Westminster Kennel Club
Unforgettable weekend at the 2021 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
Westminster Kennel Club

Unforgettable weekend at the 2021 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Updated Jun. 13, 2021 11:24 p.m. ET

By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports columnist

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — A man with a giant Bullmastiff approached Barry Bonds at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Sunday and asked if Bonds would take a picture with his dog.

Bonds looked at the animal’s pudgy face and then back at the man, who was requesting to photograph him, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, with a show dog. 

"I don’t know your dog," Bonds said. "But I’ll take one with him if you’re in it, too." 


I can see where it would be confusing to hear that Barry Bonds was at the WKC Dog Show, but Bonds and his sister are co-owners of a miniature schnauzer. At any other event, Bonds would probably have been the main attraction. But not even the home-run record-holder could steal the spotlight from thousands of very good dogs and the handlers who dedicate their lives to showing them.

Look, I knew hanging out at the dog show all weekend was going to be a dream assignment, but I wasn’t ready for the amount of heart and genuine depth of feeling that permeates the event. Sports usually involve a crowd where half the people are miserable because their team lost. But at the dog show, even if you don’t win a medal, you’re still a winner. 

Because you are still a very good dog. 

The dog show isn’t just about dogs. It’s about the bond between dogs and the people who love them. During the agility competition, for example, success depends entirely on trust. If the dog trusts its handler, and the handler knows how to communicate with the dog, they’ll do well. The dogs don’t lose a race — the handlers do. 

There are few more heartbreaking expressions than the look on the handlers' faces when they feel they have let down their dogs. 

During Ripple the Boston Terrier’s run, her handler, Daniel Haddy, tripped and almost fell on her. He finished the run and Ripple jumped into his arms. She couldn’t have cared less about a ribbon, but Haddy looked close to tears. I was standing near the finish line and was going to ask if Haddy was OK, but he only looked at the floor and walked away, holding his dog close to his heart. 

All dogs are close to their owners' hearts, but some can save their lives. I was lucky enough to meet Ava Hata and her dog, Presley, a longhaired Dachshund. Hata is a Type 1 diabetic, and Presley is trained to tell whether her blood sugar is high or low based on scent. At only 16, Hata is incredibly poised. Check out her story here: 

Hata wasn’t the only impressive junior competitor. Landon Livingston is only 10, but he qualified to compete in junior showmanship against other kids aged up to age 18. His parents, Karen and Clint Livingston, are professional handlers. It was no surprise when Landon got the bug and started training his Field Spaniel, Apollo. 

"Both he and Apollo had two left feet when he first started out," Karen said. "But he worked so hard, and when he qualified for Westminster, we were thrilled. We promised we’d take him."

But Clint had to have emergency surgery the day they were supposed to leave when doctors found a growth on his kidney. They removed the organ in emergency surgery the day the Livingstons were supposed to leave for Tarrytown, making this the first Westminster show Clint has missed since 1982. 

But if I learned anything this week, it’s that the dog show world is an intense community. They might be competing against each other, but more than anything, they’re looking out for each other. Family friends, who also show dogs, took Landon to Westminster this weekend, where he and Apollo won a ribbon (definitely the most adorable interview I’ve ever been lucky enough to conduct). 

You know what else I learned? These dogs aren’t just for show. Check out Ticket, who works on a farm when he’s not showing at Westminster. 

I can’t sign off without mentioning the Westminster fashion. The dogs aren’t the only ones who get all dolled up. In fact, this was one of my favorite stories I reported the whole weekend — asking handlers and owners how they chose their outfits. 

Thanks so much for coming along for the ride with me. As they say, all dogs go to heaven, and this weekend, I got to join. It was a true honor to take you behind the scenes with me. 

Charlotte Wilder is a general columnist and co-host of "The People's Sports Podcast" for FOX Sports. She's honored to represent the constantly neglected Boston area in sports media, loves talking to sports fans about their feelings and is happiest eating a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.


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