The Westminster Dog Show is on TV tonight. So is the Winter Olympics. Which are you going to watch?
On the one hand, NBC in prime time will be showing pairs figure skating and snowboards. On the other, Westminster will have the hound, toy, non-sporting, and herding groups, starting on the cable USA Network (owned by NBC Universal), then shuffling over to CNBC later in the evening.
The human-based competition will probably win this ratings smackdown. After all, it’s got glamorous athletes cavorting on snow and ice. Westminster? A bunch of people in tweed walking their dogs indoors.
That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. But for a significant minority of American households, salukis are a bigger draw than skaters.
Here are some of their reasons why:
• Dogs are cuter than Lindsey Vonn. That flowing hair! Those gleaming teeth! There’s nothing like an Irish setter bounding around the ring.
US skier Lindsey Vonn is very attractive. But walk a long-haired dachshund down the street, and people will spontaneously coo, “Awww, she’s so cute! Look at the hair in her ears! Who’s a good dog? Yes you are! You’re such a good dog!”
• Dogs are happier than Scott Hamilton. Dogs live for the moment. The tension of competition does not furrow their brow. This is how dogs emote: “Time for a walk? My favorite thing! A judge? My favorite thing! Did I lose? Still my favorite thing!”
As the great American humorist and dog observer James Thurber wrote, “Dogs are obsessed with being happy.”
Figure skating analyst Scott Hamilton – a former gold medal winner himself – is pretty upbeat. But he’s not spreading joy around as surely as if he were tossing out gold coins.
• New breeds are better than new events. The Olympics has added several new events this year, such as snowboard cross, a type of race that is generally described as winter-sports-meets-NASCAR.
But Westminster has added three new breeds. New competitions? That’s for amateurs. The folks at the Westminster Kennel Club have got whole new categories of competitors. There’s the Norwegian Buhund, which looks like an albino mini-sled dog; the Pyrenean Shepherd, which looks like a cross between a collie and a teddy bear; and the Irish Red and White Setter, which looks like you would expect.
[Editor's note: The original version of this story misidentified the Irish Red and White Setter.]
• Beagles. Beagles make everything better. They swagger around the dog show ring with a merry attitude, as if they just successfully stole the poodle’s food. They don’t usually do well at big shows, because judges prefer breeds whose hair can be styled. But Uno the beagle won Westminster in 2008, and he remains the most popular champion in the show’s history.
This year, the favorite is Sadie, a four-year-old Scottish terrier. Tune in Tuesday for the dramatic best-in-show ending, and see if she wins.
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