NEW YORK — They are at the top of their game. They are ready to crush tennis balls. So it’s perhaps only natural that around 3,000 top-flight dogs converge on the US Open tennis tournament, where the Westminster Kennel Club dog show began on Saturday.
It’s a new venue for the nearly 150-year-old event, now back in New York City after a pandemic-induced two-year stint in the suburbs.
As the show started on Saturday with an agility competition and other events, there were a few double takes and even double faults.
Barking, not tennis balls, was heard on the sunny 40-acre (16-hectare) grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The traditional Westminster green carpet had been rolled out in Arthur Ashe Stadium for competitors with floating feet – but four feet.
The fan-friendly South Plaza has been outfitted with a 27,000 gallon (102,200 liter) pool for a canine dock = scuba demonstration. Turn in any direction and any dog would probably pass by.
“It’s kind of weird to see them come out and move around in a place where you don’t usually see dogs,” said onlooker Haili Menard as she watched in the dock diving to pick up pointers for her Dalmatian at home. him in Bristol, Connecticut. Ménard had been to the US Open but never to the Westminster show.
“The sport is enhanced” by the surroundings, she said.
Up there, on the platform covered with artificial grass, Fletcher the Malinois took the plunge. Owner Jenine Wech was quick to sign her up for the first-ever dockside diving demonstration at the most illustrious Dogdom show in the United States.
“We’re never going to get to Westminster any other way,” laughed Wech, of Schellsburg, Pennsylvania. When he’s not dock diving or other sports, Fletcher works as a bed bug detector dog.
For most of its history, Westminster has been held in Manhattan, where the show has long crowned its top dogs in Madison Square Garden. In order to hold the event outdoors during the COVID-19 crisis, organizers have moved it to the grounds of an estate in suburban Tarrytown, New York, for the past two years.
The club were eager to return to New York and initially considered returning to the Garden. But amid factors like plans to build a Manhattan Pier building that once hosted part of the show, the tennis center emerged as an alternative.
Along with hosting one of tennis’ Grand Slam tournaments, the Queens facility has also hosted wrestling and video game competitions in recent years. His management agreed to let the dogs spend their day.
“From the biggest stars in tennis to the biggest stars in the canine world,” said Chris Studley, senior manager of event services at the facility. “There’s a big buzz in our organization about the dog show here. It’s iconic.”
New York Associated Press reporter Jennifer Peltz has covered the Westminster Dog Show since 2013.