Stephanie Sherwood of West Chester has been showing her Vizslas, Hungarian pointers, for just three years — meaning she’s new enough to the all-consuming world of dog shows that she still laughs awkwardly when boasting that her 7-month-old puppy, Judit, is in the running for “winner’s bitch.” But at the Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s National Dog Show, which this weekend took over the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks, that title is apparently high praise.
The show is a 10-year Thanksgiving Day tradition on NBC. But what happens behind the scenes is, from a sociological perspective, much more fascinating. Dogs of all breeds are perched atop long rows of metal tables, scattered with blow-dryers and enough hair spray to stock a dozen beauty pageants. Patty McCallum of Barnegat, N.J., who has seven Samoyeds back home, looks up from an attempt to make her fluffy, white dog even fluffier. Showing, she admits is “an addiction. My kids went to college, and I had that empty-nest syndrome.” It costs only about $30 to enter the competition, but some owners spend much more. Sherwood notes that many hire pros to show their dogs, which makes it even harder for amateurs like her to win.
Not far away, a long-suffering standard poodle named Dolly allows owner Michael Pawasarat of Richland, Pa., to pick at her elaborate ’do. “It’s basically a beauty contest,” Pawasarat says. He’s been showing 40 years; in that time, things have changed dramatically. “Originally, it was to evaluate breeding styles,” he says. “Now, there’s a lot of Hollywood involved.”