Veteran dog handler on Westminster: It’s not a ‘useless beauty contest’

Holly Bailey
National Correspondent
The Lookout

NEW YORK—Nancy Martin has seen plenty of changes in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show since she began competing there in 1970.

Among other things, there are bigger crowds and more media attention, said the veteran dog handler. But while Martin likes most of the changes, she still believes the “average person” doesn’t understand what dog shows are about.

‘They visualize it as this useless beauty contest, which isn’t the case at all,” Martin, who competes this week with Mimi, a Japanese Chin, told Yahoo News. And the biggest misconception, she said, is that poodles are groomed simply to look like divas.

“You'll be in the stands at [Madison Square Garden], and you will have people go, 'Ugh! Those poodles look so stupid with their butts shaved!’ Except it’s not that at all. Yes, they look fancy because it’s a dog show. But they are groomed that way to show their proficiency as a breed.”

Poodles, she pointed out, are actually water dogs who retrieve.

“You shave them to give them a freedom of motion. ... You shave their face so they have nothing in the way of their mouth that would get in their way of retrieving. You leave the body hair long to keep the lungs and chest warm, and the bracelets cover the joints,” she explained. “The rest of it is shaved to give them ability to use their legs and swim without weighing them down.”

Judges, she said, rate a poodle on how it would function as a retriever—not just on how it looks.

“Like Miss America, it’s apportioned,” Martin said. In that show "you have a talent, you have a swimsuit, and you have an evening gown. Essentially you could take some of that away and just do the talent portion because you are either pretty or not pretty, but if you can sing, you can sing.”

She added, “What we want, as breeders and professional handlers and as exhibitors and dog fanciers, is to show the public the qualities of a purebred dog, and that’s what these shows are about. Not just beauty, but the functions and qualities that come with a purebred dog.”