By day, Mary Miller of Lexington works at Mill Ridge Farm handling paperwork for breeding expensive Thoroughbred mares to even pricier stallions.
But it’s her hobby that’s landed her in the bright lights: Miller judges dog shows.
And this year she will judge the most prestigious one of all: the 142nd Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.
On Monday night, when the announcer calls, “May we have the non-sporting group in the ring, please?” Miller will be the one waiting there to judge the group, which includes everything from the fluffy bichon frise and the beefy bulldog to the showy standard poodles to the meme-worthy shiba inu.
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Miller’s group goes third, taking the floor about 9:30 p.m.
Each of the 20 or so dogs will get about two minutes of Miller’s time but she’s spent years getting ready for this
Her love of dogs began with Fritz, her first Dalmatian. “I was 13. I wanted an Appaloosa but got a Dalmatian,” she said. “So I got the spots but with less work.”
She worked her way through the junior showmanship ranks, then at age 18 began judging shows, eventually writing a book on junior showmanship. Two years ago, Miller was invited to judge several of the best-in-breed competitions at the Westminster, including the Dalmatians, French bulldogs, shiba inus and lhasa apsos.
Now she’s been invited to judge the entire non-sporting group and half of the hounds.
“It’s the big show,” Miller said. “Fox Sports has picked it and it will be live streamed.”
Is she nervous?
“Very! You’ve got to be right there,” she said. “Anything can happen … and you’ve got to try to keep your composure.”
There’s more to the group judging than the breeds. Each dog has already been selected as the best representative of its individual breed but then out of each group the judge is looking for the one that best typifies that breed.
Judges do get a little zing when they see a dog that has special charisma, Miller said. But, that dog has to follow through by showing well on that night, she added. And sometimes that doesn’t happen.
“Sometimes they fall apart on the walk,” she said.
There definitely are crowd favorites, she said, with personality that shines in each stride.
She will be ready for her closeups; last summer she went shopping.
“I got nice black evening dress, and I had to find someone in New York to do my makeup and hair,” Miller said. “The camera’s on.”
Those cameras sometimes throw the dogs, even those that are used to big crowds and bright lights.
“Lots of time in these situations, the cameras spook these dogs … you can see it that they’re not quite as happy as they should be,” she said. “This is the ultimate show for these people.”