Westminster Judge Vets Ears, Tails, Testicles to Pick Best Dog: Interview

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Photographer: Vicki Holloway/Westminster Kennel Club via Bloomberg

Cindy Vogels, the Best in Show judge at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Vogels, publisher of Sommelier Journal, began showing dogs competitively in the late 1960s.

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Photographer: Vicki Holloway/Westminster Kennel Club via Bloomberg

Cindy Vogels, the Best in Show judge at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Vogels, publisher of Sommelier Journal, began showing dogs competitively in the late 1960s. Close

Cindy Vogels, the Best in Show judge at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Vogels, publisher of Sommelier Journal,... Read More

Photographer: Philip Boroff/Bloomberg

Oscar, a top-ranked Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, poses in the lobby of the apartment building where he lives with his owner, David Moskowitz, in New York. Of the Westminster Kennel Club's 2,000 entrants, Oscar is among those who live closest to Madison Square Garden, the site of the show. Close

Oscar, a top-ranked Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, poses in the lobby of the apartment building where he lives with his... Read More

Photographer: Jeffrey Hanlin/Linda Moore via Bloomberg

Beckham, a black cocker spaniel, at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando. Beckham is co-owned by Linda Moore, a trial lawyer with K&L Gates in Dallas. The spaniel was the top-ranked purebred dog in 2011, according to the American Kennel Club. Close

Beckham, a black cocker spaniel, at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando. Beckham is co-owned by Linda... Read More

Photographer: Philip Boroff/Bloomberg

David Fitzpatrick, the handler and co-owner of Palacegarden Malachy, a pekingese and named number two dog in the nation. Malachy was one of seven finalists at the Westminster Kennel Club show a year ago. Close

David Fitzpatrick, the handler and co-owner of Palacegarden Malachy, a pekingese and named number two dog in the... Read More

Photographer: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Handler Angela Lloyd and Scottish deerhound Foxcliffe Hickory Wind standing for photographs after winning Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York last year. Close

Handler Angela Lloyd and Scottish deerhound Foxcliffe Hickory Wind standing for photographs after winning Best in... Read More

Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

Cesky Terrier Katrina. The Cesky Terrier is one of the six new breeds introduced in 2012. Close

Cesky Terrier Katrina. The Cesky Terrier is one of the six new breeds introduced in 2012.

Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

American English Coonhound Game Changer. The American English Coonhound is one of the six new breeds introduced in 2012. Close

American English Coonhound Game Changer. The American English Coonhound is one of the six new breeds introduced in 2012.

Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

The new dog breeds introduced by the Westminster Kennel Club in 2012 with their owners. From left, Norwegian Lundehund Eowyn with Harvey Sanderson; Cesky Terrier Katrina with Loren Marino; American English Coonhound Game Changer with Richard Moore; Xoloitzcuintli Alma Duce with Jose Barrera; Finnish Lapphund Myles with Barbara Kennedy; and Entlebucher Mountain Dog Hoss with Paula Lacker. Close

The new dog breeds introduced by the Westminster Kennel Club in 2012 with their owners. From left, Norwegian... Read More

The fate of 2,000 pampered purebreds gathered in New York this week ultimately rests in the hands, eyes and sensibility of Cindy Vogels.

Shortly before 11 p.m. tomorrow at Madison Square Garden (MSG), Vogels is scheduled to select the best in show from seven finalists at the Westminster Kennel Club pageant. The 136th annual spectacle is billed as the most prestigious canine competition in the U.S., as well as the second-longest continuously held sporting event after the Kentucky Derby.

“I don’t think of it as power,” said handler David Fitzpatrick, as he arrived from Pennsylvania on Thursday with Palacegarden Malachy, a Pekingese ranked No. 2 in American Kennel Club competition last year. “That’s a big responsibility.”

From her home last week in a Denver, Colorado, suburb, Greenwood Village, the 60-year-old Vogels described her task as difficult.

“There is no right answer,” she said of her choice. “It will be my answer.”

Greyhounds and Terriers

The daughter of a Long Island, New York, orthodontist, she grew up with a beloved poodle. Next for the family was a soft- coated wheaten terrier, a native Irish farm dog. As the breed was rare, she was encouraged to show it competitively.

“The bug bit,” she said.

Vogels went on to breed terriers, as well as Brittanys, greyhounds and Pekingese. (Her mother, Jackie Gottlieb, is also a breeder. To avoid the perception of a conflict of interest, Vogels curtailed dog breeding when she began judging in the 1990s, she said.)

Her pack of six dogs today -- she and her husband, David, show and raise horses on their 15-acre farm -- consists of three greyhounds, two Pekingese and a Japanese Chin. Nationwide, she’s judged terriers, toy dogs and sporting breeds, which include retrievers and spaniels.

“You can be harder on the breeds you know the most about,” she said.

For the three rounds at Westminster, the job of judges is to assess how a dog stacks up to a written description of the breed’s ideal specimen in appearance, movement, temperament and physical traits, such as height and weight.

“So many of the dogs, I will have judged or seen before,” said Vogels. “We all have our likes and dislikes. The job is to be kind and objective and judge with integrity.”

Pooch Perfection

How does one decide among seven perfect and distinct specimens? “They’re not all going to be perfect,” she said. “They’re not all going to perform as well on the night.”

As finalists are culled from 2,000 entrants, Vogels will be “sequestered” for most of the two-day show. Tonight, she plans to watch a DVD with her 18-month-old granddaughter to avoid the coverage on cable television.

Once she arrives at the Garden tomorrow evening at about 10 p.m. she’ll have a few minutes to study the standards of the final seven, if necessary.

“Ours is an open-book test,” she said.

What’s it like giving those intimate exams in the ring?

“Are you asking if I have my 10 favorite sets of testicles?” Vogels asked with a laugh. “We go over every inch of the dog. You’re looking for the essence of the breed.”

Surprise Winners

It isn’t easy handicapping Westminster. Last year’s winner, a Scottish deerhound named Hickory, wasn’t in the top-10-ranked dogs prior to the show. Two years earlier, a Sussex Spaniel named Stump ambled out of retirement to win.

In 2011, the two most winning dogs were a black cocker spaniel nicknamed Beckham and the Pekingese Malachy. Both made it to the final seven at Westminster last year. The top 10 also included two standard poodles, one co-owned by Martin Sosnoff, a New York money manager.

There are about 17 standard poodles registered. Toy poodles, with a dozen this year, have had the most dramatic increase, growing 15 percent annually since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Six new breeds are making an appearance, including Xoloitzcuintlis, or Mexican hairless dogs, and Finnish Lapphunds.

Describing her cherished sport as “graying,” Vogels said she’s eager to promote it, as well as the dog-related charities with which she’s involved. Once an “old-boys sporting club,” Westminster has grown more inclusive, she said.

Outsiders still associate this world with the Christopher Guest-directed 2000 comedy “Best in Show.” Vogels said she didn’t initially find its caricatures funny.

“It strikes a little close to home,” she said. “By the time I had seen it a third time, I could laugh.”

(With assistance from Jennifer Prince. Philip Boroff is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Philip Boroff in New York at pboroff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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