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The 2014 Westminster Dog Show: A Step in the Right Direction

The Westminster Kennel Club has been holding their annual dog show for more than a century; but this year, they’re proving that even the oldest institutions can surprise us with something new. For the first time in its 138-year history, the Westminster Dog Show is allowing mixed-breed dogs to compete. Now, mutts and purebreds alike are enduring tests of agility, temperament and more to prove that they are not only the best dog of their breed- but that they are the Best Dog in Show. Or at least- that’s what one might expect from such a momentous announcement.

Stiffed by Stiffer Competition

Dogs that compete in the competition generally seek out the coveted prize of Best in Show- an award that can only go to one of the hundreds of competing dogs. Until now, the competition has historically begun with each dog being compared to the other members of its respective breed before competing against the other top dogs. However, despite their inclusion in the festivities, mixed-breeds are not eligible to win the title of Best in Show this year.

It’s not entirely surprising that mixed breed dogs are ineligible, as there are numerous logistic problems that need to be solved. Dogs competing within their own breed are normally judged by that breed’s special merits and abilities. The categories of breeds break down talents allow judges to search for specimens that epitomize their breed’s defining characteristics before comparing the breed winners to determine who is "top dog".

This means that mixed breed dogs don’t fit comfortably into this process and cannot be readily compared to their peers, as no pedigree favors a specific characteristic or body shape. Instead, the only event where mixed breeds could compete this year was in Westminster’s first agility competition. In fact, it was the decision to include the Agility segment of the competition that opened Westminster’s doors in the first place.

Dog Discrimination

The recent inclusion of mixed breed dogs into the second-longest running sporting event in the United States reveals the persistence of our prejudices. In a country where between 4 and 5 million animals are killed each year, it’s surprising to know that there is still a highly profitable market for breeders. This can most easily be explained by an American predilection for purebred and designer animals.

This preference is not arbitrary; as purebred dogs are considered to be more valuable than their mixed breed counterparts. This is likely due more to their scarcity than to their health and ability. One competitor defended the "snob appeal" of purebred dogs, stating that, "generations of people have worked very hard to maintain the purity and level of consistency in the breed." Those that purchase purebred dogs for competitions can also find themselves spending upwards of tens of thousands of dollars per year- all for the glory of a blue ribbon.

This atypical obsession with purity appears to be reflected across the American public as a whole. Though some shelter animals are undoubtedly purebreds, these dogs seldom face difficulty when searching for a new family. Mixed breeds, however, appear to be adopted less often- despite claims that they are often healthier and even cheaper to own and care for than purebreds. In fact, non-profit organizations often focus on mutts during their campaigns to encourage adoptions. North Shore Animal League, for example, celebrates mixed breeds with its Mutt-i-gree® campaign.

Every Dog Has His Day

Westminster’s practice of admitting mixed breed dogs into their event may do well to change public sentiment. Though no mixed breed will bring home the Best in Show award or- as of this year- the overall Agility prize, their mere inclusion has lodes to say about the shifting opinion of the public. This can actually have an amazing effect on the future of companion animals in America- as aversion to adoptions is largely what keeps atrocious puppy mills in operation.

And although a purebred Border Collie officially won the Agility competition- a mixed breed dog did make history as the first competitor to win an award at Westminster. Roo!, a Husky mix, was recognized as the top mixed breed competitor. What do you think of Westminsters inclusion of mixed breed dogs in their competition? Do you think they could be even more inclusive next year? Leave your thoughts in the comments section and let us know!

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