NEW YORK — An attractive but hardworking Hungarian Sheepdog, a speedy and ancient African Hound and a mischievous, furless terrier are about to get their first shot at America’s most famous canine championship.
The hairless pumi, sloughi and American terrier will be newcomers to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show from February 13-14, competing against no less than 202 breeds and varieties for the coveted Best in Show prize. .
More than 2,800 dogs are expected at the show. Besides traditional breed judging, it has added agility and obedience competitions and a non-competitive “meet the breeds” event in recent years.
This year’s “meet the breeds” will even include breeds that are truly rare for a dog show: purebred cats. The felines were featured when the event was held separately from Westminster a few years ago, but their return this year gives them the opportunity to share the spotlight at the 140-year-old dog show.
“The club has maintained its traditions while growing to accommodate an ever-changing dog-loving public,” Westminster spokeswoman Gail Miller Bisher said.
This year’s new breeds range from the hairless American Terrier, a compact dog developed in the southern United States in the 1970s, to the lanky Sloughi, which dates back thousands of years to North Africa, according to its fanciers.
Then there’s the pumi (pronounced POOM’-ee), which has a “whimsical expression” built right into the standards, or official judging guidelines, for the bushy-coated, curly-tailed, big-eared breed. Owners hear “your dog is so CUTE!” so often that they made it an acronym.
“We say they are ‘curious’, ‘unique’, ‘tenacious’ and ‘energetic’,” said Nancy Nelson of Norwalk, Connecticut, as her 5-year-old pumi, Zsa Zsa, lends her paw to the rally.
But future owners should consider that the pumi, originally bred to herd cattle and other animals, needs more activity than just walks, Nelson said.
The Sloughi (pronounced SLOO’-ghee), or Arabian greyhound, is also an athletic dog, with a history of hunting game as large as gazelles. Sloughis keep a yen to hunt yard animals and are often shy around strangers, but they bond closely with their human families as pets, says owner Julie tenBensel of Bolingbrook, Illinois.
The curious, courageous and hypoallergenic hairless American terrier was developed from rat terriers. While some people might do double takes with hairless dogs, “I actually just like unusual things,” said Sue Medhurst of Stafford, Va., who plans to show them at Westminster.
Breeds qualify for the show once recognized by the American Kennel Club. Criteria include having several hundred dogs in the breed nationwide.
Some animal rights advocates oppose dog breeding and point out that many mixed-breed dogs need to be adopted. The AKC says conscientious breeding helps people find pets with traits that suit their lifestyle, so they can make a lasting match.
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