As I attend to the last minute details for my trip to New York for next week’s Westminster Kennel Club show, I started reminiscing about some of the recent shows. What I find interesting is how different segments of the dog world view the show. I tend to get lost in statistics, in number of Bests In Show or dogs defeated, others are focused on the breed competitions and count breed points and the number of specialty wins, but the pet owner sees the show the way children see Disneyworld, a kind of Hollywood fantasy. No recent show matches that perception like 2009. Here’s the way I reported it.
It was a Hollywood ending, a Rocky IV for the dog world. The beloved veteran, who everyone thought had his best days behind him, bounces back from a life threatening illness, and wins the biggest victory of life. But it wasn’t Hollywood and it wasn’t Sylvester Stallone.
It was the 133rd annual show of the Westminster Kennel Club and it was the Sussex Spaniel, CH Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, better known as “Stump”. The ten year old dog had retired from the show ring five years prior, after a serious illness nearly cost him his life. Since then he had been content to play the role of the beloved family pet.
But owner/handler Scott Sommer and co-owners Cecilia Ruggles & Beth Dowd thought that Stump deserved one last chance at the dog show world’s biggest prize, the Westminster Dog Show. Rocky only had to get by Apollo Creed, but Stump had to get past six dogs in the Breed, 27 dogs in the Sporting Group, and six of the best dogs in the world in Judge Sari Brewster Tietjen’s Best In Show Ring.
Those six dogs had amassed a total of 200 Best In Show titles among themselves in 2008 and Stump had not been in the ring in five years. The six other finalists were the Scottish Deerhound, CH Gayleward’s Tiger Woods, the Giant Schnauzer, CH Galilee’s Pure Of Spirit, the Scottish Terrier, CH Roundtown Mercedes Of Maryscot, the Standard Poodle, CH Randenn Tristar Affirmation, the Brussels Griffon, CH Cilleine Masquerade, and the Puli, CH Cordmaker Field Of Dreams.
The Final Ring at Westminster is as formal an affair as the sport of dogs has. Judge Tietjen wore an evening ensemble of an embroidered jacket over a long skirt. The show committee all wore black tie. Even most of the dogs dressed formal. The Scottie, Giant, Poodle, and Puli all wore black. The Deerhound opted for dress grey. Only the Brussels, who hails from Missouri, wore a brown tweed. Stump, with his short stature, shuffling gait, and golden liver uniform, stood out like a pair of brown shoes.
But as the camera panned in to show a national audience the soulful eyes of the Sussex, we saw a faint smile from Judge Tietjen and like the great heavyweight prizefight that it is, it was up to the Judge to announce the winner, the 2009 Westminster Best in Show dog, the veteran Sussex Spaniel, Stump, the oldest Best In Show Winner In Westminster history. Hollywood couldn’t have written a better story. And that’s today’s Back Story.