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Behind the Scenes – Best in Show

Crufts International Dog Show is the largest show of its kind in the world, with nearly 21,000 dogs competing for the prestigious titles over four days. CLARE O’REILLY visited the event to see just what goes on behind the scenes…

Named after its founder, Charles Cruft, a manager in a dog biscuit factory, Crufts dates back to 1891, when the first show was held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington, London, with around 2,000 dogs competing. Since then, Crufts has crowned 78 Best in Show champions from 43 breeds. The event is organised and hosted by The Kennel Club, and while it is still centred as a championship conformation show it also includes competitions such as agility, obedience, flyball and heelwork to music, as well as incorporating a trade show of canine-related goods and services. This year, 20,631 dogs took part, of which more than 3,000 came from more than 45 countries outside the UK. The show, held at the NEC in Birmingham, is spread over 25 acres in five halls with exercise areas and miles of shopping. Cocker Spaniels have won the coveted Best in Show trophy a record seven times, closely followed by Irish Setters and Welsh Terriers, which have won four times.

But it’s not all about rosettes and prizes. Crufts champions the Save the Forgotten Dog Breeds campaign, which aims to highlight breeds that are at risk of dying out. Pembroke Welsh Corgis were on the list from 2009 to 2017, when the popular television showThe Crown helped to revive interest in the breed.

Making an entrance

Registration at the NEC opens at 8am but competitors often queue from 7am. Different days of the show are for various classes of dogs, and owners are responsible for bringing all the food and water their dogs need, as well as any grooming equipment. Some owners show several dogs and come laden with trolleys and bulging suitcases.

A waiting game

Each competing dog is given its own section to get ready in; some contestants are happy to snooze off the lead while waiting for their big moment, while others are crated and covered. The sections are separated by group and breed. There are seven groups at Crufts: Hound, Gundog, Terrier, Utility, Working, Pastoral and Toy.

Tall and mighty

Carol Mackenzie runs Carsan Kennels in Lincolnshire, which breeds Great Danes and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. “Parker is only two,” says Carol proudly. “It’s his first Crufts so it’s more about the experience for him, but I’ve been coming for 40 years and have been showing here for 20.”

Centre stage

The main arena sees more than 20 different set-ups over the four days. The prestigious Best in Show final is held here, which sees the culmination of 20,631 competing dogs from some 220 breeds narrowed down to just one winner. The main arena also shows agility, heelwork to music, police dog demonstrations, flyball, gundog displays, rescue dog agility, RAF dog displays, search-and-rescue dog displays and obedience.

A poodle with panache

Daniela Forshaw and her Poodle Venice are ambassadors for Pet Teezer dog-grooming brushes. “Venice is six and this is her first Crufts,” says Daniela. “I’ve got another white Poodle, called Milan, but he’s at home today. There are so many different cuts and styles you can give dogs, especially Poodles. I’ve opted to give Venice a bit of a dishevelled Miami trim today.”

Ring master

As stewards for Ring 8 – one of 35 rings at the show – Graham Lambert and Sue Hann help the dogs to get into the ring and assist the judge when needed. Sue herself breeds and shows Japanese Chins but explains that lots of competitors volunteer to steward for other breeds over the four days of the show. “We have to make sure all the dogs are in the right ring at the right time,” she explains. “There are two stewards per ring so lots of volunteers are needed.”

Expert in action

A committee chooses the 246 judges needed each year, who have hundreds of years of breeding and judging experience in total. They are split into around 30 per group for the different breeds. Here, ring steward Robert Potts observes the Rough (Collie) class, which is being judged by Mr J Catliff.

Ribbon craft

The family-run Birdbrook Rosettes, started by Charles Allen in 1973, has made the rosettes for every award at Crufts for 40 years. Charles now runs the business with stepdaughter Moira Christie. “I’ve been coming here since I was little,” says Moira. “It’s one of the best days of the year. It’s grown so much since the early days and is one of the highlights of any dog lover’s calendar.”

Well groomed

The Young Kennel Club Groomer of the Year award is always hotly contested and was won by Morgan Taite- Shoosmith, 11, from Herne Bay in Kent. “I do shows all year round but to come here and win is the icing on the cake. I have loved every minute – plus I get time off school to compete!” Morgan’s well groomed partner is Havannah, a Standard Poodle. “She is always brilliant in the ring when she’s competing. For both of us Crufts is just an amazing experience.”

At the ready

Professor Richard Bedford is an ophthalmologist and Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Ophthalmology at London University. He and a team of vets volunteer to cover the show with annual health checks for some breeders and are on hand should any accidental injuries need to be dealt with. “With this many dogs there can be little scuffles,” he says.

Not forgotten

The Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service has been helping bereaved pet owners for 25 years. This year, the animal charity made a Remembrance Tree for Crufts, encouraging owners to write a note to pets who’d passed on to tie to the tree. Celebrities such as Clare Balding made time to stop by and put up their own personal notes. The charity, which was founded 120 years ago, also gave out forget- me-not seeds to plant for loved pets in return.

Third time lucky?

Bernard Carty travelled down from Scotland with Merlin, 8, for their third show. Wearing the Mackenzie tartan, Bernard pats Merlin. “We haven’t won anything as yet but we’re here for the experience. As long as he enjoys his day, I don’t expect anything else. The standard for St Bernards is always high so just to qualify is an achievement.”

Getting to know you

The Discover Dogs zone lets potential owners view hundreds of different breeds and speak to owners about temperaments, exercise needs and size. Sharon Cragg and Mark Green are volunteers from The Briard Association and have brought along Ruby and Roo for potential Briard owners to come along and meet.

“Briards are such a wonderful breed,” says Sharon. “They’re very intelligent and incredibly loyal.”

Prize-winning pooch

Beldones Blue Echo – Echo, as he’s known to owner Brian Hawkins and his wife, Odile – is a Rough Collie that landed the Reserve Dog Challenge Certificate, which is given to the dog that comes third. “He was a year old yesterday so it’s a great present,” adds Odile.

Dog collars

Katharine Harding-Jones is the UK’s only supplier of Red Dog collars – an Australian brand made from nylon webbing with stainless steel so they don’t degrade. She owns and runs Dapper Pets, the busiest stall of the whole show. “I’ve been coming to Crufts for 14 years,” she says. “The atmosphere and people are always amazing. The days are long – from 7am to 7pm – and we sell in the hundreds every day.”

Photos Richard Stanton, Blue Cross, The Kennel Club

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