For California Journey, the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was the culmination of an expensive career.
The German shorthaired pointer, known as CJ, trotted away with "best in show," the competition's top honor. But in some ways, CJ's career may be just beginning, given the second stage of many Westminster champions as parents to litters of prized -- and pricey -- puppies.
The purebred dog industry has become so expensive that some would-be champions begin their lives not with one family, but backed by several owners who pool their financial assets to provide the best grooming, training and care for the dog. Westminster's 2014 winner, a Fox Terrier named Sky, is owned by Brazilian businessman Victor Manzoni Jr. and California retail-chain owner Torie Steele. After Sky's win, Steele told the Malibu Times that it was time for the dog "to retire and have puppies."
Puppies of Westminster champions could cost as much as $25,000 each for a popular breed, Investment News reports, citing Southwest Auction Service, the country's biggest legal dog auction. Pups from less popular breeds may still fetch a fair sum, including $8,000 to $10,000 for a toy poodle, the auction service said.
The sale of purebred puppies is big business, although champion breeders distance themselves from so-called puppy mills, or commercial breeding outfits that the International Fund for Animal Welfare warns leads to quantity of breeding over quality. More than 733,000 puppies were for sale on a typical day across nine websites, with costs ranging from as low as $1 to thousands, with the group linking about two-thirds of the ads to puppy mills.
For purebred owners, the show circuit not only provides a place for their dogs to strut their stuff, but also helps encourage consumer interest in dog breeds. The American Kennel Club noted in a 2013 publication that its events "have a positive impact on your business no matter what kind of breeder you are."
Competitions "create preference and demand for purebreds, no matter where the consumer chooses to buy their purebred dog," the organization said.
Westminster didn't return a request for comment. But a 2012 court case lifted the veil on the economic potential of owning a prize-winning dog. Two owners of champion Standard Poodles were awarded $200,000 when their dogs' frozen semen was accidentally thawed and destroyed.
"I explained to the jury that this has been my life for 40 years," one of the owners told Best in Show Daily about her breeding program. "A lot of love and passion went into it, and this is something we can never get back."