Sniffing Behind the Scenes of the Westminster Dog Show - Atlas Obscura

Sniffing Behind the Scenes of the Westminster Dog Show

Up close and personal with prize-winning dogs and their groomers.

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A groomer applies hairspray to a competitor. (All Photos: Cait Oppermann)

The dog, a German shorthaired pointer with a white and brown coat, stands tall next to his proud owner.

Nearby, in large purple letters against a yellow background, are the words “BEST IN SHOW.” This is CJ, and he is the winner of the hotly contested 2016 Westminster Dog Show

Approximately 2,800 dogs participate in this annual competition of breeding, training and grooming. The costs of preparing a dog for the event can run up to $100,000, so perhaps unsurprisingly, photographer Cait Oppermann found the backstage atmosphere frantic. “The whole place is constantly bustling with energy in the competition areas as well as the designated grooming areas,” she writes in an email. “That’s what I loved about the show in its entirety. It was high energy through every minute.”

For Oppenmann, it was a dream assignment. After being asked to cover the show for a friend, she found she enjoyed it so much she spent as much time there as she could. Her photos are testament to the amount of effort (and hair spray) it takes to get the dogs green-carpet ready. “The dogs respond to the grooming aspect better than I imagine most humans would. This is so such a big part of their lives that they sit patiently until they’re ready to go.”

For the groomers, who crouch face-to-face to perfect every hair of their four-legged subject, and the handlers, who will enter the ring next to their primped pooch, the social aspects are limited. “For the most part, the groomers and handlers kept pretty focused leading up to competition,” she says. It was only afterward, she notes, that groomers, handlers, owners and canines would mingle.

For Rivals week, Atlas Obscura has a selection of Oppenmann’s behind the scenes photos.