You see a beautiful dog, you want to touch, right? Well, that's a really bad idea at Westminster if that dog is headed from the grooming area to the floor and its handler is, shall we say, the snippy type.
Zap! he pulls out a water bottle and sprays me in the face! I was so stunned by this aquatic assault that I don't even remember what kind of dog it was, but competitive pressure seems to bring out the worst in certain people.
Though not in dogs, apparently. Day 2 of the show is winding down, and I've yet to witness any unsportsman-like conduct among the canines. In fact a lot of them act like real dogs offstage, leaping on and pawing at their owners, begging for treats, and behaving naughtily in the hotel.
Fort Lauderdale vet, Dr. Suzy Sarna, told me her collie, Lacey, munched on one of the shoes she planned to wear tonight to the Best in Group/Best in Show judging.
"When my husband and I got together four years ago, she ate both of our cellphones,'' Suzy said, which made me feel a lot better about my mutts and their bad habits.
Even in the ring, these impeccably-mannered creatures sometimes goof off. During the Weimaraner judging this afternoon, one contestant rolled on his back, feet in the air, and wiggled around on the grass-green carpet like an upside down bug, drawing amused chuckles from the crowd.
(The handlers are a special breed as well, a great many of them sturdily-built women in sensible shoes and dowdy suits with short jackets and knee-length skirts that must come from a special dowdy-suit store reserved for dog handlers, because I can't remember seeing anything so unflattering since the golden age of polyester in the 1970s).
The South Florida contingent took no Best of Breeds at Westminster, but two Broward dogs - Sonny, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever from Davie
, and Cali, the bulldog from Fort Lauderdale
- took the next best thing in their breeds: Best of Opposite Sex. That's given to the dog of the opposite gender from the Best of Breed winner.
I must admit that it's been difficult to maintain my reporterly objectivity when it comes to Sonny and his little sister, Sizzle. I'd never met Tollers before "interviewing'' these two last week, at their owner Alyson Casper's house, on an acre-and-a-half spread that's a little slice of dog heaven.
They are so incredibly sweet, frisky and alert, with cute little pink noses and silky coats, that any dog fanatic worthy of the label just has to be smitten.
Sunday, when New York got its record snowfall, Jose, the photographer, and I met Alyson, her son, Gavin, 12, and her boyfriend, architect Mark Fine, at their swanky hotel on Madison Avenue, then tromped through the snow to Central Park.
The Tollers bounded through the drifts like rabbits. They're smallish, about 40 pounds, so at times all we could see was their brandy-colored heads. Then we headed for the duck pond, and at the sight of actual ducks, they went absolutely nuts.
Tollers have make a high-pitched yelping sound called a ''Toller scream,'' and if you didn't know it was an expression of excitement and joy, you'd think someone was pulling their toenails out.
If he hadn't been on a leash, Sonny would have been over the fence and into the pond in a second. Sizzle tried to tunnel under the fence. The ducks
seemed blessedly unaware.
That night, we attended one of the premier pre-show dog parties: Iris Love's soiree at the Tavern on the Green. The landmark restaurant, right in Central Park, is a sprawling complex of banquet rooms adorned with spectacular crystal chandeliers and jewel-like stained-glass murals. The courtyards looked like Currier & Ives wonderlands under the fresh snow.
Iris Love, a world-class dachshund breeder and archeologist, has been giving this party for decades, always themed for some country she's interested in. Her dogs are costumed for the event in the native garb of that country.
Last year, it was Mexico.The dachshunds wore little sombreros and
serapes made from tea towels, said Diane Poranski, who's been decorating for the party for years. In real life, she's an air freight agent at Kennedy International Airport.
This year the theme was China. Iris Love told me she went around the villages in a remote area of China buying little silkoutfits for babies, never hinting that they'd be worn by dachshunds.
"I had to shorten the sleeves for their short legs,'' Diane confided.
In years past, she's done Vikings, complete with little horned helmets, and a Cleopatra theme. Instead of an asp on Iris Love's headdress, there was a dachshund head. She even figured out how to spell "dachshund'' in hieroglyphics.
"You can find anything on the Internet,'' she said.
The party greeter was a dog name Diomedes, a great champion of infinite patience and poise. He sat the entire night on a table greeting guests, wearing a Chinese baby outfit complete with a beanie on his pointy little head,gazing balefully at the goings-on.
Occasionally, someone rewarded him with a chunk of roast beef from the
Iris Love goes all out for this party, so there was a platter of chopped liver molded like a dachshund, and bone-shaped gingerbread cookies.
Susan Watts, a guest from Pennsylvania, was wearing a Chinese "Year of the Dog'' sweater, embroidered with Chinese zodiac symbols and dachshunds.
I asked her husband, Randy, what he did for a living.
"Vice president of Nathan's Famous," he said, which of course cracked me up. Of COURSE they'd have wiener dogs for pets!
By Monday morning when the show started, the dogs and people were all business. The backstage area is a frenzy of grooming activity, with hundreds of grooming tables crammed end to end. The dogs stay up there for hours, being primped, combed, fluffed and sprayed.
The Shi Tzus show-ring styling is a shy-high top knot that gets teased and tweaked with a rat-tailed comb, like something out of John Waters' movie, Hairspray.
The poodles' ears and head fluffs stay wrapped in bits of cloth until the last minute. They lounged atop their tables with their chins on pillows like the dog divas they are, awaiting their close-ups.
Between the hair dryers, the barking, and the chatter of several thousand fans snaking between the tables, it's an absolute madhouse.
So is the benching area, were all dogs showing on a particular day must spend the whole day. Each one gets a small, low cubicle along a row of its breed. Mostly, the dogs hang out in their crates, getting bathroom breaks from time to time in a sawdust pit.
Many of them will be gone by tonight, when Best in Show will be announced. It's at 11 p.m., and I'll try to stay awake long enough to report it live.