NEW YORK (Reuters) - Beauty pageants may be relics of a bygone era, but the canine counterpart is more popular than ever, as evidenced by the sellout crowds who packed Madison Square Garden on Monday for the first day of the Westminster Kennel Club's annual dog show.
Aging dogs rubbed muzzles with puppies, dog lovers cheered their favorites, fathers went up against offspring and three breeds made their premier appearances at the 134th prestigious competition.
With about 2,500 dogs representing 173 different breeds and varieties, the WKC show has become the nation's top dog event, thanks in part to its nationwide final-night telecast in recent years on USA Network. The final night of the two-day competition will be shown on Tuesday.
As a U.S. sporting event, the WKC show ranks only behind the Kentucky Derby in longevity.
This year's oldest entrant is a 12 1/2-year-old Shiba Inu called Mr. Miyagi, from Rockaway, New Jersey. Like many competitors, Mr. Miyagi's owner insists he is primarily a family dog.
She cited the dog's role in easing the transition for the couple's newly adopted child, who had never seen a dog or a stuffed animal. Mr. Miyagi kept away from the little girl's high chair when she cried, only inching closer when she was quiet. It didn't take long before the toddler was feeding the dog portions of her dinner, Alyssa Goldman said.
Sutter, a frisky 10-month-old miniature bull terrier from Petaluma, California, is the show's youngest competitor.
Owner Giselle Simonds said Sutter is known to leap onto end tables and pose, perhaps inspired by the popular 2006 best-in-show winner Rufus, the first bull terrier to take the top prize.
Three breeds will be competing for the first time at Westminster -- the Irish red-and-white setter, the Norwegian buhund and the Pyrenean shepherd.
Dog handler Lisa Donnelly, who guided Lola to the winner's circle in the show's first competition for the buhund breed, said she was glad to be part of history.
The secret of Lola's victory? "She sat, and she doesn't normally do that," Donnelly said with a laugh.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst