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At Westminster, even dogs are subjected to society’s unrealistic beauty expectations

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Jambo, a Briard, getting handsome for competition at the 2018 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
By Noël Duan
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The humans at the 2018 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City are very well dressed—lots of pink skirt-suits and sequined leggings and leather loafers. They are, after all, competing with their dogs in the arena, in a way. But the dogs are even better groomed—you are not allowed to pet the dogs that are competing, as the oils from your hands could affect the appearance of their fur. It’s the same sort of logic as to why you shouldn’t run your hands through your hair too often, lest it looks stringy.

I learned this the hard way. As a canine enthusiast and dog owner myself, my initial instinct when a dog is in my vicinity is to pet it. So at the show this weekend, I walked over to a beautiful cavalier king Charles spaniel only to have his handler slap my hand away. “He can’t be distracted,” she hissed at me. “He’s ready to go.”

REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs
A dog competing in the Masters Agility Championship, which tests speed, physical aptitude, and ability to follow cues in an obstacle course.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Lucy, a Borzoi, won Best in Hound at the 2018 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Competing in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is even more strenuous than competing in a human beauty pageant. Here, judges examine Flynn the bichon frise, who won Best in Show, for imperfections.

Show dogs at Westminster go through a lot of preparation in order to compete—far beyond specialized diets and hours spent in expensive agility training and obedience classes. I’m talking here about their looks, which are picked over and examined so thoroughly and almost cruelly that this year, a five-year-old German shepherd named Fanucci was pulled out of competition because of a hematoma that formed on his left ear. (Fanucci had survived a car accident so severe that his right leg was shattered and he was about to be euthanized—would it be so bad to have let him compete?) “The timing couldn’t have been any worse,” his owner, Stephanie Schrock, told USA Today.

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Flynn the bichon frise, who won Best in Show at the 2018 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

“Different dog breeds have different hair textures, like humans,” Lulu Rodriguez, a professional dog groomer who was manning a booth for the Spanish grooming products brand, Artero, told me. So, for example, a dog like the Flynn the snow-white Bichon Frise—who won Best in Show this year—would need a specialized shampoo like the brand’s Blanc Bath, which helps brighten white coats. Or the Podium Strong Hold Hairspray, which helps fix top knots on your favorite long-haired dogs like shih-tzus. By the day of competition, she explained to me, every dog has been perfected through nutrition, exercise, and regular grooming appointments.

Noël Duan
A Samoyed dog and the knitwear made from its shedding.

What happens if someone—perhaps a clumsy person or even someone with more sinister intentions—spills their drink onto your dog right before the show? Rodriguez introduced me to Dry & Whitening Shampoo & Volumizer for dogs—it’s exactly like dry shampoo for you and me when we can’t be bothered to get in the shower. “It gets rid of dirt and grease and volumizes without water,” she explained. Who knew!

The most innovative dog-grooming tip didn’t come from a professional groomer, though. At the Meet the Breeds event—where every breed had a booth featuring dogs to pet—the giant fluffy white Samoyeds were shedding all over the place. But instead of discarding their fur, their handlers put them into a neat pile. One of them showed me a ball of yarn. “You see this? This came from that dog,” she said, pointing at one of the three Samoyeds at the booth. Hanging above the dog was a cardigan made of Samoyed fur. I was allowed to pet the cardigan.

Finally, I got to touch one of the show dogs.

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