By Marina Lopes
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three new breeds, Chinooks, Portuguese Podengo Pequenos and Rat Terriers, will be vying to be top dog at the 138th Westminster Kennel Club in New York in February, organizers said on Thursday.
The two-day show on February 10 and 11 at Madison Square Garden and Piers 92 and 94 will open with a separate agility competition in which mixed-breed dogs will be allowed to compete for the first time in more than 100 years.
About 2,845 dogs, the most in more than two decades, will be featured in the show, the second longest continuously held sporting event in the United States after the Kentucky Derby.
"They all have interesting histories. It's fun to see the new breeds, hearing what they were bred to do and trying to envision them doing that," said David Frei, a co-host of the show.
The Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, the smallest new breed in the show, is used by Portuguese hunters to catch rabbits and comes in two varieties, smooth and wire.
The Chinook, a breed that was developed in New Hampshire in the 1920's, is highly trainable and used in sledding, scootering and carting, and the Rat Terrier, a small, playful American farm dog is known for hunting rodents and vermin.
Joy Lecuyer, a 16-year-old from Enfield, Connecticut, woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday to introduce her Rat Terrier, Levi, at a preview of the show.
"It's great for people to finally acknowledge them for who they are: great hunters," said Lecuyer, who has been working with Rat Terriers as a junior competitor since she was seven.
Before being included in the show, a breed must meet American Kennel Club rules, including having sufficient numbers in the United States, a certain geographical distribution, and a parent club that makes sure they are following responsible breeding practices and meet certain characteristics.
The dogs in the show hail from countries ranging from Thailand to Brazil. They will be evaluated by a panel of 44 judges.
Labrador and Golden Retrievers, French Bulldogs and Rhodesian Ridgebacks are among the most popular breeds, while the Wire Haired Fox Terrier has won the most best in show prizes, at 13. Terriers, in general, have won the top prize 45 times.
For Irene Palmerini, this year's agility competition meant Alfie, her poodle/terrier mix, could participate for the first time.
"It's so exciting," said Palmerini, who bought Alfie, a fluffy, black and white dog, for $99 from her local pet shop. She turned to agility training after his energy proved too much to handle.
Sixteen of the 225 dogs who will whiz through an ornate obstacle course that includes jumps, ramps and teeter-totters, will be mixed breeds.
"Westminster is a celebration of all the dogs in our lives, and that includes mixed breed dogs," said Thomas Bradley, the show's chairman.
(Reporting by Marina Lopes; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Marguerita Choy)