‘The Morning Call’ reviews book on insider look at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

South Whitehall woman’s book gives insider view of Westminster dog show

Connie Newcomb of South Whitehall and her Chihuahuas Bill, left, and RockyOn Monday morning, Connie Newcomb will be having the time of her life at one of the most prestigious sporting events in the nation — the 137th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.

At 9:15 a.m., Connie and Bill, one of her champion Chihuahuas, will prance around a show ring at Pier 92, hoping to convince judges that Bill is the best little guy of his breed.

The annual show opens Monday with best-of-breed judging, and moves Monday and Tuesday evenings to Madison Square Garden for best-of-group and best-in-show competitions.

Always an animal lover, Newcomb grew up with dogs. And as an adult, she always has opened her home to at least one canine pet, although usually several more.

More than 10 years ago, Connie, and her husband, Jim, began a tradition of spending a few days in Manhattan each February with their son, Andrew, and daughter, Margaret, to see some of the most beautiful dogs in the country compete for the ultimate title, Best in Show.

Within the last five years, Newcomb made the progression from spectator to participant, a journey she chronicles in her new book, “Dog Show Confidential: Sneaking in the Back Door of Westminster” (Bravo Publishing, $9.95, 241 pp.).

“I never expected to show a dog under the purple-and-gold banner of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show,” Newcomb says at her South Whitehall Township home, as several of her Chihuahuas warm her lap. Among them is Bill and Rocky, who won an Award of Merit at Westminster in 2010.

“Many people are fascinated by dog shows but know nothing about them; I was one of them,” she says. She hopes her book will provide an insider’s view of what it takes to learn about showing champion dogs and earning the privilege to compete at the top dog show.

Westminster is the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the country, topped only by the Kentucky Derby, which began one year earlier.

As she documents her adventures in dog handling, Newcomb also includes the history of Westminster. She gives details on what it takes to survive show-dog society, which has its own language, hierarchy and tradition.

Her book introduces you to four-legged characters that gradually worked their way into her heart and home. She now owns or co-owns eight Chihuahuas, a Japanese Chin and a mutt named Penny.

“Together, they weigh less than some dogs,” she says.

The former teacher put her career on hold more than two decades ago to raise a family. In 2008, while she was attempting to cope with empty-nest syndrome, she was intrigued when a breeder friend introduced her to the sport of handling show dogs.

That friend convinced her to walk into her first handling class that year with Broadway, a neurotic Chihuahua puppy who was such a challenge that she quickly earned the nickname “Baby Cujo.” She performed so badly that Newcomb doubted her own potential.

But as her friend gave her easier-to-train dogs to take into the show ring, she gained confidence and learned that some dogs have instant potential and others require more work.

Broadway, she says, “may have exhibited bad behavior and an inability to learn in the show ring, but she was very sweet. She just wanted to be loved.”

Newcomb gave her that love and patience. Within two years, she turned her into a champion.

She now handles four champion Chihuahuas. But she doesn’t limit her love to champions. Some of her personal brood may not have what it takes to win blue ribbons, but they make great pets.

“For me, they are all my babies. They are my pets first and show dogs second,” she says. They have full run of her home, just like any other family member.

This is Newcomb’s fourth straight year of showing one of her dogs at Westminster.

The highlight of her journey was when her Chihuahua, Rocky, won an Award of Merit at Westminster in 2010. The honor is given in breed competitions to outstanding dogs that have not been awarded best-of-breed or best-of-opposite-sex honors.

It was then that she truly knew “I was living the dream,” she says.

The most embarrassing experience: Broadway, whom she eventually renamed Kate, had to answer a call of nature during a Lehigh Valley Kennel Club show.

“She looked so pretty. I took her in the ring and she was performing beautifully. She was connecting with the judge. Then, suddenly, she just squatted,” Newcomb recalls. “I was mortified. But like magic, she still won.”

Writing her book, which is filled with colorful details and anecdotes, was easy, Newcomb says. She kept track of details by keeping a journal along the way.

“It was therapeutic to write it all down,” she says. It helped her to deal with something even tougher than empty-nest syndrome — the terminal illness and loss of her mother.

It’s in some of those details that pet owners will best appreciate the joys and challenges that come with owning a pet.

“Handing show dogs,” says Newcomb, “is a real commitment. It takes a lot of work and time.” But simply owning a dog also requires work and patience, she adds.

Newcomb wouldn’t have it any other way.

She feels the same pride she felt four years ago when she first walked through the contestant entrance at Madison Square Garden shortly after dawn with her dog and the gear she’d need to set up shop for a day.

“It’s just so exciting. There’s some kind of energy I’ve felt from the first time,” she says. “You are part of the gathering of magnificent dogs and the people who are so proud of them.”

One of the goals of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is to promote purebred dogs and to provide education about each breed. Spectators are invited to browse the benching area and ask owners or handlers questions about their breed.

Newcomb is committed to doing just that for her favorite breed, Chihuahuas.

“I love talking to the people. And I’m proud of my dog. I want to promote this breed,” she says.


•What: Connie Newcomb signs copies of “Dog Show Confidential: Sneaking in the Back Door of Westminster.”

•When: 1-3 p.m. Feb. 17.

•Where: Moravian Book Shop, 428 Main St., Bethlehem.

•How much: Copies of the book available for $9.95.

•What else: Newcomb’s book is available online at http://www.barnesandnoble.com, http://www.amazon.com and at Newcomb’s website, http://www.dogshowconfidential.com.

By Irene Kraft, Of The Morning Call
February 10, 2013

Copyright © 2013, The Morning Call

Westminster 2013
The Dog Show Blues