Home World 2,500 show dogs ventured by plane and car to the Westminster show

2,500 show dogs ventured by plane and car to the Westminster show

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NEW YORK — The A-listers who traveled to New York last month, gathering for the biggest event of their careers, arrived by car and driver, or on planes surrounded by entourages. They didn’t even carry their own passports, much less pack their kibble or squeaky toys.

Each and every one of them, though, is a very good dog.

Some 2,500 top-ranked dogs were in New York City to compete in this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Breed judging, the marquee event, began May 13, while several hundred other dogs battled it out in events testing agility, obedience and the ability to dive the farthest off a dock. Sage, a miniature poodle, ended up being named best in show.

But even getting into the competition takes years of training and effort. And getting to the show requires extensive organizing by owners and handlers, who plan hours- or dayslong road or plane trips, pack thousands of dollars worth of gear — grooming tables, industrial-strength hair dryers, leashes, collars, toys, kibble and more — and pray that neither delays nor cancellations disrupt their itineraries. Treats are nonnegotiable.

“I try to stock up on healthy, single-ingredient treats such as freeze-dried duck or freeze-dried liver,” said Shell Lewis, 71, who came to New York with a Russell terrier and a cairn terrier. On show days, however, her dogs receive “something special and high value.”

“It involves a drive-thru McDonald’s to pick up two sausage biscuits — I eat the biscuits, they get the sausage,” she said.

Sage, an extravagantly coifed miniature poodle with a winsome mystery about her, was the winner of the 148th annual show.

But here’s how a few of the many show dogs, and their entourages, traveled to Westminster.

Taking to the Road

In the United States, accumulating titles at local, regional and national dog competitions requires constant driving, with long journeys the norm. Most dogs, their trainers say, are used to the road.

Lewis drove 14 hours from Geneva, Illinois, for Spangle, her 2-year-old Russell terrier, to compete in the agility event. (Alas, Spangle was knocked out in the preliminaries.) Lewis also brought along Nora, her 7-year-old cairn terrier.

“They haven’t learned to drive yet,” said Lewis, “but they are excellent travelers.”

Handler Valentina Zupan and Vitellozzo, a French bulldog from Croatia who was driven to Budapest, flown to Warsaw and then to Chicago for another dog show before arriving via road trip for the Westminster show, at a hotel room in Queens, May 11, 2024. Some 25,000 of the world's top-ranked canines travel to New York for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show mostly by car and plane, and they don't exactly travel light. (Clark Hodgin/The New York Times)
Handler Valentina Zupan and Vitellozzo, a French bulldog from Croatia who was driven to Budapest, flown to Warsaw and then to Chicago for another dog show before arriving via road trip for the Westminster show, at a hotel room in Queens, May 11, 2024. Some 25,000 of the world’s top-ranked canines travel to New York for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show mostly by car and plane, and they don’t exactly travel light. (Clark Hodgin/The New York Times)

Krysthel Moore and Quinnzel, her border collie, who with a 15-foot jump made it to the finals in dock diving, drove eight hours from their home in Quebec. Quinnzel snoozed through most of it, said Moore, 40.

Quinnzel barely notices a change in surroundings, Moore added. “She doesn’t care where we are; she just likes to be close with me.”

Some attendees carpooled to the show. Jenni Nieft and Kris Dunlap, who met at a dog show three years ago, drove from Wyoming for more than two days with Rowan, an 85-pound bracco Italiano, and 52-pound Keeva, a Weimaraner. Both dogs competed in breed judging.

“They start young, they’re crate-trained, they just get used to it,” said Nieft, 53, who added that on road trips, exercise and bathroom breaks are crucial. “We gear the trip around their comfort.”

Driving was their only transit option: Some dogs, like Rowan, are too big to fly, as commercial airlines have limits on weight and carrier size.

The dogs don’t travel light, as Jamie Goodrich, 41, elaborated. Traveling from Central Square, New York, north of Syracuse, she packed her 2019 Dodge Grand Caravan with two crates, two folding chairs, 3 gallons of water, emergency kits for both dogs and humans, two suitcases of human clothes, three leashes, days of kibble, grooming equipment — various brushes, clippers, a water mister, a table, scissors — and an electric fan.

“Oh, and the dog,” she said of Aero, her Akita who will competed in breed judging. (The fan keeps Aero from overheating backstage.)

