May 23, 2024

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How do Westminster Dog Show Participants Travel to New York? With Planning and Plenty of Treats.

6 min read

The A-listers who traveled to New York this past weekend, 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 are in New York City to compete in this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Breed judging, the marquee event, will begin on Monday, while several hundred other dogs have already battled it out in events testing agility, obedience and the ability to dive the farthest off a dock.

Getting into the show takes years of training and effort. Getting to the show requires extensive organizing by owners and handlers, who plan hours- or days-long 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-through McDonald’s to pick up two sausage biscuits — I eat the biscuits, they get the sausage,” she said.

Here’s how a few show dogs, and their entourages, traveled to Westminster.

Spangle, left, is a Russell terrier who competed in Westminster’s agility event. Nora is a Cairn terrier along for the ride. They both like McDonald’s sausages.Credit…Christine Chung/The New York Times

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

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

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

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 most of it, Ms. Moore, 40, said.

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

Some attendees car-pooled 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 will compete in breed judging on Tuesday.

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

Driving was the 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, N.Y., north of Syracuse, she packed her 2019 Dodge Grand Caravan with two crates, two folding chairs, three 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 compete in breed judging on Tuesday. (The fan keeps Aero from overheating backstage.)

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, Calif., 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,” Ms. Hayes said).

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, are being shown, as is 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 Ms. Hayes’s travel strategies, as is booking a seat on the side of the plane overlooking the plane’s hold — watching the dogs being loaded offers welcomed 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.

Khaleesi, or Kaly for short, flew through Kennedy International Airport, arriving on Friday from Mexico City.Credit…Anel Vazquez Franchini

“We don’t have a lot of bearded collies here. It’s easy to win when you don’t have competition,” said Ms. Vasquez Franchini 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 re-entry into the E.U.

The passport of Vitellozzo, a French bulldog from Croatia who traveled to New York for Westminster.Credit…Valentina Zupan

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 is his second time in the United States.

While flying, Vitellozzo doesn’t need tranquilizers or other medication, said Ms. Zupan, 32. His crate fits under the airplane seat and he slept for most of their journey, which included driving to Budapest, flying to Warsaw, 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, are 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 of the dogs weighs more than 160 pounds.

With such large bedfellows, Mr. 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.

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2024.



Christine Chung

2024-05-13 07:00:27

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