Throw open the doors at Madison Square Garden during Westminster, and prepare to be overwhelmed. The many thousands of dogs competing in the event are everywhere-tucked into every corner, all being primped and preened, sprayed and brushed by their doting owners in preparation for the big event. But beneath all of that hairspray and grooming, every dog competing has his own unique story. From a puppy nearly escaping death in his formative years who went on to become an ‘iron-willed champion,’ to a gentle-eyed dog who sits by her owner’s side every week as she endures her chemotherapy treatments, to a therapy dog who regularly visits the children’s ward at a hospital, lifting the mood and helping the sick and injured forget their troubles for time.
“I believe in dogs that aren’t just a pretty face,” says Deborah Wood, author of Top Dogs, Making it to Westminster, a book that gives a behind the scenes look at the event. Although perceived by some as a canine beauty contest, Wood contends that Westminster also serves as a celebration of dogs that have helped man by performing crucial services in society. One such dog, Hubert, illustrates this perfectly.
He’s officially titled ‘Duel Champion Cheza’s Michael Magic Birddog UDX MH NA’, but this top dog prefers that you just call him Hubert. He has the athleticism of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird put together. Jeffrey Drogin, Hubert’s owner, recalls the day that Hubert became Hubert—after his wife shouted at a NY Knicks game to Hubert Davis, taking a potentially game changing foul shot in the final seconds of the game, “If you make this, I’ll name my next dog after you!” The rest is history.
Hubert has taken almost as many titles as his namesakes have MVPs, in part because Drogin got him involved in activities so early in his life. Amazingly Hubert excelled in each of them, and stunned everyone when he earned the title of “field champion,” not bad for a dog raised in a Manhattan apartment. However, it is the magic he has worked with people that really set him apart from the crowd, as demonstrated by an anecdotal account of Hubert’s power of persuasion.
Drogin and Hubert volunteer at the Rockland County Psychiatric Hospital in New York. Hubert is certified by the Delta Society as a therapy dog and had been visiting the hospital as part of the program. One day, says Drogin, the dog reached out to someone who was in special need; an in-patient who had not spoken or communicated with anyone in a long time. He took it upon himself to engage this particular patient in a communicative activity. After giving all of the other patients a chance to play with him, Hubert devoted his full attention to the one person who remained uninterested. He repeatedly placed his toy on the man’s lap, who would, in response, make a slight gesture to knock it off onto the floor dismissing Hubert’s game. Finally, though, Hubert’s persistence paid off, and the man hurled the ball across the room for the dog to chase and return. The doctors had never seen the man respond like this before. Purportedly, Hubert had broken down a wall that the doctors had been trying to tear down for a long time. Other dogs may have gone on to find someone who would readily play with them, and there were plenty of people who wanted to, but Hubert saw his task as something different-that he would play with the people rather than the other way around. He was performing a service.
With all of the accomplished dogs in Madison Square Garden during Westminster, Hubert’s story is just one of many. So when you see these dogs being carried in to the competition by their owners, their feet protected from sidewalk sludge, and their coats shiny and coiffed, remember to look them in the eye. Underneath all of that pomp and circumstance, for many of these dogs is the drive and discipline to help man. And it is that which makes a champion.
TOP DOGS: MAKING IT TO WESTMINSTER by Deborah Wood.
Copyright (c) 2002 by Deborah Wood. Published by Howell Book House.