NEW YORK - This old dog taught Westminster a new trick.
At 10, a Sussex spaniel called Stump became the oldest best in show winner at America’s top canine competition, coming out of retirement last week and taking the big prize Tuesday night.
“He hasn’t slowed down a bit,” expert handler Scott Sommer said. “I thought it would be fun.”
A nearly full crowd at Madison Square Garden cheered loudly when judge Sari Tietjen pointed to the new champion at the Westminster Kennel Club. Perhaps the fans knew Stump’s backstory — he left the show ring in 2004 and later nearly died from a mysterious medical condition. The vets at Texas A&M saved him.
“It was miraculous,” Sommer said.
Then again, maybe folks just liked rooting for the old guy. In human years, he’s almost 70!
Sommer said Sussex spaniels can live to be 15. Never before had a dog from this breed won the show. The previous oldest winner was an 8-year-old Papillon in 1999.
With floppy ears and a slow gait, the golden-red Stump beat out a sparkling final field. Sommer guided him past a giant schnauzer that was the nation’s top show dog, a favored Brussels griffon, a Scottish deerhound named Tiger Woods, a standard poodle with 94 best in show wins, a Scottish terrier and a puli.
After he won, Stump showed off his one trick: He got up on his hinds, as if he was begging. He didn’t have to, he was already No. 1.
Nearly 2,500 dogs were entered at Westminster. Last year’s champion, a beagle named Uno, was perhaps the most popular winner ever.
But with a bounce in his step, Stump is sure to win over plenty of people while he reigns for a year and gets extra playtime with his green Grinch toy.
Stump won the sporting group at Westminster in 2004, then went into retirement. Soon after, he nearly wasted away and spent 19 days in a pet hospital.
“It was very traumatic,” Sommer said.
Once he recovered, Stump mostly spent his days hanging out with Sommer, living a dog’s life. That was more than fine with Sommer. He’d handled a great Bichon Frise called J.R. to the best in show at Westminster in 2001, and wasn’t looking for Stump to try again.
Besides, Stump had two sons to take care of, named Root and Forest.
Then five days before this show, Sommer thought Stump might enjoy one last walk on the green carpet at the Garden. And what a walk it was — his 51st best in show victory overall.
Stump began by winning the best of breed, then took best in group.
“Can you believe that?” said New York Yankees president Randy Levine, a regular at this event.
There was more in store, too. Stump lives with J.R. at Sommer’s home in Houston, and may’ve gotten some advice.
“J.R. must’ve told him this morning, ’Keep up the family name,”’ Sommer said.
This was the 133rd edition of Westminster and the dogs came in 170 breeds and varieties. Among them was Domino.
Asleep in his crate, Domino looked like the most peaceful, innocent pooch on the planet.
Ha! Just wait, handler Paul Clas cackled.
These Portuguese water dogs can cause all sorts of mischief, he said. And if President Barack Obama really does decide make one the First Dog, look out.
“They’ll bring comedy to the White House. Interesting things would happen,” Clas said earlier Tuesday. “I think it would be hilarious.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“Obama may not take bribes, but his Portuguese water dog would,” Clas said.
Clas wouldn’t mind having one as a neighbor — he lives in Thurmont, Md., near the presidential retreat of Camp David.
Obama said his family had narrowed the choices to a “Porti” or a Labradoodle, a designer mix of a Labrador retriever and a poodle.
The president has said he is ready to begin visiting shelters with wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia. A main consideration is a dog that is hypoallergenic.
“I like to see them pick the Portuguese water dog. They’re a proven breed for many years,” Clas said.
Portis are medium sized, weighing 50 or 60 pounds. They can be black, brown, white or a mix, with either a wavy or curly coat of hair, not fur. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., owns them.
Westminster spokesman David Frei, in his 20th year as television host for the show, said the Obamas are doing a good job in taking their time.
“It’s an important decision. Whichever dog he picks will probably be with him longer than anyone in his Cabinet,” Frei said.
Westminster Dog Show scenes
Take a visual tour of the preparations and competition for the 133rd annual Westminster Dog Show.
Take a look at some past Best in Show winners at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.