Donald Sturrs, the judge of this year’s Best in Show, has been isolated in his hotel room for the past few days and has isolated himself without any news of which dog has ever won any prize in any competition.
“No Facebook, nothing,” Sturrs, 60, said on the phone. “I stay away from social media. I posted a picture of myself and my husband at the judges’ dinner on Sunday night, and then I quietly went to the radio.
His idea is that when he enters the ring tonight, he will be free from preconceptions.
“Part of the dream of this judging task is that you get off the ground and you have no idea who the seven dogs are coming in,” Sturrs said.
To excel in show judging requires specific and distinct skills. Dogs do not compete with each other, but are determined by how closely they adhere to certain breed standards set by the American Kennel Club.
“It comes down to the dog being the most virtuous as described for their breed,” Sturrs said. “They have to convey the essence of their race to the character and the character and the cart.”
With 209 different breeds of dogs competing in the show, Sturrs should be familiar with the standards of all breeds. So, he often looked in books and magazines and endless pictures of dogs online and confirmed in his head the template of each breed and a kind of platonic ideal.
Regular people who watch dog shows often root for their favorite dogs – stylized Golden Retriever, for example, elegant Afghan hunting dogs or goofy sheep – without realizing that those qualities need not be considered as winning virtues in the judge’s eyes.
“Some species give themselves to a show environment,” Sturrs said. “They are very active, bright, more stylish and have more presence. But what we are looking for is to inform the breed.
In real life, Sturrs is the overseer of the Fence Stream 24 school district on Long Island. But he has been a dog activist all his life, he has been attending dog shows for 50 years and has judged 32 of them, including Westminster. This is the first time he has presented an award for Best Performance.
As he speaks, Sturrs still does not know that one of the dogs in the finals is a French Bulldog – so it may be a personal choice because he has a dog named Emmet at home. (He has a Bull Terrier, Lola.)
But he promised that whatever he faced, he would judge as a neutral spectator, without fear or prejudice.
“Dogs are works of art,” he said. “I like all races.”
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