Westminster Dog Show kicks off at Garden

Lafford Fly Me Too Farleysbane, a papillon, looks

Lafford Fly Me Too Farleysbane, a papillon, looks up at it's handler and the judge during the toy group judging. (Feb. 13, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Midtown Manhattan became Dogtown Central Monday.

More than 2,000 dogs, representing 185 breeds, some barking, others preening, made the annual pilgrimage to Madison Square Garden, owners in tow of course, for the 136th annual Westminster Dog Show.

Mix one part competition with one part unofficial international canine convention and the result is a blend of dogs and owners hoping to land the best in show title and dog lovers on hand to soak up the fun.

The two-day competition kicked off Monday morning and will continue through Tuesday night when the top dog claims the best in show honor in a nationally televised final.

Tracy Cioffi of Westchester looked on with a smile as she made her way through the arena with her children Joe, 10, and Nicolette, 6, Monday. Cioffi said she had to put the family's 15-year-old schnauzer to sleep last year. Now they are looking for a new four-legged family member. The Cioffis listened and asked questions as dog owners rattled off information about their breeds.

"This is helping us decide which dog to get," said Cioffi, of Westchester. "This is great, the kids get to touch them and talk to knowing people. Every single person here has been really nice."

This year, six breeds will make their first appearance at the two-day show, including the Xoloitzcuintli, more commonly known as a Xolo, or the Mexican hairless, a wiry dog believed by ancient Aztecs to have the power to guide departed souls to the underworld.

Stephanie Mazzarella, 49, a dog breeder from West Palm Beach, Fla., who's allergic to dog fur, raised her hairless, Chaballa, without any allergic reactions. But, she brought along plenty of allergy medication to prevent a reaction from other competitors.

And like any world class sporting event, there were inspiring stories.

Sydney, a Tibetan terrier who traveled from Maine for the show with her owner, Brenda Alger, narrowly survived a bobcat attack in 2007. The front leg veterinarians said might not fully heal, did. Sydney was ready for Monday night's competition, Alger said.

Many longtime fans were excited to make it in person. "I love it. I'm going to come every year," said Paul Chuddy, 58, a Newtown, Conn. engineer. "They're all so calm even though there's mass pandemonium back there."

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