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Nina In New York: Muttminster At Home

A dog competes in the Agility Ring during the First-ever Masters Agility Championship on February 8, 2014 in New York at the 138th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.  AFP PHOTO/Timothy Clary        (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

A dog competes in the Agility Ring during the First-ever Masters Agility Championship on February 8, 2014 in New York at the 138th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. AFP PHOTO/Timothy Clary (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
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By Nina Pajak

The Winter Olympics aren’t the only competitive games going on right now. In fact, there’s another hot ticket right here in New York City. The participants also spend their lives working towards this event, and they, too, are considered pinnacles of their species. They are sleek and disciplined like speed skaters, uniformly beautiful like women snowboarders, they’re agile like mogul skiers and, in many cases, as graceful as figure skaters. I don’t believe any of them possess any curling-related skills.

Naturally, I’m talking about the Westminster Dog Show.

As a dog lover, I’ve always loved watching Westminster on television. But as a shelter dog champion and ardent proponent of rescues as the best and preferred means of pet adoption, there is a piece of me that feels resentful of and disappointed by the institution of idealizing purebreds. Just in my own experience, my purebred Cocker Spaniels were riddled with congenital health problems and debilitated by neurotic behavior. On the other hand, my rescue mutts have been easygoing and barely in need of their yearly check-ups. It’s not a mystery. Our Spaniels were essentially Hapsburgs of the dog world.

Anyway, the old world took a big step into the new this year when Westminster for the first time allowed mixed breed dogs to participate in the agility competition portion of their show! Muttminster is finally real!

Kind of. I mean, mixed breeds are still not included in the main competition for Best in Show. And they still awarded separate ribbons to the best mutt (a Husky mix named Roo!) and best purebred, who I think was considered the main winner of the event. Roo! was the “special” winner. But the mutt’s name has an exclamation point in it! I mean, we’re really making strides now.

I’m not sure my Lab-Pit mix could ever come close to qualifying for entry into a dog show, mostly because he’s incredibly poorly trained, barks at other dogs incessantly, can’t walk on a leash properly and only does tricks if he thinks you’re holding a piece of cheese. But aside from that, he’s a champion. And in fact, his mettle has been tested for the last nine months by a tiny little terror who entered his life completely unbidden and who not only stole away our attention but also insists on “petting” him as often as we let her.

We regulate them both quite strictly, being very careful that she doesn’t treat him like a giant, breathing, furry toy, and that he doesn’t treat her as a lesser pack member. It’s exhausting, and so far we’re faring medium. I give us an A for intentions and a B in knowing what the heck we’re actually supposed to do. But I think we’re really showing improvement on all sides, and I think Gus deserves some recognition for his patience and restraint. So despite the fact that he’ll never make it within ten miles of a dog show, he deserves some ribbons. So does any other dog out there dealing with being made an older “sibling.” To Gus, and to all your long-suffering dogs, I award the following honors.

Best In Faking It. It’s clear that Gus does not enjoy it when V pats him or tries to hold his paw or inspects his eye. But he just sort of lies there and takes it like a big boy and pretends he’s totally cool with it, then flees the room as soon as he’s able. I appreciate his willingness to keep up appearances.

Best In Cleaning Up. Baby hurls much food. Dog is Johnny-on-the-spot. He not only does floors, but he also cleans the sides of the high chair and, when no one is looking, baby’s feet. Despite the threat of sippy cups and spoons and toys and bibs and pacifiers winging by his head as he cleans, he is undeterred. Ten points.

Best In Keeping His Paws to Himself. We leave this guy with a veritable smorgasbord of baby toys strewn all over the apartment every day, and I never see so much as a shred of plush stuffing hanging from his mouth when we get home. Okay. One time I found him licking her teething giraffe, and another time I found his filthy scrap of dog toy among her stuff which was either totally innocent or indicative of surreptitious foul play. Either way, I’m impressed.

Best In Walking Respectfully When I’m Wearing the Baby While Holding the Leash. Just kidding. He’s the worst. I’m pretty sure everyone who sees us out on the rare occasion that this happens wonders whether they should call Animal Care and Control or Child Protective Services. Zero points awarded.

Best In Not Eating the Baby. When I was pregnant, I had recurring nightmares about the dog suddenly transforming into a bloodthirsty monster and biting the baby’s arms off. Sorry, good buddy. You don’t even nibble when she’s got ham on her fingers.

Best in Communicating His Needs—and Displeasure. When company is over and playing with V, he matter-of-factly walks over and deposits on their legs one of his repulsive, drool-soaked, shredded bits of fabric which once made up a plush toy. When we have been playing with the baby for a while and he’s bored, he noisily drops a toy nearby and begins groaning dramatically. When he is mad that there is a baby gate preventing him from arbitrarily going up and down the stairs at the exact opposite times I am doing so, he cries and waits until I can go up or down to retrieve him. Usually, this is in the middle of changing a diaper. Strong work, Gus.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!