NEW YORK The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is expanding its venue and adding two new breeds, the Russell Terrier and Treeing Walker Coonhound, bringing the number that will vie for the Best in Show to 187.
For the first time in its 137-year history, the two-day show on February 11-12 will be held at two venues. In addition to New York's Madison Square Garden, it will be extended to Piers 92/94 on the Hudson River, so dog lovers can get up close and meet their favorite breeds.
"The main change is that we are now in two venues, instead of one. We are having our day portion of the judging, which is the breed judging, at Piers 92 and 94 on the west side of town," said David Frei, the show's director of communications.
"The breed winners from there will come on down to the Garden for the evening portion, which is groups and best in show," he added.
About 3,200 dogs, the most ever, will be featured in the show, which is the second longest continuously held sporting event in the United States, after the Kentucky Derby.
"It is the only time of the year when all the great dogs in the country are in the same place at the same time," said Frei.
The Russell Terrier, at 10 to 12 inches tall at the shoulder, will be among the smaller breeds in the show. The breed was born when the Jack Russell breed was divided into two in the mid 1980s - the smaller Russell Terrier and the larger Parson Russell Terrier, which measures 12 to 15 inches high.
"We use the phrase new breeds, but some of these breeds have been around for a lot of years. They are new because they are finally recognized by the AKC (American Kennel Club) and in our show for the first time ever," Frei explained.
The Russell Terrier is described as the ultimate working earth terrier because of its small size and unique chest. Although it dates back to the 1800s it will be making its debut at the show.
The other new entrant, the Treeing Walker Coonhound, is a relative of the English foxhound and gets its name from tracking and chasing wild raccoons up trees.
"There are six Coonhound breeds that are recognized now in this country by the AKC. They have also been around for a couple of hundred years," said Frei. "Walker is the name of the family that developed the breed."
Before being included in the show, a breed must meet AKC rules, including having sufficient numbers in the United States, a certain geographical distribution, and a parent club that makes sure they are following responsible breeding practices and meet certain characteristics.
Labrador and Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Yorkshire Terriers are among the most popular breeds, while the Wire Haired Fox Terrier has won most best in shows, at 13. Terriers, in general, have won the top prize 45 times.
The odds of either of the two new breeds in the show taking home the top prize are slim.
Frei said the shortest time between a breed competing in the show and winning best in show is about 20 years, and was accomplished by the Bichon Frise, which won the main award in 2001.
Last year, a four-year-old Pekingese named Malachy was won the best-in-show award. More than 30,000 people attended the show last year.
(Editing by Paul Casciato and David Brunnstrom)