Seemingly everyone adores Christopher Guest's "Best In Show," the 2001 film that amiably lampooned dog shows. Yet there's an aspect to "Best In Show" that amazes me, still. Please let me explain.
On Monday and Tuesday, one of the most remarkable rooms on Earth will make its annual resuscitation to vivid life. The benching area of the Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, where the dogs undergo their last preparatory grooming and coddling, will fill with pooches and the owners and handlers who revere them for a canine cascade of Alaskan malamutes and schipperkes, of Keeshond and lhasa apses, of Bichon Frises and Welsh Corgis.
As ever, it will be open to the public, the only known case of competitors who, just before entering the arena, accept idle petting from strangers.
I have trouble imagining this with, say, Alex Rodriguez.
As the Westminster Dog Show revs up again, I remain bemused and maybe even slightly mock-haunted by a trip I once took through the benching area for a previous employer, Newsday. I toured with a single, serial question: What's the nuttiest thing you do for your dog(s)?
I anticipated resistance. I got none. Zero. I got only friendly people eager to relate the nuttiest thing they do for their dog(s). It wasn't that they had no self-consciousness, for some of them referred readily to the craziness of what they were doing. It was that they had grown comfortable with themselves and their outsized fondness for the most awesome of all species.
Ever since, I often have told people what I learned that day, and even when you factor in the awareness that people have about dog shows, there still has been an unusual ratio of jaws agape. Put it this way: If I tried to come up with a top five of dog-craziness, I still would have to omit some compelling stuff.
The owner whose Doberman got so many naps by the well-tended fireplace that she developed dry skin and, ultimately, dandruff, thankfully curable? It wouldn't make the list. The woman who would wake at 5 a.m. on weekends because her Pomeranians would demand it with gentle barks? That also wouldn't make the list, nor would any description of what I might do to such Pomeranians in such a case, which would involve no meanness but plenty of re-training.
There was the Shar-Pei who had learned over time that if she held open her mouth, she might get the edges of toast she so craved at breakfast, which was not to be confused with the fact that her breakfasts included plain yogurt eaten from a spoon. A Brussels griffon routinely got meals of fine pasta, gluten be damned. A standard poodle got rides around Wilmington, Delaware, in a minivan, whenever it seemed he needed the motion.
And there was the bull terrier who, when celebrating titles, preferred champagne from hotel cups, but then really now:
Don't we all?
Further, this bull terrier had a radio carefully calibrated for times alone in the house.
Politically, he was said to be extreme left.
Music-wise, he clearly preferred Norwegian classical.
He also did not make the top five.
Here's who did:
5. I apologize for not remembering the breed, but I shall never forget the moment. The co-owners of a contestant effused to me about their lives and dog, when suddenly one began to tell something about some primping secret they had learned to apply toward their dog. There was some description of unusual, inscrutable emollients. Just then, the other owner grew testy, shushing and just about berating the speaking owner because the revelation of this secret might ruin some competitive advantage. I do not know if this had anything to do with New Zealand deer antler velvet spray. I just know this: Whatever the one guy was explaining to me, I could not have deciphered anyway.
4. According to the American Kennel Club, it is believed that during the Chinese plagues, the hairless Chinese crested dogs got work aboard ships hunting vermin before turning up later in European art. I don't know. I just know that by the 21st century, a certain Chinese crested would receive baths and sea salts in a whirlpool on a regular basis, as well as regular skin exfoliations, and that the same was -- and remains -- untrue of both her owner and myself.
3. Even though dog-show people tend to think other people more consumed with the dog show than other people really are, few people in the world know the word "Komondor," or that the Hungarian plural of the word is "Komondorok." But you've seen Komondoroks now and then; they're huge with hair that strongly resembles the strands on a mop. Apparently, if you own them, you might find in their hair stuff that has gone lost for a decade. So on every Saturday, a certain Komondor on Long Island would get a bath for 60-90 minutes. Then he would get dried. With six fans. And a long-nozzle dryer. And routine towel changes. For 12 hours.
2. I don't often tell people this because I don't want to alarm them, but there was a toy poodle from Kansas City who had just had a birthday party featuring vegetable trays, diet dog cookies and at least six presents. Her utterly enamored and admirably honest owner confessed that the dog owned a mink coat, plus pink sweaters with marabou trim, and while I had never in my life heard of marabou trim and had to look up even the spelling, I shall never forget where I learned about marabou trim. Her owner also had bought her a bed embroidered with the word "princess" in purple, and the toy poodle had learned to charm other dogs out of their food. But then, who wouldn't fork over their food to a princess?
1. With an unforgettableness never to be matched, a delightful guy from Maryland began telling me about how his bullmastiff would eat fine meals of meat and frozen strawberries. He assured that she would eat these with utmost safety. And he assured that she would eat with utmost safety because the owner generously revealed to me that he never fed her anything until he had tasted it first. She had her own taster.
At that point, I understood something I never imagined about "Best In Show."
It was understated.