Gail Miller Bisher is the director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club.
Bisher has been a media professional for many years and has had life-long involvement in canine sport, getting her start in the sport in Junior Showmanship, where she once won second place at Westminster. She is an AKC-licensed conformation judge and a Canine Good Citizen evaluator.
"As the new ‘face' of the Westminster Kennel Club, I look forward to continuing a legacy of quality and prestige while increasing our brand’s presence and audience size," she said.
"It’s an honor to return to the Westminster in this capacity. It’s an exciting time of transition for this historic organization and I plan to do as any dog handler does: access, improve where needed, and practice teamwork. I believe in the leadership’s vision and I’m eager to start executing it."
To learn more, visit the Westminster Kennel Club website.
In 1876, the members of the Westminster Club, then primarily a shooting organization, commissioned one of its early officials, George deForest Grant, to send to England for a Pointer which the members could use for breeding purposes.
He received a photograph of a dog named Don which had won his bench championship in England, through show triumphs at Shifnal, Oswestry, Birmingham, Swansea and Llanelly in 1875, and at Newport and Carmarthen in 1876. Impressed with the pictures of the dog as much as with his show record, the members arranged to import him under the name of “Sensation,” Volume IV of the English Kennel Club Stud Book listing him as “Sensation (formerly Don).”
Brought to this country, “Sensation” was promptly registered in the name of the Westminster Kennel Club in Volume I of the stud book of the National American Kennel Club, which subsequently became the American Kennel Club. His entry in that book as Number 1261 shows that he gained his American championship with victories at Baltimore in 1876 and at St. Louis, Boston and Baltimore in 1879. His show career, however, was limited since the primary object in his importation was to strengthen the breeding stock of the club’s members.
A handsome lemon and white dog, with a fine head and especially good body, “Sensation” did much for Pointer breeders in this country. Several artists did pictures of him and one of the head studies appeared on the Westminster catalog in 1878, the second all-breed show given by the club. Except for a gap between 1896 and 1903, “Sensation’s” head appeared on all subsequent catalogues of the Westminster Show through 1935.
In 1935, a steel engraving of “Sensation” was discovered in the collection of prints, engravings and paintings of the well-known sportsman, Harry D. Kirkover, of Camden, South Carolina and New York. He loaned the picture to the Westminster Club to permit its reproduction.
The engraving, by artist J. Wellstood, showed the whole dog, with a light lemon patch on its side, frozen in point. The artist had caught the magnificently bodied dog in marvelous detail. The muscles and even the veins of the legs stood out.
This became the new emblem of the club and appeared on the cover of the show catalog from 1936 through 1979. From 1980-1982, a head study of Sensation was selected once again for the cover, but in 1983 a foil embossed version of the full body engraving appeared on the cover and has been there ever since.
In 1877, New York was well on its way to becoming the world’s greatest city. This was the year that a group of sporting gentlemen decided that this would be a good time to hold a dog show in Manhattan. It didn’t take long before the Westminster Kennel Club, following the lead of its home town, would be on its way to becoming the world’s greatest dog show.
With its spectacular beginnings and extraordinary growth in the years to follow, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was quickly reflecting the growth and success of New York City. As the dog show grew every year, so did the Westminster Kennel Club’s position as the symbol of the purebred dog, with its influence being felt in show rings everywhere, and eventually in millions of television homes across the country. Westminster has become America’s Dog Show.
“Westminster gets its name from a long gone hotel in Manhattan. There, sporting gentlemen used to meet in the bar to drink and lie about their shooting accomplishments. Eventually they formed a club and bought a training area and kennel. They kept their dogs there and hired a trainer.
“They couldn’t agree on the name for their new club. But finally someone suggested that they name it after their favorite bar. The idea was unanimously selected, we imagine, with the hoisting of a dozen drinking arms.”
– Maxwell Riddle, from a newspaper story quoted in “The Dog Show, 125 Years of Westminster” by William Stifel
It was at one of those meetings that the members decided that they would stage a dog show so that they could compare their dogs in a setting away from the field. The First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs, given under the auspices of the Westminster Kennel Club, was staged in 1877 at Gilmore’s Garden (the forerunner of Madison Square Garden) in New York City, drawing an entry of 1,201 dogs.
The show was such a hit that it was extended to four days from its originally-scheduled three, and drew this coverage from “Forest and Stream” magazine:
“To say that the dog show held in the city last week was a success would but poorly convey an idea of what the result really was. It was a magnificent triumph for the dogs and for the projectors of the show. We question if on any previous occasion has there ever assembled in this city such a number of people at one time, and representing as much of the culture, wealth and fashion of the town.”
To fully grasp the place in history of the Westminster Kennel Club and its famed annual dog show at Madison Square Garden, consider this:
Westminster pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, and the zipper; the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Washington Monument; and manned air flight and the establishment of the World Series. Since Westminster held its first show 127 years ago, there have been 26 men elected president and 12 states have joined the union.
The dog show has outlasted three previous versions of Madison Square Garden, and is currently being staged in MSG IV. It is one of only four events to be held in all four “Gardens.”
The dog show has survived power outages, snowstorms, a national depression, two World Wars and a tugboat strike that threatened to shut down the city, in the process becoming the second longest continuously held sporting event in the country. Only the Kentucky Derby has been staged longer – but by just one year.
Westminster even pre-dates the establishment of the governing body of the sport, the American Kennel Club, by seven years. In fact, in 1877, members of Westminster and members of the Kennel Club of Philadelphia had together adopted a set of show rules and regulations and established a Board of Appeals to oversee these rules. This was the precursor of the American Kennel Club, which was finally created in 1884.
As one might imagine, the history of the club and its show is rich and colorful.
In the early Westminster years, some interesting names showed up in the catalogs. In the first show, there were two Staghounds listed as being from the late General George Custer’s pack, and two Deerhounds that had been bred by the Queen of England. In 1889, the Czar of Russia is listed as the breeder of a Siberian Wolfhound entered, and the following year, one of the entries is a Russian Wolfhound whose listed owner was the Emperor of Germany.
Philanthropist J. P. Morgan made the first of his many appearances at Westminster with his Collies in 1893. Famous American journalist Nelly Bly entered her Maltese at Westminster in 1894, some four years after she made a record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes, racing the record of Phineas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.
The most-coveted award in the dog show world, Best In Show at Westminster, was given for the first time in 1907. That year, and for the next two years as well, it went to a Smooth Fox Terrier bitch named Ch. Warren Remedy. She remains the only dog ever to win three times.
Six other dogs have won Best In Show twice, the most recent being the English Springer Spaniel, Ch. Chinoe’s Adamant James in 1971 and 1972.