

Then came the most disturbing incident of all. At the Rose City Classic in Portland in late January, a casual afternoon of dogs playing poker in the locker room escalated into violence when two of them argued over a gambling debt. Tensions rose as one of the pups — up-and-coming superstar "Gilby Wilby" — brandished a weapon, in this case a sharpened dog biscuit. When "Gilby" laughed off the incident on his Twitter page, the public howled with outrage.

The pupparazzi has not been kind, either, and pooches have returned the favor. One champion pup lifted a hind leg on a cameraman outside a doggy day care facility in Beverly Hills last week. Another left an unwanted package on the foot of a photographer last week at the arrivals gate at JFK in New York.

Just as it seemed the scandals were beginning to abate, came this bombshell: an alleged YouTube "breeding" tape featuring two of the Westminster show’s top competitors.

Neither party has commented publicly, but photos apparently exist of a "love pup" barking up the wrong tree at a kennel in North Carolina, just the latest dirty little secret to leak out in this usually muzzled world of dog-eat-dog shows.

"If anything, it shows that we’re no different than our human owners. We like to breed. We like to party. We like to have fun. If I’m going to be hanging in a dog park and a bunch of hot little bitches come hollering at me, well — then what am I supposed to do about it?" asked "BARK Lee," a former top bulldog who recently admitted to gambling up to $20,000 on 2009’s Westminster show. "Eleven years in a human’s life is 77 in a dog’s. You better believe we’re going to make the most of them. And if it winds up on the Internet? So be it."

Excessive "Best in Show" celebrations, growling at fans, and general "bad dog" behavior has reaffirmed the public perception that today’s showdogs live in their own world, by their own rules. Yes, man’s best friends are just as down and dirty as their owners.

Of course, one group remains unfazed by all of this:

The cats.