The show kicks off with an agility competition Friday, followed by weekend events including the traditional breed judging that leads to the best in show title. It will be conferred Sunday night during a live broadcast on Fox. (Earlier rounds also are being televised or streamed.)
Some off-the-beaten-path breeds are in the hunt for the big prize this year. Dog cognoscenti are keeping an eye on high-ranking hopefuls including a lagotto Romagnolo — an Italian truffle-hunting breed that first appeared at Westminster only five years ago — and a Dandie Dinmont terrier, the 15th-rarest U.S. breed, by the American Kennel Club’s count. The Dandie, named for a character in Sir Walter Scott’s 1815 novel “Guy Mannering,” is considered to be at risk of disappearing even in its homeland, the United Kingdom.
The show also is due to feature four breeds that are eligible to compete for the first time — the barbet, the dogo Argentino, the Belgian Laekenois, and the Biewer terrier.
Despite pandemic uncertainties and changes, Westminster filled its usual number of entry slots and even expanded the agility roster a bit, organizers said.
Still, with many dog shows canceled over the last 15 months, it was tough or impossible for some dogs to get the points needed to qualify for Westminster. There were 545 AKC-sanctioned dog shows nationwide last year, down more than 60% from 2019.
Tracy and Peter Rousseau have repeatedly made the trip to Westminster from their cattle ranch in Franktown, Colorado, to help ensure that their breed — the Norwegian lundehund, rarest of all in the AKC rankings — is represented. But none of their current dogs qualified, and the couple felt hesitant, anyway, because of virus concerns and other issues.
“We really do love showing our dogs, love educating people about this quirky little breed,” said Peter Rousseau, a civilian military employee and retired Air Force sergeant. “With all the pandemic craziness and everything, it just didn’t work out this year. We’re looking forward to getting back to it.”
The last Westminster show concluded Feb. 11, 2020, when there were only 13 confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide, though the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since concluded the virus was already more prevalent. Within about a month, holding a public event was unthinkable.
The show returns to the Garden in January 2022.