NEW YORK — When the nation's foremost dog show added an event open to mixed breeds, owners cheered that everydogs were finally having their day. They see the Westminster Kennel Club's new agility competition, which will allow mutts at the elite event for the first time since the 1800s, as a singular chance to showcase what unpedigreed dogs can do.
"It's great that people see that, 'Wow, this is a really talented mixed breed that didn't come from a fancy breeder,' " said Stacey Campbell, a San Francisco dog trainer heading to Westminster with Roo!, a high-energy husky mix she adopted from an animal shelter.
Roo! will be one of about 225 agility dogs whizzing through tunnels, around poles and over jumps before the Westminster crowd Saturday. And, if she makes it to the championship, on national TV.
Animal-rights advocates call the development a good step, though it isn't ending their long-standing criticism that the show champions a myopic view of man's best friend.
Westminster's focus is still on the nearly 190 breeds — three of them newly eligible — that get to compete toward the best-in-show trophy; more than 90 percent of the agility competitors are purebreds, too. But Westminster representatives have made a point of noting the new opening for mixed breeds, or "all-American dogs."
"It allows us to really stand behind what we say about Westminster being the show for all the dogs in our lives" while enhancing the 138-year-old event with a growing, fun-to-watch sport, said David Frei, the show's longtime TV host.
Over the years, mixed-breed enthusiasts have nosed around for recognition for their pets. A 36-year-old group called the Mixed Breed Dog Clubs of America awards titles in various sports and has even had best-in-show-style competitions, where dogs were judged on their overall look, movement and demeanor, said president Kitty Norwood of Redwood, Calif.
Some dog organizations have allowed mixes to compete in obedience, agility and other sports for years, and the prominent American Kennel Club — the governing body for Westminster and other events — followed suit in 2009. It has since enrolled some 208,000 mixes and dogs from non-recognized breeds as eligible competitors.
The Westminster Kennel Club Annual Dog Show will take place Monday and Tuesday. Watch it live from 8 to 11 p.m. Monday on CNBC and from 8 to 11 p.m. Tuesday on USA. Best in Show is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The agility competition will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday on Fox Sports 1.