Dogs have always had a place in New York: as guardians, beloved pets, police partners, and firehouse mascots.
So it’s no surprise that the world’s most prestigious canine event, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, got its start in a dog-happy 19th century city.
It all began at the upscale Westminster Hotel on Irving Place and 16th Street.
The hotel bar was the meeting place for elite “sportsmen” who enjoyed boasting about their prized sporting dogs.
The men decided to form a club, and when they couldn’t agree on a name, went with Westminster Kennel Club, after the hotel.
The first dog show was held in May 1877 at Gilmore’s Gardens, on the site of the future Madison Square Garden at Madison Avenue and 27th Street. It was a huge hit with the public.
About 1,200 dogs were entered: pointers, setters, St. Bernards, spaniels, collies, Newfoundlands, dachshunds, harriers, beagles, wolfhounds, and other purebreed pups, all vying for a ribbon.
Up to 8,000 New Yorkers visited on the first day. “Everybody was fashionably dressed and wore an air of good breeding,” wrote The New York Times.
“One the second day, there were 10,000 visitors, and on the third, the same,” stated The Dog Show: 125 Years of Westminster.
“This led the club to extend the show by a day. Proceeds of that day, minus expenses, were to go to the ASPCA as the nucleus of a fund to open a home for stray and disabled dogs, similar to one in London.”
The show moved to Madison Square Garden and grew in subsequent years; the first Best in Show award was given in 1907 (to a smooth fox terrier named Warren Remedy, below).
In the teens, firehouse Dalmatians had their own contest, and a World War I hero German Shepherd named Filax of Lewanno earned a special salute.
The show is back at the Garden on February 10—one of only four events to be held at every incarnation of Madison Square Garden.