NEW YORK -- Every dog has its day. Will this be the day a mutt goes home with the big prize?
For the first time since 1884, the breed known in polite company as an All-American (a.k.a. mutt) was mingling with the purebreds at a Westminster Kennel Club event: the Agility Championship.
The competition Saturday on Manhattan’s west side drew 228 entries from 23 states. Of the 63 breeds competing, 16 were All-Americans, or mixed-breeds.
The agility test is not to be confused with the Best in Show competition, which runs Monday and Tuesday and is open only to purebred dogs, with the papers and pampering to prove it.
But lest you think the All-American crowd feels slighted, not at all. As several handlers pointed out during breaks in the running, jumping and weaving action, there is something to be said for not spending hours with the dog shampoo and hair dryer, fluffing out the coat, combing the ears and making sure the tail is held just so.
“With agility, it doesn’t really matter,” said Stacey Eastman of Chester, N.J., after Panda, her freckle-faced, brown-eyed 8-year-old mutt, had run through the 18 obstacles in Ring 1.
With purebreds, judges must hold each dog to a particular standard, from height to shape of face to teeth.
“They have a certain look,” Eastman said of the elegant Dobermans, glossy golden retrievers, sleek Labradors and other purebreds milling amongst the mutts. “The thing I love about mixes is that every one is different.”
Sara Beth Pinson agreed as she and her husband, Andrew, waited to run their dog, Icey. The 6 1/2-year-old is white with large, black-spotted ears, reminiscent of a Dalmatian but with personality and physical characteristics similar to border collies, whippets and Jack Russell terriers.
“I have no idea what she is,” said Pinson, of Alexandria, Va., who adopted Icey from a shelter in Georgia a few years ago. “Cute?”
“It’s nice to have a dog who looks different,” she said.
The purebreds in the agility competition were dominated by border collies, famed for their speed and agility. In fact, the first dog up in Ring 1, a border collie named Elf, quickly set the bar high with a perfect run through the course in just over 24 seconds.
The crowd roared as Elf leaped over bars, dashed through tunnels and zipped seamlessly through the vertical bars.
Panda had a clean run, clearing every bar and completing the course, but she clocked in at a little over 39 seconds.
Still, that was faster than Sally, an Old English sheepdog and crowd favorite who drew cheers as she sauntered across the finish line at 55 seconds.
In Ring 2, the more challenging of the two courses that each dog races, Icey cut a graceful figure, loping over bars like a slender gymnast and maneuvering through the first of the tunnels.
But she slowed on the teeter-totter, stopping midway through to sneeze. She skipped a few of the vertical bars and had to try again.
“Awwwwww,” the crowd sighed in unison at each misstep.
By the end of the obligatory first two runs, through Ring 1 and Ring 2, Panda was still in the competition. Ten finalists were to vie for the grand prize late Saturday.
Icey was out of the running for the championship, which brings no money but plenty of bragging rights.
“We’re very casual competitors,” Pinson said cheerfully as she fed Icey bits of a hot dog.
Also out of the running was Sadie, a little black-and-white dog owned by Lisa Tibbals of North Haven, Conn.
“But she had fun,” Tibbals said, as Sadie settled in for a nap.
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