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Controversy Follows Every Westminster Dog Show
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Controversy Follows Every Westminster Dog Show

Critter Culture Staff
Updated Mar 9, 2022

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Controversy and sporting events seem to go hand-in-hand. The Westminster Dog Show, America's second-longest continual sporting event, has had its share.

What's intriguing about Westminster is that between the show's inception in 1877 and the 132nd show in 2009, only one controversy cast a shadow over the show. Oh, but it was quite the shadow!

The controversy began to pardon the pun dog the Westminster in 2010 and hasn't stopped since. As in the human world, the issues range from alleged misogyny to conflicts of interest.

1

The tragedy of 1895

11th March 1930: Finalists line up for the judges at a dog show in Brighton, East Sussex. Fox Photos / Getty Images

Eight toy dogs, including Yorkshire Terriers, Japanese Chins, and King Charles Spaniels, entered by prominent New York exhibitor Flora Sinn, were poisoned with strychnine. Mrs. Sinn discovered the dogs on February 22, and the show's vet confirmed the dogs had been poisoned. No arrests were ever made in this case, and it remains the only felonious criminal act in Westminster history.

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2

PETA invades the main stage

A protester from group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals holds up a sign on the floor at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show February 16, 2010 in New York City. The 134th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is taking place at New York's Madison Square Garden, and dog breeders from around the country and world have flown in to take part. Chris Hondros / Getty Images

In 2010, two members of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) trespassed on the main stage prior to naming the Best in Show. The PETA members carried signs protesting dog breeding. PETA had held protests outside of the Westminster venue for many years; this was the first protest to disrupt the show. The protesters were charged with third-degree criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.

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3

Primary sponsor dropped

Juniors leave Ring 6 after competing in the Junior Showmanship Preliminaries at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on February 13, 2012 in New York City. The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show first held in 1877, is the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the U.S., second only to the Kentucky Derby Michael Nagle / Getty Images

Pedigree Pet Foods was dropped as the main sponsor of Westminster in 2012 because of images contained in one of their television commercials. The ad showed dogs from shelters in various stages of malnutrition and recovering from abuse. A spokesperson for Westminster reportedly had told Pedigree to show people celebrating dogs in their lives. Pedigree had sponsored the show for 24 years.

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4

Poisoning hits the show again

A group of Samoyed dogs compete on the second day of the 140th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show on February 16, 2016 in New York City. The dog competition culminates in the naming of the dog that is "Best in Show." Stephanie Keith / Getty Images

In 2013, Cruz, a Samoyed, died a few days after competing. The attending vet reported Cruz's death was a result of eating rodent poison and was accidental, saying "...dogs make bad decisions." Cruz's handler had a different thought, saying extreme animal rights activists could have been the culprits. The handler offered no proof, and a spokesperson for PETA denied any involvement.

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5

Returning winner booted from the show

Uno, a 15inch Beagle poses for photographs with handler Aaron Wilkerson after winning Best in Show at the 132nd Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden February 12, 2008 in New York City. Over 2,600 dogs were entered in the show. Chris McGrath / Getty Images

The 2008 Best in Show winner is a beagle named Uno, considered to be the most popular winner in the history of Westminster. Uno was the first winner to be invited to the White House. He returned to the show in 2016 but not for long. When Uno came onstage at the beginning of the show, his handler was told to take him off because he hadn't been registered to be in the stadium. To the shock of his fans, Uno was escorted offstage.

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6

Misogyny at Westminster?

A Wire Fox Terrier named Sky poses for photographers after winning the 138th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on February 11, 2014 in New York City. Sky won Best in Show at the 138th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

A 2018 report from Reuters stated that male dogs had won the event 71 times, compared with 39 times for females. Breeders say the reason is that more male dogs are entered than females because the prime age for entering a dog is between three and five years, matching the prime breeding years for females. Females in heat will shed their coats, so they don't look as impressive as males.

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7

Docking controversy brought into the open

 A Rottweiler competes in the Westminster Dog Show on February 11, 2014 in New York City. The annual dog show has been showcasing the best dogs from around world for the last two days in New York. Andrew Burton / Getty Images

A 2018 Washington Post article dove into the practice of docking, particularly with breeds such as Rottweilers and Great Danes. For the unfamiliar, docking is the practice of cropping a dog's ears and tail. Many breeders are now against docking but acknowledge they cannot win at Westminster with a so-called natural dog. This is because of the rules of the American Kennel Club. Some breeders believe that if a state such as New York or California were to ban docking, the practice would end.

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8

Some see Westminster as detrimental to dogs

Rumor the German Shepard, winner of 'Best in Show' at the Westminster Kennel Club 141st Annual Dog Show, poses for a photo at One World Observatory on February 15, 2017 in New York City. Matthew Eisman / Getty Images

The Guardian newspaper published a story in 2017 stating the judging criteria of Westminster emphasizes appearance over health, which is damaging to all breeds. The article, written by a certified breeder, states that shows such as Westminster judge dogs as breeding stock rather than their health, temperament, and function. The breeder writes that the least important aspect of a dog, its appearance, is the most important aspect of judging.

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9

Good dog, bad humans

Bulldogs compete in Breed Judging during the 143rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Piers 92/94 on February 11, 2019 in New York City. Sarah Stier / Getty Images

A schipperke named Colton earned his way into the final ring of seven in 2019. Those are the finalists for Best in Show. But Colton wasn't given a shot at the title because the top judge co-owned dogs with one of Colton's co-owners. The judge wasn't disqualified; Colton was. Colton made the ring of seven because he won the nonsporting group, which is highly competitive. Colton was the first schipperke to win that group.

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10

Wasabi generated heat in 2021

Wasabi the Pekingese competes in Best in Show at the 145th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on June 13, 2021 in Tarrytown, New York. Spectators are not allowed to attend this year, apart from dog owners and handlers, because of safety protocols due to Covid-19. Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Westminster was accused of animal mistreatment after the Pekingese was named Best in Show. Wasabi had to be kept on a cooling pad during the competition because of his massive coat. Many reviewers were shocked that the Pekingese won, becoming the fifth of his breed to win Best in Show. The uproar is more about the breed than Wasabi. Pekingese are prone to breathing problems and, as a result, cannot handle hot or cold weather. They are considered to be nothing more than house pets.

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