For the first time since its 1877 inception, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will allow the Russell Terrier and the Treeing Walker Coonhound breeds to compete. The dog show will be held at Madison Square Garden Feb. 11 and 12.
The show will have 2,721 dogs competing from across the globe -- the largest entry field in 15 years.
Several of the Russell Terrier and Treeing Walker Coonhounds were introduced at a news conference Monday. The event was held at the Hotel Pennsylvania across the street from Madison Square Garden and included introductions by the kennel club's longtime president Sean W. McCarthy and other show organizers.
"This is my first dog show," said an excited Sobel, who gushed with adoring nose-to-muzzle cuddles with her one and half-year-olds Fox Field Pepper Patch and Meadowbrook Madison, named after Long Island's famed parkway.
An experienced horse trainer, Sobel, 66, said her Russell Terriers were a natural fit. "They go with horses. They are fox hunters and spunky like horse owners. They are also great show dogs because they work to please," she said.
The small-prized pooches sat calmly on Sobel's lap amid the distinct coon howls of the Treeing Walking Coonhound as they were being presented for the first time.
Both breeds were allowed this year after a five-year review process by the kennel club. Before breeds are accepted they must meet certain population standards and have an established dog club network.
Russell Terriers stand between 10 to 12 inches tall and sport a "spannable, compressible chest" that makes them efficient hunting dogs that can burrow below ground, pull, push and bend through tight spaces, according to the kennel club.
Treeing Walking Coonhounds, on the other hand, stand at the ready tall and erect waiting for their next command. Owner Curt Willis, 41, of Homer City, Pa., grew up with the raccoon hunting dogs.
"My grandfather and uncle were raccoon hunters. I've been around these dogs since I was born," he said, touting the Treeing Walking Coonhound as "the professional athlete" of its breed. "It's a working man's breed," he said proudly of Meg and Tank, whose tails wagged nonstop as they stood alert.
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show added a second venue at Pier 92/94 on West 55th Street and 12th Avenue. The space will give the show a larger area to "bench" more dogs where spectators can watch grooming and meet the owners.
"This enables us to have more space for more benching. It offers the education we want to give people about dogs and their breeds," said Tom Bradley, show chairman.