You've heard the expression, "going to the dogs," yes? Well, thanks to the ingenuity of one local woman, that's exactly what happens to a ballroom inside the Hotel Pennsylvania every year during the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.
Judy Davis has an extensive service-oriented background; she spent more than 30 years as a special events coordinator for charities and for more than 40 years, she's been actively involved in raising and breeding champion Samoyeds.
In 1988, she was bitten by a dog that had been hit by a car and left for dead on the side of the road. She and two other good Samaritans tried to help the animal, but it bit her in its distress. The dog later died and was determined to be rabid. Judy's health suffered greatly and she was unable to function at her previous activity levels.
Not to be deterred, Judy kept herself as busy as possible with her dogs, shows, and her animal-specific grooming products company, 1st In-Line (www.1stinline.com). In 1994, colleagues called upon her vast organizational background and invited her to New York City to help coordinate an event for the Westminster Kennel Club judges. It was then that the seeds of her ingenious idea were born.
Unarguably the most widely known dog show in the world, the Westminster Kennel Club competition is held at Madison Square Garden. This happens to be directly across the street from the Hotel Pennsylvania. Consequently, many dogs and their handlers stay at the famed hotel during the event each winter. During her visit, Judy noticed that despite the huge numbers of dogs in attendance for the show, there was no facility or designated area for dogs to use as a bathroom. Handlers cleaned up after their dogs went on the street, and the hotel washed down the front building and sidewalks each night. This was a precarious situation at best, especially during the height of winter.
After ruminating over this issue for several years, Davis approached the general manager of the Hotel Pennsylvania with an idea: she would rent a space in the hotel and establish an inside facility for the dogs. The hotel was receptive to the idea and in 1999, Davis opened an exercise area that had been cleared of furniture, coated in thick plastic sheeting, and strewn with wood shavings. It was an instant hit.
Two years and two shows later, popular demand outgrew the small space, and Davis rented out a ballroom on the ground floor of the hotel. The extra room has provided an opportunity to expand services over the years: walls have been torn down to form a grooming area that houses tables, hairdryers, etc.; the old kitchen in the ballroom was gutted to provide additional functional and storage space; and the exercise area was divided into boy/girl sections, complete with fire hydrants and photos of champion females on the boys' side and ficus trees and photos of champion males on the girls' side. In 2005, Davis brought in treadmills and a psychic who catered to pets. A massage therapist was added in 2006, and the facility was renamed the Green Room Salon and Spa.
It takes a team of volunteers about six hours to set up the area on the Sunday prior to the event. Materials used include 200 feet of 10X20 rolls of double layer plastic sheeting, 13 rolls of Gorilla duct tape (donated by the company), 100 bales of wood shavings, split rail fencing, and 10,000 pet waste bags.
The moniker of this year's facility is Green Room Salon, Spa and Canine Gym, and it will have some new features. In addition to the exercise area and bathing and grooming sections, Dog Tread treadmills will be on hand with remote-controlled units, Fit PAWS USA will feature canine fitness and rehabilitation equipment, and Gait4Dog will demonstrate their pressure-sensitive treadmill technology which helps determine and assess gait data in dogs.
In the hallway outside the ballroom, you'll find the Paw Mall, featuring quality, high-end vendors that specialize in custom creations for all things canine. Vendors selling braided leather leashes, personalized gold jewelry, and bronze sculptures line the walls next to portrait photographers, artists, and craftspeople that make shadow boxes and acrylic stands for award rosettes.
It's all part of the evolving, grand design in Davis' head - that well-honed service aspect catering to dogs and her love of them, along with her dedication to educating people about dogs and their care. Davis has been a fixture at many national level dog shows, and one can easily visualize her orchestrating all of this activity at once and having a grand time doing it.
Davis says her doggy spa and exercise area has been featured on CNN, Bryant Gumbel, and Entertainment Tonight. In 2005, her idea garnered more attention when a travel network awarded the facility third place in their program titled, "The 10 Most Unique Bathrooms in the World." In 2010, The Wall Street Journal ran a feature about her and her multi-award-winning Samoyed, Champion Yukon Please Charge It (who goes by Visa).
This year, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will take place Feb. 11-12. More than 3,200 dogs will compete. Due to renovation issues, judging will take place at Piers 92/94; Best of Breed and Group awards will be presented at Madison Square Garden. For more information, log on to www.westminsterkennelclub.org.