Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Sussex spaniel named best in show
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."
The 10-year-old Stump became the oldest best in show winner.
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.
Nearly 2,500 dogs were entered at Westminster. Last year's
champion, a beagle named Uno, was perhaps the most popular winner
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.
"He really is retired this time," Sommer said.
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
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
"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 to 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
Pacifying this active breed -- among the two the Obamas are
considering -- isn't always easy, even with a big yard and a big
staff. It sometimes takes an extra treat.
"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
"It's an important decision. Whichever dog he picks will
probably be with him longer than anyone in his Cabinet," Frei