New dogs at Westminster are centuries old
By Verena Dobnik
NEW YORK — His name is Alchemy — a sleek Irish red and white setter, high-energy but gentle.
Next week, he'll represent one of three new breeds making their debut at the Westminster Kennel Club's dog show alongside the perennial labrador retriever — just named America's top dog for the 19th consecutive year.
Alchemy, a silky-coated setter from New Jersey, will also step outside Madison Square Garden to ring the closing bell Tuesday at the Nasdaq stock exchange. That moment will be beamed live to a Times Square giant screen.
The two other breeds entering the annual show for the first time are herding dogs — the Pyrenean shepherd and the Norwegian buhund.
"It's exciting for me to see beautiful dogs that finally get recognized in this country after being around hundreds of years in their home countries," said David Frei, a club spokesman who co-hosts the show's live broadcast.
The so-called Pyr shep, native to the mountains of southern France, has guarded sheep since medieval times. Its expressive, intelligent eyes come in a fuzzy, sturdy body. The breed comes in two varieties — rough- and smooth-coated. Hundreds of them lost their lives in World War I, searching for wounded men or as acting as couriers or guard dogs.
And the loyal and fun-loving buhund — either black or cream-colored, with a curly tail — also has existed for centuries, sailing on Viking ships and working in the Norwegian countryside.
"It's a dog with pointed ears and a thick coat who looks like it's ready to go to work on a farm, herding," said Frei. "They have a great work ethic."
Represented by 29 individual dogs in the 134th annual show, the three breeds were officially recognized last year by the American Kennel Club, the governing body of purebred-dog sport in the United States (www.westminsterkennelclub.org).
The show starts Monday.
Several factors are required for AKC recognition: a solid parent club that oversees the registry, a precise standard for the breed's ideal dog, and a sufficient population and distribution in the United States.
"They can't all be on some farm in Georgia," joked Frei.
Worldwide, more than 400 breeds of dogs are recognized.
Although the three new breeds in this year's show have long been accepted abroad, "it took this long for them to receive AKC recognition in this country," Frei said.
The labrador retriever on Wednesday was named the top dog in the United States by the American Kennel Club, followed by the German shepherd, the Yorkshire terrier and the golden retriever.
The ranking is based on the number of registrations with the AKC in 2009. The lab is most popular in Los Angeles.
Westminster's 2010 rookie breeds were to be formally introduced at a televised news conference yesterday at the Hotel Pennsylvania, across the street from the Garden, where they're staying with their owners in rooms normally used by humans.
The newcomers bring this year's show total to 173 breeds and varieties, up from about 150 two decades ago, Frei said.
"This is the world's greatest dog show, with a different cast of characters every year," he said.
Anna Jones is bringing 9-year-old Alchemy, along with another Irish red and white setter, 2-year-old Toffy, after a string of other shows this past year that won the dogs enough points to be declared AKC champions, a requirement to step on Westminster's green carpet.
The red and white setter — an older breed than the well-known mahogany-coated Irish setter — is a lean hunting dog with a mouth soft enough to retrieve game without damaging it. The breed became almost extinct in the early 20th century, but was saved by its "fanciers," said Frei.
On Tuesday afternoon, Jones' two setters and a group of Pyr sheps and buhunds will be whisked away from Madison Square Garden in a van to ring Nasdaq's closing bell.
Exactly how a dog rings the bell will remain a mystery until then.
Amid this week's snowstorm, Lisa Donnelly's 18-month-old buhund, Lola, was oblivious to the excitement leading up to the show. All the pooch knew was that she'd been given a bath and wasn't allowed outside her Connecticut home to play.
"She's usually happy, outgoing and low-maintenance," said Donnelly. "But now she's having a hissy fit in the basement, whining and crying to go out."
The Westminster is the nation's second-oldest continually held sporting event, after the Kentucky Derby, according to Frei.
The Pyrenean shepherd and the Norwegian buhund will compete Monday as part of the herding group. The setters will compete the next day in the sporting group.