Traveling by Plane

Other dogs flew to New York, which required compiling myriad documents, getting vaccination shots in order, and fielding a minefield of varying airline policies and restrictions on breed and weight.

Janice Hayes, a 42-year-old professional handler from Palm Springs, California, flies regularly to show dogs. Buddy Holly, a petit basset griffon Vendéen, won the top prize at last year’s Westminster. “He has more miles than all of us,” Hayes said.

Irish Wolfhounds Rowan and Brody, who weigh more than 160 pounds each, with Patty Berkovitz, her daughter Kayla and granddaughter Isabelle at a hotel in Queens, May 11, 2024. (Clark Hodgin/The New York Times)
Irish Wolfhounds Rowan and Brody, who weigh more than 160 pounds each, with Patty Berkovitz, her daughter Kayla and granddaughter Isabelle at a hotel in Queens, May 11, 2024. (Clark Hodgin/The New York Times)

Buddy Holly is now retired, but made the trip again this year to bask in his final moments as reigning champion and to accompany three other show dogs. Britney and Spotify, also petit basset griffon Vendéens, were being shown, as was Hayden, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel.

Because of their sizes, the three petit basset griffon Vendéens fly in crates and in the luggage hold. Hayden flew in the cabin.

Getting to the airport hours in advance is one of Hayes’ travel strategies, as is booking a seat on the side of the plane overlooking the plane’s hold — watching the dogs being loaded offers welcome reassurance that the dogs too are en route.

Dozens of dogs traveled from abroad to compete in this year’s show. Anel Vazquez Franchini and her dog Khaleesi, a 5-year-old bearded collie, flew from Mexico City.

“We don’t have a lot of bearded collies here. It’s easy to win when you don’t have competition,” Vasquez Franchini said of Mexico’s dog shows. The Westminster show, she said, is a coveted chance for Khaleesi — or Kaly, for short — to really prove herself.

The requirements for animals to travel internationally differ by country and can change frequently. Beginning in August, dogs entering the United States must be microchipped and be vaccinated against rabies.

Dogs living within the European Union who wish to travel internationally — or whose humans make that decision for them — must have their own pet passport.

This document, issued by veterinarians, contains microchip registration, vaccine history and ownership information. It is mandatory for reentry into the EU.

Vitellozzo, a French bulldog from Croatia who was driven to Budapest, flown to Warsaw and then to Chicago for another dog show before arriving via road trip for The Westminster show, at handler Valentina Zupan's hotel room in Queens on May 11, 2024. (Clark Hodgin/The New York Times)
Vitellozzo, a French bulldog from Croatia who was driven to Budapest, flown to Warsaw and then to Chicago for another dog show before arriving via road trip for The Westminster show, at handler Valentina Zupan’s hotel room in Queens on May 11, 2024. (Clark Hodgin/The New York Times)

Vitellozzo, a 2-year-old French bulldog living in Croatia with his handler, Valentina Zupan, has such a passport. He’s a seasoned international traveler — this was his second time in the United States. While flying, Vitellozzo doesn’t need tranquilizers or other medication, said Zupan, 32. His crate fits under the airplane seat and he slept for most of their journey, which included driving to Budapest, Hungary, flying to Warsaw, Poland, then to Chicago for another show, and then driving to New York.

Hosting the dogs and their humans overnight are the hotels closest to the show venue, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“Big dogs, small dogs, fancy dogs, regular dogs, it’s a lot,” said Raquan Williams, a front-desk clerk at the sold-out Four Points by Sheraton in Flushing. “We love it.”

In addition to nightly rates over $200, hotels generally charge a one-time pet fee that can run more than $100. Most Westminster handlers and owners share rooms with their dogs.

And beds.

“My dogs take up a whole bed. I am lucky if I get to sleep at the top,” said Patty Berkovitz, 69, who with her partner Jack Florek, and two Irish wolfhounds, Rowan and Brody, is staying at Hilton Garden Inn in Long Island City.

Rowan and Brody will compete — against each other — in breed judging.

All four creatures are in one room, and each dog weighs more than 160 pounds.

With such large bedfellows, Florek, 71, joked that the key strategy was getting into bed before the dogs, something he neglected to do Friday night.

“I was the little spoon,” he said.



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