‘Pinch me’: For this dog-show photographer a dream comes true at iconic Westminster

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Text and photos by Jason Mullett-Bowlsby
Westminster Photo Essay-9
My plane touched down at JFK at 5:09 p.m. I can say this with certainty because I sent two texts home moments after landing: “I can’t believe I’m doing this” and “Really… I’m in NYC shooting at Westminster.”

It all seemed a little surreal to me. Just one year ago I was photographing local shows in the Pacific Northwest like the Seattle Kennel Club Dog Show when I had been asked by Ranny Green if I would be interested in taking shots at the 2014 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Would I?

The remainder of the year was spent studying my craft, applying for press credentials, saving a little cash for this trip. Finally, here I am checking into the Hotel Pennsylvania, across the street from Madison Square Garden. Pinch me!

My excitement continued to grow while I checked into my hotel in the shadow of the Empire State Building aglow in the Westminster Kennel Club colors of purple and gold. Westminster Photo Essay-4It grew while I roamed through the art-deco lobby filled with tired-looking travelers taking their dogs for a walk in the cold, brightly lit, New York night. It grew as I lay in my bed that first night overpowering my need for sleep and causing me to go over my checklist in my head for the 10th time. Unbelievably, I finally drifted off for a few hours and the excitement woke me with a jolt. In no time I was on the shuttle from my hotel to the piers. This was actually happening!

My first morning in New York was spent on the spacious Piers 92 and 94 photographing the breed judging. It took me a few minutes to catch my footing – mainly because I was too busy trying to absorb every detail of the spectacle that surrounded me – but after I had a few breeds under my belt, I was able to get into a groove and this show felt as normal as others I’d shot. Albeit a lot more crowded. And with a LOT more ground to cover … my dogs were gonna be barking tonight (see what I did there?).

Westminster Photo Essay-18Just when I thought I was finally going to give in to the exhaustion of running up and down the piers all day, evening fell and that now familiar thrilling buzz of excitement grabbed me again. It was time to go to The Garden.

Before I could turn around twice, I was whisked away on another “enthusiastic” New York shuttle ride. A quick visit to my hotel to off load the day’s photos, an even quicker jaunt across the street and suddenly I found myself standing on the floor at the iconic Garden. I was really doing this… photographing one of the greatest sporting events in the world.

Another text message home: “I’m standing on the floor of Madison Square Garden… can’t believe it’s happening.” Even before the crowds showed up, in the empty event center where workers were setting up microphones and vacuumed carpets, I could tell it wasn’t just me that was feeling this buzz. You could feel electricity in the air. Collage2Something wonderful was about to happen; something I’d viewed on a glowing box in the safety of my home time and time again since I was a child. But this time I was a live witness to the splendor. This time I was part of it! Reality was just sinking in when I heard the announcer call out “May I have the hound group, please” and a blonde Afghan came running in directly at me from across the arena. I took a deep breath, lifted my camera and …