Murrysville resident judges Westminster Kennel Club dog show
Thirty-eight years of dedication brought Mark Kennedy to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
A lifelong dog lover, Kennedy was invited to serve as one of 44 judges for the 138th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City.
“It's right up there with the Kentucky Derby and U.S. Open as far as U.S. sporting activities,” said Kennedy, 60, of Murrysville. “Westminster brings in the top judges from around the world. It's an honor to be asked to judge for them.”
The show, which ended Feb. 11, is considered to be the most famous and prestigious dog show in the country. It featured judges from Canada, Ireland and 20 states. Kennedy was one of three judges from Pennsylvania.
Kennedy has spent his life surrounded by dogs. His family raised bulldogs and, at age 24, he was approved by the American Kennel Club, or AKC, to judge the breed — making him one of the youngest judges in the club's history.
By day, Kennedy works as IT and accounting manager for the Ruskin Group in Pittsburgh. But his free time is devoted to the dogs.
As a entrant, Kennedy has “finished” more than 20 champions, and one of his bulldogs produced five champion offspring.
“Bulldogs, they're the ideal family pet,” Kennedy said. “It's a nice pet that bonds with people.”
It was his love of the breed that prompted him to become a judge. Until about five years ago, he still kept his beloved bulldogs as pets. But now, traveling for 15 to 20 dog shows each year, it becomes difficult to keep a pet.
While he began judging exclusively bulldogs, under the AKC, Kennedy is permitted to judge nonsporting dogs, five toy breeds and four sporting breeds. At Westminster, he judged the American Eskimo, the Boston terrier and the bichon frise. None of those breeds qualified for best of show — that title went to a wire fox terrier this year.
“The quality of Westminster is unsurpassed. It's dogs you don't see at a local all-breed show,” Kennedy said.
Among his favorite breeds to judge are Dalmatians, poodles and, of course, bulldogs. The dogs he judges aren't from a pet shop or a puppy mill, he said.
Judging isn't as simple as just looking at a dog and making a snap decision, Kennedy said.
“You're evaluating different types of dogs within the breed,” he said. “You're assessing its background and being able to judge what is the next best, the next best and the next best. You have to determine if it's a good representation of that breed's standard or not.”
Becoming a judge was not an easy thing, he said. His background in breeding and showing helped, but he still needed additional training.
“It takes a number of years of successful breeding of a purebred dog to make it,” Kennedy said. “It's not something you do and just automatically get accepted. It's a very strict process.
“You're taking years of experience, training and knowledge and combining them,” Kennedy said.
He hopes for another invitation to work with the Westminster show in the future.
“It's an incredible honor to be invited,” Kennedy said.“I really enjoy judging the dogs — being able to find that dog that is the best.”
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.