What It’s Like to Attend the Westminster Dog Show’s Agility Competition

The addition of the agility event and mixed-breed dogs helps make Westminster accessible to people outside the dog-show circuit.


While some folks are obsessing about hearts and chocolates, for me February is all about Westminster. I remember being a little kid and watching Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on TV every year and so when I got the chance to cover the show for Dogster I jumped at the opportunity. This year was particularly exciting, because it’s the first year that dog agility would be part of the competition. Not only that but mixed breeds were being permitted to compete in the agility competition.

I have a complicated and long relationship with dog agility. I was a competitor in the sport as a high school student and had to stop when I became homeless in high school and had to rehome my dogs. Agility competition and working with dogs through the sport influenced me in some pretty profound ways — I even have an agility course map tattooed on my leg. Surrounding that tattoo are the words “I could have missed the pain, but I’d of had to miss the dance.”

For me those words (from a Garth Brooks song) have always exemplified the way I feel about the sport. The past couple of years I’ve really worked on recapturing those dreams that were stolen from me by making dogs a more central part of my life again, which has included assisting agility classes in New York City, which made getting to attend the first Westminster agility competition all the more special for me.

The final championship was televised on Fox Sports and won by Kelso, a Border Collie, and his owner Delaney Ratner. Westminster’s first agility trial was beautiful, with 225 top-level dogs in tight competition. But the show wasn’t over. Hearts were stolen by Roo!, a mixed breed from San Francisco we reported on Monday who won the overall trophy for a mixed-breed dog. According to news reports, Roo! was returned to a shelter several times before trainer Stacey Campbell saw just how special he was.

I wasn’t still at Westminster’s for the televised master’s finals, but I did have the chance to see Roo! Run earlier in the day, I’d show you photo evidence, but he was just a blur as he rocked through the jumpers with weaves course (jumps, tunnels, and weave poles). As the proud parent of mixed-breed dogs it was exciting to see such a publicly celebrated competition be welcoming to the All American dogs.

What I’ve always loved about the sport of dog agility is the ways in which it is a true celebration of the connection that’s possible between people and dogs working together. I had a total blast yesterday hanging out with the Speeddoggie crew — Frankie Joris, the trainer I assist who was competing with one of her dogs, and her partner Chris Ott, whose dog Wow took third place in 20-inch Jumpers with Weaves class.

As I sat in the bleachers watching some of the best dogs in the country run, I was surrounded by competitors, fans, and dog loving members of the public who had come to see what this dog sport was all about. I overhead many conversations between parents and their children talking about their own dogs, and if agility was something that they could do. The presence of mutts and the addition of agility has made Westminster more exciting, and something that more people outside the dog-show circuit can relate to. It makes the show and all its competitors exciting new ambassadors encouraging spectators to think about new ways to spend time with their dogs.

About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.

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