Westminster Dog Show 2011: Can my dog join Westminster Kennel Club?

Membership in the Westminster Kennel Club is 'by invitation only,' says a spokesman. That's OK. Fido and Spot didn't want to compete in the Westminster Dog Show 2011 anyway.

Mike Segar/Reuters
Vizslas stand in a ring as they are judged in the Sporting Group at the 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York on Feb. 15.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is an awesome event, isn’t it? It concludes on TV Tuesday night with the crowning of the Best in Show top canine, if you didn’t know. First held in 1877, the show is older than the World Series. It predates the invention of the automobile, the light bulb, and the zipper.

But what about the Westminster Kennel Club itself? Maybe the sight of all those happy dogs prancing around the ring got you wondering if you should join and help out. After all, your dog isn’t a show dog, but maybe he or she would like hanging out with a pack of friends. Plus, the WKC probably has an awesome clubhouse – like the Bat Cave, only with chew toys.

Down, boy. If you have to ask, you’re not eligible. The Westminster Kennel Club "is a private club open by invitation only," says club spokesman David Frei.

Westminster Dog Show: Five spunky Best in Show winners

Well, how many members are there? Who are they?

"We don’t talk about the membership," says Mr. Frei, who is also one of the television voices of the show.

The Westminster Kennel Club was founded in New York City in 1877 by a group of sporting gentlemen, according to a club history. In that era, “sports” were the sort of slightly rakish fellows with money who gathered in bars prior to racing their horses on back roads or engaging in shooting competitions.

According to the show website, the group took its name from one of its favorite watering holes, the Westminster hotel. An alternate theory holds that the name came because dogs belonging to the Duke of Westminster took part in early shows.

The club quickly became fashionable. Among famous names whose dogs have taken part in its festivities are financier J.P. Morgan, Russian Czar Nicholas II, and Gen. George Custer. (Custer had already experienced his "last stand," though. The first WKC show listed as participants two staghounds from the late General Custer’s pack.)

For years, shooting was also a big part of the club curriculum. It sold a club facility in New Jersey when the surrounding locality banned pigeon hunting, for instance. But that’s not on the WKC agenda any longer. It doesn’t have a club facility, either. The last one, on Long Island, was sold some years ago.

Is the club limited to male members? As noted above, the club does not publicly comment on the membership. But a list of past presidents on the group website shows only men– or at least, only people with male names. A list of current WKC officers, including the president, board of governors, and dog show committee, similarly lists about 35 men.

Westminster Dog Show: Five spunky Best in Show winners

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