Westminster Dog Show 2012: Campaigns, Advertisements Make Dog Shows an Expensive Hobby

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on February 15 2012 2:13 PM

NEW YORK -- The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, arguably the world's most famous dog show, wrapped up on Tuesday night when judge Cindy Vogel crowned Malachy, a Pekingese, as the Best in Show.

The owners of the Pekingese didn't receive a cash prize from Westminster -- only a silver bowl and a ribbon -- but could potentially benefit financially through increased breeding interest. Breeding is the way that show dog owners can make money on what is a very expensive hobby to most. Just how big of an impact that a win at Westminster can have financially often depends on the dog's breed.

Reuters reported last year that the Scottish Deerhound, 2011's Best in Show, wouldn't create too much of a spike in price and interest. Part of that was based on the dog's relatively hefty 85-pound frame, while the significantly lighter Pekingese could generate more interest. The Pekingese is already a popular dog, but that increased exposure on a national scale can help with more awareness about its best qualities.

It is not just the winners of Best in Show that can benefit from a win at Westminster, though. With over 185 breeds competing at the dog show, hundreds of dogs could see an uptick in interest and notoriety if they place within their group.

One dog that will likely see a major boon of interest in breeding is Ace, a two-year-old black cocker spaniel. Ace, a little-known dog that mostly shows in Canada, knocked off the world's No. 1 dog of 2011, Beckham, in the breed competition. The win sent shock waves throughout the dog show industry and created a major buzz in the handsome young cocker spaniel.

A lot of people are interested in breeding with him now, Mark Ragusa, Ace's breeder, said after the big win. He's very typey. When you look at what the type should be, that's Ace.

Ragusa and the dog's handler, Marlene Ness, were swarmed by a throng of on-lookers after Dr. Donald Sturz crowned it as the best black cocker spaniel. It was a good example of a lot of what Westminster is -- networking for breeding. There were hushed conversations, exchanging of business cards, and more to set up future breeding opportunities.

Nancy Huether, owner of East Wind Kennels in Cape Cod, was passing out business cards about Mastiffs throughout the Westminster show. She said that her two Mastiffs, Bada Bing and Phillip, drew a lot of attention for their beauty throughout the show, but it was after both placed in the Mastiff show that a wave of people came over to congratulate her and inquire about the dogs.

Huether said she will have a waiting list now to get a Mastiff puppy or an opportunity to breed with one of the two dogs she brought with her to the show. Breeding is how Huether offsets some of her costs -- she estimates that she spends around $70,000 a year on dog shows -- but that she puts the majority of the money back into showing the dogs.

That $70,000 a year might sound astronomical to some, but she said that others routinely spend more than six figures on campaigning their dogs around the country. Within the Mastiff breed competition, the owners of Oliver Twist spent $80,000 alone on advertising the dog in dog magazines and catalogues.

The dog magazines are sent to dog judges for free, while those in the industry typically subscribe to the biggest ones, especially Dog News, to get the latest in dog trends. The owners recently spent $4,000 on a massive inside cover for Oliver, but the money spent didn't have much of an impact on the judging -- the dog didn't place.

Those within the dog industry are mixed on whether making huge investments in magazines actually have an impact on placing at shows. The thought is that the advertisements raise awareness and could impact judges -- subconsciously or not -- to pick those dogs when it comes to award Best in Breed.

Sturz, who picked Ace over the much more well-known Beckham, thinks that the magazines do have an impact, but that you have to dismiss it once you get out on the green carpet.

I think it's only human that to be aware of all the factors that exist but you have to be able to dismiss them, he said. It takes a conscience effort to black it all out.

Helma Weeks, who judged the Mastiff competition that featured Oliver Twist, reads some of the dog magazines, but doesn't think they have any impact on her.

I read some (of the magazines, Weeks said. But I mostly read it for the editorials. It's interesting to see what's going on but that's it.

 Whether it has a major impact or not -- Huether personally doesn't think it's worth it -- it still showcases all of the money that is being used to compete in dog shows. It has become a very expensive hobby of the rich and costs a lot of money to show dogs around the country, even if you aren't actively campaigning or advertising.

Judy Schmidt, a pug breeder, estimated that it takes a minimum $6,000 to $7,000 to pay entrance fees and transportation costs for dog shows over the course of a year. She travels around in a motor home to save money on hotels, but that the costs still add up over time. Kay Pappas, another pug breeder, estimated that figure was closer to $14,000 to $15,000 for her. 

You make no money if you do this right, Schmidt said. People strive to just break even. 70 percent don't make money off of this.

Another women sitting near Schmidt chimed in that the figure was closer to 90 percent of the people are losing money on showing dogs.

Schmidt and Pappas said that one way to make money is through breeding, but that many within the industry didn't breed just for the sake of money. Instead many are insistent on putting their dogs in the right homes and often keep a few of the valuable puppies because they love the dogs so much.

We don't do this for the money, she said. 

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