Veiled cages, lots of combing, and no barking – what really goes on at the world’s most prestigious pooch show?
Crufts has outgrown all its previous homes, and is now held at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. In five vast halls laid with lurid carpets, smelling of dog and hairspray – two smells I will never again untangle – the best dog in Britain waits. He may be on a lead, or standing on a table, or evacuating on a pile of sawdust surrounded by iron bars and security guards. The press office is full of dog journalists, who are kindly and stare at dogs professionally, and see things I don’t. A German shepherd sits behind the press desk. “He’s having a rest,” says a human.
Crufts is not really for dogs, even if there are 21,000 here – invited after victory at lesser dog shows. Dogs take what comes. They blow with the wind. Instead, Crufts is for humans, and it speaks to their infinite ways of consoling and amusing themselves. I have a dog now myself. He is called Virgil (Thunderbird, not Roman poet) and I bought him from a man I met in Carphone Warehouse. He may be part jack russell and part dachshund or – my fantasy – rottweiler. I don’t know, but it is soothing to live with a creature who thinks I am a god; a child who will never grow up. At Crufts, Virgil is eligible only for Scruffts, the tactlessly named consolation prize for crossbreeds. But Virgil has made me curious about dog shows. How obsessed can you be with dogs and stay sane?
Behind the ring, the contestants wait with their dogs in a circle of chairs that resembles an AA meeting
I ask the judge for feedback. “He had the correct wedge-shaped head,” she says