It is my first time at Crufts and I am sitting in the dimly lit Resorts World Arena at Birmingham NEC waiting for the opening ceremony to begin. According to the announcer, Crufts 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 to see 28,000 dogs compete 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 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 await 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.

Just past the rings sit rows and rows of good boys and girls, each row 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 stand proud on metal tables while gently being trimmed by finely groomed women. Weimaraners accompany 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 looking to see which dog I can pet without messing up its coat.

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.”

Shot for The Guardian, 2019.

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