For most of America, the Super Bowl was played last week in Atlanta.
For Christine Erickson, it’s this week in New York.
The Mesa resident is in the Big Apple to judge the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the top prize in the dog-judging trade. After decades of showing and judging dogs, Erickson is making her second trip to Westminster as a judge, but it’ll be her first on the big stage in front of a national TV audience.
To the 69-year-old retired HR manager, it’s a dream come true.
“We all work toward this as judges,” Erickson said. “It’s very prestigious. We basically work our whole careers to get to this.”
Now in its 143rd year, Westminster is still the top dog in the showing circuit. It’s the oldest organization dedicated to the sport of purebred dogs in the U.S.
The competition, today through Tuesday, will include 204 breeds and varieties of dogs who are competing in Best of Breed judging at Piers 92 and 94. The best of about 3,000 dogs who are entered from around the world will then advance to Tuesday night’s big event, which is the portion viewed by most Americans who watch dog shows.
“It is the Super Bowl of dog shows,” Erickson said. “It’s held at Madison Square Garden. It’s our highlight of the season. It’s like the Academy Awards.”
Erickson is among seven judges who will oversee the Terrier Group. She’s also been approved to evaluate the Junior Showmanship and Best in Show categories.
She was picked as a qualifying judge in 2014, but she didn’t make any of the TV coverage. This time around, however, she’ll be helping pick the four best in each terrier group.
Fox Sports 1, NatGeo Wild and Fox Sports Go are providing live television coverage and streaming of preliminary events during the day today through Tuesday. The Best of Show portion will air live at 5:30 p.m. (Arizona time) Tuesday on Fox Sports 1.
Erickson said she doesn’t even know how she was picked, other than her great standing in the judging community.
“I have a reputation for being a terrier specialist, shall we say,” said Erickson, who once owned a kennel in California that included 18 terriers. “And because I’ve been judging for a while and I do a good job, apparently a lot of people have taken note.”
It’s probably because dog show judging is in the family blood. Erickson’s parents, Fred and Margaret, were once Westminster Kennel Club judges, and they also specialized in terriers after years of showing Bedlington terriers in Burbank, California.
“To say I was born and raised in the kennel is unfortunately true,” Erickson said with a laugh. “I know it sounds bad.”
Erickson’s own career in dog shows started in the mid-1970s when she began showing and breeding soft-coated wheaten terriers. That was just the first in a series of breeds she has owned and exhibited over the decades.
That list includes Australian terriers, Bedlington terriers, cairn terriers, smooth fox terriers, silky terriers, Welsh terriers and wirehaired dachshunds.
In 2010 and 2011, her miniature wire dachshund won the variety category in back-to-back years at Westminster, her first experience with the prestigious club.
By that time, Erickson had already transitioned into judging. In 2002, she wrapped up a 30-year career as a human resources director for AT&T in California and relocated to Arizona to be closer to her son and grandchildren.
Erickson said her long work hours had delayed the start of her judging career, but once she began, it took off. Erickson began her climb to the top of the dog judging trade with stops that included the Montgomery County Kennel Club, Morris & Essex Kennel Club and the Dachshund Club of America’s National Specialty.
She’s also put in her time serving on the Great Western Terrier Association’s Board of Directors.
Erickson said she plans to keep judging as long as she can physically keep up with the demands of frequent standing and regular traveling.
In addition to the Westminster trip, Erickson has four or five other judging gigs in the works. Right after returning from New York, she’ll be judging a show in Baltimore before attending one at the Beverly Hills Kennel Club and another one in Texas.
“I’m going to leave it up to health,” she said. “Each year I look at my situation with my feet and legs and physical condition. I’m hoping to go another five or six more years.”
When she’s not on the road, she works in Mesa as a client specialist at Talbots Women’s Apparel and as a real estate sales consultant. She owns a pair of dogs, but she’s not allowed to have breeds that she judges.
“When you go from owning and breeding and showing to judging, that’s when you have to give up the other half of you,” Erickson said. “There are certain rules. The AKC pretty much governs us and we have judges judging protocols that have to be in place.”
That’s OK with Erickson, who said she is honored to be picked in the first place. And as she arrives in New York to take the stage at Madison Square Garden, she thinks of her parents.
“I’m sure they’re looking down on me proudly,” Erickson said.