By ADAM SCHRADER
Published in the Dallas Morning News and the Denton Record-Chronicle on Feb. 1, 2015
Once again, dog lovers from across the world and celebrities from the stages of Broadway and the sets of Hollywood flood New York City’s Madison Square Garden for two days and nights in February for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
The show offers more than 3,000 dogs in the competition of a lifetime. They know when they’re being shown and respond to the applause.
But it’s not just the spectators and dogs who have a good time. Cross Roads resident Norm Kenney will judge 16 breeds at the 139th annual Westminster Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show on Feb. 16-17. This will be his seventh time judging at the Westminster show.
Kenney, who has been judging since 1978, has judged thousands of dog shows. His first time judging Westminster was in the early 2000s, and most recently in 2013. But his favorite experience in the past 37 years was judging the working group for the Westminster show in 2008, he said.
“I enjoy going across the country and the world actually, seeing the different dogs and the breeds. But Westminster is really the Super Bowl of dog shows,” he said. “It’s the best of the best.”
Tom Bradley, chairman of the Westminster Dog Show, said Kenney was picked to judge again this year because his base knowledge of the breeds. Kenney is approved to judge six of the seven groups of dogs found in the country and is working on getting approval for the last group, which in his case is hounds.
“This is no small feat and it takes someone with a strong dedication to the sport to be approved to judge all of the breeds that are recognized by the AKC,” Bradley said. “There are less than a dozen people in the U.S. who are actively judging who can judge all of the breeds. On top of that, he is well respected and a gentleman, which helps in finding him a place on our panel.”
The dog show extravaganza in Madison Square is the second oldest sporting event in the country, second only to the Kentucky Derby. In the 1870s, a group of men gathered in the bar of their favorite hotel to boast about their shooting accomplishments and their dogs’ abilities in the field. One night in 1877, they decided to put on a dog show — that they named after the hotel.
The organization and its show predate the founding of the governing body of the sport, the American Kennel Club, which was established in 1884.
Kenney will judge some of the more than 3,000 dogs competing in the all-breed dog show and the club’s second annual Masters Agility Championship at Westminster.
For any American Kennel Club dog show, including the Westminster show, a selection committee looks at a registry of roughly 3,000 judges. They send invitations to a few of those judges for the show. Judges are chosen to select winners at three different levels of competition, the breed, group and best in show.
In what is considered the first round of the dog show, Kenney and his fellow breed judges will select the best of each of the 192 eligible. This level of the competition is not televised. The winners of the breed classes, labeled “best of breed,” go to the group level — which are considered the finals, or playoffs so to speak, and televised. There, judges select the best of each of seven groups: sporting, hound, working, chariot, toy, non-sporting and herding groups. Each group winner competes for the top award, “Best in Show.”
In the working group, Kenney will judge Anatolian shepherds, German pinschers and Neapolitan mastiffs. In the toy group, he will judge miniature pinschers, Shih Tzus, silky terriers, toy fox terriers and Yorkshire terriers. In the non-sporting group, he will judge American Eskimo dogs, Tibetan terriers and Xoloitzcuintli breeds.
In the sporting group, Kenney will judge Brittanys, Spinones Italiano, Vizslas and Wirehaired Pointing Griffons breeds. This year, the dog show will add two breeds to its competition lineup: the Wirehaired Vizsla in the sporting group and the Coton de Tulear in the non-sporting group. Kenney will also have the honor of judging the Wirehaired Vizsla this year.
None of the breeds he will be judging is a breed he currently owns. But there is no extra preparation for judging at Westminster, he said.
In the coming weeks before the show, Kenney said he will just have to refamiliarize himself with the written breed standards of the breeds he will be judging.
“When a judge is invited to judge, usually a year or so in advance, you usually know at that time which breeds you are being invited to judge,” he said. “So now I’m really just getting the tuxedo out for the evening festivities.”
Kenney, originally from Boston, started breeding and showing Doberman pinschers in 1967. Over the past 48 years, he has bred a variety of dogs. He has judged all over Texas since moving to Cross Roads two and a half years ago.
“There is a great dog-loving community in Texas, from dog show handlers, breeders and judges,” he said. “The only thing I regret is that I didn’t move here 30 years ago.”
Kenney’s first love is for dogs and his second is for horses, which is one of the many reasons why he lives in Texas, he said. Cross Roads is in the middle of reigning horse country. Kenney, who retired from development and construction, has bred horses for the past 10 years. It has become his primary business. In between judging dog shows, he raises baby quarter horses with his girlfriend, Rhonda Nickels, and sells them at yearly sales. Right now, he is breeding foals and waiting for a bunch of them to be born.
Kenney and Nickels are also involved with Doberman and boxer rescue — volunteering to any dogs that need to be placed a helping them find new homes.
“The dog world is interconnected — whether it is pure bred or mixed breeds, we’re all dog lovers and want the best of the animals,” he said. “And it all starts with the American Kennel Club.”
The evening finals are televised live from 7 to 10 p.m. on CNBC, Feb. 16 and on USA Network on Feb. 17.
“I’m very proud and excited to go with Norm to watch his judging at Westminster Kennel Club,” Nickels said. “I am looking forward to seeing the best of the best in the dog show world.”
ADAM SCHRADER can be reached at 214-773-8188 and via Twitter at @schrader_adam.