It is my first time at Crufts and I am sat in the dimly lit Worlds Resort Arena, waiting for the opening ceremony to begin. According to the announcer, it has been declared the biggest dog show in the world by officials from Guinness World Records. Roughly 160,000 people walk through its doors each year, where 28,000 dogs compete at Crufts over the course of four long days.
I am lost as I walk through the expansive corridors of the NEC – the scale of the show is immense; spread throughout five huge festival halls. Slightly overwhelmed, I pick one at random and am instantly met by a flurry of people handing out freebies and shouting about their sponsors. Attendees climb in and out of showroom Jeeps, sizing up the boot by the length of their dogs. Others pose with their pooches in front of paparazzi-style sponsor boards while photographers print out their free keyring.
Carpark fair games line one walkway where a a young boy rocking on his camping chair lazily attempts to entice people in; “five quid to win a dog toy.”
Breaking through the sea of adverts I catch a glimpse of the familiar green flooring that marks out the rings. Humans and hounds line the edges. Small dogs rest on the laps of blanketed women and big dogs occupy the gaps beneath the chairs – trying their best to steal a moment’s snooze. On the green the fashion is that of a ballroom, sequin dresses, tuxedos, and one or two who could easily pass as magicians. Each one bent at the hip, gently moving their dogs’ limbs into position as they wait their turn to be judged.
I bump into the broadcaster Marc Abraham, aka Marc The Vet. Since the first time we met I have been following the progress he has been making with Lucy’s Law, the campaign to ban the sale of puppies in pet shops and by other third-party commercial dealers.
This huge pyrenean mountain dog is called Boris; named after Boris Johnson. He is here for the breeders’ competition. His owner, Susan Reilly, emailed Johnson and the former foreign secretary said they should meet. Susan says her Boris is much better looking than the MP and that he has more followers. Faith, right, is Boris’s sister, another pyrenean mountain dog.
Just past the rings sit rows and rows of good boys and girls, each housing a specific breed that look the spitting image of each other. I would not be surprised if some handlers have accidentally taken the wrong dog home in the past.
Cocker spaniels stood proud on metal tables, while gently being trimmed by finely groomed women. Weimaraners accompanied middle-aged men, wrapped in North Face jackets, sipping tea from a thermos. Golden retrievers are swarmed by picnicking families – as parents read the Crufts’ guide and their children share a Nintendo Switch. I pace up and down each one looking to see which dog I can pet without messing up its coat.
An owner and his dog rest on each other between competitions. This woman, right, leads a demo on how to cut the hair of toy dogs.
The competition halls are split into rows and rows of stalls, each one dividing up the breeds on show. Weimaraner, left, peeks out from its space.
I met this couple as I headed into the arena for the first time. They were sat at the end of a hallway, tucking into a late lunch.
Lottie, left, is an eight-year-old bearded collie. The dog has competed every year without much luck. I found Lottie cuddled in the corner with Antonia Leech from Milton Keynes. Bearded collies are now on Britain’s vulnerable breeds list. Next to Lottie and Antonia were two more bearded collies, right, but without their owner.
Moments before this photo was taken a dog out of frame became startled by something and started barking. This man consoled his dog after it woke up with a shock.
I check my schedule to discover the opening ceremony is about to start so I take up my seat in the press area and wait. “Welcome to the world’s greatest dog show! Now, please stand for the national anthem.”