January 16, 2014 in Nation/World

Westminster agility event to let mixed-breed dogs shine

Jennifer Peltz Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Callia, a standard poodle, demonstrates her mastery of an agility test during a news conference in New York on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

NEW YORK – Long the province of the purebred, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show is opening a doggie door this year to mixed-breed competitors.

While Labradoodles, puggles and who-knows-whats won’t be able to vie for the prestigious Best in Show award, they’ll be included in its new agility trial.

It’s a notable embrace for the nation’s premier canine event, which also is adding three breeds at next month’s show: the Chinook, the Portuguese podengo pequeno and the rat terrier. No mixed-breed dogs have appeared anywhere at Westminster since the 138-year-old event’s early days, organizers said at a news conference Wednesday.

But this year, Alfie the apparently-part-poodle, part-terrier will be among the dogs weaving around poles, walking up a plank and springing over jumps on the agility course.

Alfie’s background isn’t rarefied. Owner Irene Palmerini spotted him in a mall pet store, marked down to $99. She wasn’t planning to get a dog, but she felt for the curly-haired, black-and-white puppy and took him home to Toms River, N.J.

He proved to have more energy than even 4-mile daily walks could absorb, and agility training provided an outlet. About seven years later, Palmerini is thrilled that Alfie will be among the mixed breeds – or “all-American” dogs in Westminster parlance – going up against purebred competitors at the elite event.

The pros and cons of pedigreed and mixed-breed animals have long been a sensitive subject in dogdom; animal rights activists have protested Westminster itself. They see dog breeding as an unhealthy exercise in genetic engineering and say it’s insensitive to breed dogs while others languish in shelters. Purebred enthusiasts, meanwhile, consider breeding a way to develop and preserve different traits and help people select a compatible pet.

Westminster leaders say the show is a celebration of all dogs, and they’re pleased to make a place for mixed-breeds in a fast-growing canine pursuit.

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