Dog show

Will Azawakh win Best in show on Tuesday?

NEW YORK — Dressed in bright pink and a colorful hijab, crouching near Ring 1 to cheer on the dogs, Aliya Taylor clearly stood out.

“Like a sore thumb,” she laughed.

That’s right, no one else at the Westminster Kennel Club breed judging on Sunday came in similar attire. But the longtime trainer is used to it – there just aren’t many other Muslims in the world of dog shows.

“I’ve never seen a hijab in the ring,” she said. “A lot of people think it’s a costume I wear in the ring to show off my dogs. But that’s how I normally dress.”

“My head is pretty much always covered. That’s how you would see me on a Monday or Tuesday going to the store,” she said.

This afternoon, the retired Philadelphia police officer and former prison guard was not showing any of his own dogs. Instead, she was in town cheering on a dear friend who was showing off an Azawakh — loosely called an African Greyhound, they were making their debut in America’s Best Dog Show.

Taylor was in the spirit, with African continent-shaped earrings that featured the image of a festive village girl.

Westminster Dog Show 2020 on TV

What:Best of Show

When: 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET

TV: FS1

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“Our sport welcomes people from all walks of life,” said Gail Miller Bisher, the competition’s TV host on Fox Sports 1. “It’s our common bond, dogs.”

In fact, Taylor was recently invited to a Westminster event in New York to showcase the unusual looking Azawakh. With Fashion Week coming to town, she certainly looked stylish in a yellow hijab and a jewel-embellished green print dress.

“It’s just me,” she said.

The best in show for the 2,630 dogs from 204 breeds will be chosen Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Next year, Taylor intends to have his Azawakh named Bahir in contention. At 15 months, he needs some good performances to qualify.

In this photo from Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, retired Philadelphia police officer Aliya Taylor poses with her Azawakh named Bahir during a Westminster Kennel Club press conference in New York City.  The Azawakh is a new breed at the Westminster show this year.  There aren't many Muslims in the dog show world, and Taylor says she's never seen another driver in the ring wearing a hijab.  Taylor and her dog are not at the Westminster show this year, but hope to take part in America's most prestigious canine event next year.  (AP Photo/Jennifer Peltz)

Taylor, 47, caught a lot of attention on Thanksgiving Day when more than 25 million viewers saw her in the ring wearing a white hijab and long blue dress during the National Dog Show.

Her headscarf conforms to the Islamic standard of modesty. But she realizes that not everyone of her faith shares her beliefs.

“Some Muslims think dogs are unclean,” she said. Taylor said he received criticism for his participation from “a few Muslims, a few die-hard Muslims.”

“I don’t think so. Dogs have been our companions for so long,” she said. “Keeping dogs as pets is a recent phenomenon. It is a western phenomenon.

Overall, “people have been pretty welcoming,” she said. “At the National Dog Show, many Muslims came backstage at my facility to thank me.”

From Philadelphia cop to Azawakh manager

Taylor’s journey began at age 12 when she got a miniature schnauzer and started practicing her presentation. She has handled Standard Poodles, Borzois and other breeds in the past, and now owns six Azawakhs.

West African dogs — the only breed recognized by the American Kennel Club that is taller than longer — are rare in the United States. They are sleek and slim, exceptionally.

As the official breed standard says, “At the correct weight, a minimum of three to five ribs and hip bones should be visible.”

“I had people call me animal control. I became friends with animal control in Philadelphia,” she said. “They know me. They tell me, ‘You’re fine.'”

In this photo from Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, Aliya Taylor shows off an Azawakh at the premiere of the Westminster Dog Show in New York City.  The competition begins on Saturday, February 8, 2020 with the agility event open to pooches and everyone else.  Breed judging for beagles, whippets and the newly welcomed Azawakh in the purebred portion of the show begins on Sunday.  (AP Photo/Jennifer Peltz)

Taylor this time saw his girlfriend Vicki Williams, of Sweetwater, Tennessee, guide Nuri the Azawakh to an award of merit.

“We’re all family,” Williams said. As for seeing someone from a different culture in this setting, “It’s beautiful. It’s wonderful.”

Williams’ friend Cindi Palmieri echoed, “We knew Aliya before she got famous.”

Taylor hopes to take the next step next year.

“I will definitely be there in the ring,” she said. “It would just be the culmination of my dreams to step into this ring. All I could say would be Mash’Allah.”