One of the most unusual hotel bathrooms in New York is ballroom-size and features sawdust, not toilet paper. It might not sound upscale, but during the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the well-pedigreed are the only clientele of this one-of-a-kind "comfort area."
Dog owners give high marks to the room on the lower level of the Hotel Pennsylvaniaand have their own nicknames for it: the Potty Zone, the Lower Latrine. A sign taped to a post in the middle of the area indicates which side is for "boys" and which is for "girls," but mingling is allowed.
"This is his very favorite exercise, to come down here during the day," says Meg Prior of Los Angeles, who brought Newton, her little Brussels Griffon (a breed from Belgium), to compete in the annual two-day show, which ended Tuesday night.
One of several places in the city that accommodates dogs for the event, the Pennsylvania likes to think of itself as the "host" hotel, thanks in part to its location just across the street from the action at Madison Square Garden.
In recent years, the hotel has added more amenities for its tail-wagging guests, moving beyond the indoor Potty Zone - which protects animals from the elements and keeps the neighborhood clean - to include grooming equipment, treadmills, and - new this year - a masseuse.
The setup was the idea of Judy Davis, a longtime dog breeder and the president of 1st in Line, an animal-grooming products business in Stockton, Calif.
"Westminster Dog Show is like the Super Bowl of dogs. Hotel Pennsylvania is the heart of the Westminster Dog Show, so it made common sense to come to them to set up a facility for the dogs," says Ms. Davis, who plans to add a dog psychic next year.
Finding space for about 2,600 dogs at Madison Square Garden is the responsibility of the New York-based Westminster Kennel Club, but locating rooms for the third or so of the competitors who stay at the Hotel Pennsylvania each year falls on the shoulders of Urmas Karner, the hotel's "dog concierge." He can arrange a king-size bed for a Saint Bernard or keep track of a room-service request for fast food.
"Last year ... we had a pooch from Pittsburgh who asked for seven McDonald's cheeseburgers to be delivered warm to the room, which sort of surprised me, because I thought that the competitors' diets were somewhat less carb-filled," he says with a laugh.
This kind of hospitality is not always forthcoming at other hotels on the dog-show circuit. Places that once were accommodating no longer accept dogs for the show. "Unfortunately, a lot of dog people don't clean up after themselves, and we're losing a lot of hotels," says Linda Mullen of Virginia Beach, Va., who was waiting to have her sheltie, Devon, groomed.
But the welcome mat is still out at the Pennsylvania, which was built in 1919 and has 1,700 rooms. The hotel now accepts pets year-round, mainly because the Westminster participants are so well behaved, Mr. Karner says.
While the show is in town, many of the 162 breeds and varieties competing across the street can be seen in the lobby of the hotel or downstairs in the "comfort area." You can also catch a glimpse of the latest dog fashions - leopard-print coats and pearl necklaces.
Karner confirms that the event is serious business for some. Several years ago a woman checking out with her female dog was asked how things went at the show. "We lost," she said. "Can't you see how unhappy she is?"
Dog-show culture was spoofed in the 2000 movie "Best in Show." Participants here laugh about the movie, saying it's exaggerated, but basically true.
Channa Beth Butcher of Martinsville, Ind., tries to keep a straight face when she describes how she and her husband reacted to the film: "We didn't think it was very funny, because in real life, [dog show culture is] much funnier."
Their sleeping arrangements while in New York with their two Chesapeake Bay retrievers might be considered spoof-worthy. Because Belle (74 pounds) and Lil (65 pounds) are in their crates a great deal when they travel, the Butchers let the pair crawl into bed with them at the hotel as a treat.
"They get first priority," says Mrs. Butcher. "I'm usually hanging on for dear life."
The Westminster Kennel Club held its first dog show in 1877 at Gilmore's Garden (the forerunner of Madison Square Garden) in New York City, drawing an entry of 1,201 dogs.
There have been 279,880 dogs entered in Westminster's 127 shows through 2003. There have been 1,614 judges during that time, some of whom have officiated as many as 22 times.
Madison Square Garden has had several locations (buildings) over the years, but the dog show has always been held there.
This year's Best in Show winner was "Josh," aka Ch. Darbydale's All Rise Pouchcove. The slobbering, crowd-pleasing Newfoundland is 4 years old and came out of retirement to win his 46th Best in Show title. Josh weighs 155 pounds, which means he ties for the biggest dog to win at Westminster. The other record holder was also a Newfoundland, who won in 1984.
Before a crowd of almost 15,000, Josh beat out 2,623 entrants in America's most prestigious dog show. The two-day competition featured 162 breeds, and dogs from every state except Alaska and Hawaii.
Josh won the working group on Monday and then spent part of Tuesday napping in his crate. A pair of huge circular fans kept him cool.