Long the province of the purebred, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show is finally 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 one of the world's premier canine events, which is also 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 US event's early days, organisers said at a news conference on Wednesday.
But this year, Alfie, 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 US$99.
She wasn't planning to get a dog, but she felt for the curly-haired, black-and-white puppy and brought him home to Toms River in the state of New Jersey.
He proved to have more energy than even 6.5-kilometre daily walks could absorb, and the agility training provided him with a good outlet.
"I didn't breed this dog to do agility. He's just my pet," Palmerini said. "[Agility] is just about performance. It doesn't matter what your dog looks like. It doesn't matter who their mother or father was."
The pros and cons of pedigree and mixed-breed animals have long been a sensitive subject in dogdom; indeed, animal-rights activists have protested over 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 dogs' 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.
"We're very excited about the fact that Westminster can play a leadership role in embracing, really, the sport of dogs," purebred or not, said Westminster president Sean McCarthy.
While mixed breeds may now have a nose under the tent, Westminster's main event will still be selecting the Best in Show dog on February 11 from more than 2,800 entrants in 187 American Kennel Club-recognised breeds and varieties. They include 76 Labrador retrievers, 58 golden retrievers and 52 French bulldogs, but also robust entries from some lesser-seen breeds.
One of the newcomers is the Portuguese podengo pequeno, which is a compact rabbit hunter.