The purebred dog world lost three of its finest goodwill ambassadors recently when a trio of past Westminster winners died within weeks of each other. The legacy left by the Bichon Frise, ‘JR,’ Ch. Special Times Just Right; the Colored Bull Terrier, ‘Rufus,’ Ch. Rocky Top’s Sundance Kid; and the Sussex Spaniel, ‘Stump,’ Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, is the celebration of the abundance of joy dogs bring to our lives, and the importance of one show’s contribution to promoting the message.

Since the early days of dog shows in America, fewer than 100 individual purebreds have been awarded Best in Show at New York’s famed Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Every year beginning in 1907, a single exhibit has been selected to reign as the nation’s most celebrated show dog. One charismatic canine – and its breed – is catapulted into the spotlight by a single performance that impresses the judge and electrifies the crowd on one night inside the world’s most famous sporting arena.

A victory at Madison Square Garden remains the crown jewel on the American show scene. It is the goal of every breeder, owner and handler to win at this show with a truly outstanding dog. Few have realized the dream, although some have done so more than once – occasionally with the same dog. One, in fact, a Smooth Fox Terrier, captured the top prize for three consecutive years at the turn of the last century. Now, more than 100 years after this inimitable accomplishment, fanciers still remember the name Ch. Warren Remedy as Westminster’s only triple winner.

Of course, a single Garden victory is enough to get you into the record books. For JR, Rufus and Stump, the win has secured their immortality. Their names now appear alongside legends such as the Cocker Spaniel Ch. My Own Brucie, the Afghan Hound Ch. Shirkhan of Grandeur and the German Shepherd Dog Ch. Covy Tucker Hills Manhattan. Each of these extraordinary purebreds came to New York in February to compete and each remained the only unbeaten dog at the end of the day.

Ch. Special Times Just Right

Bichon Frise ‘JR,’ Ch. Special Times Just Right, was Best in Show at Westminster in 2001, handled by Scott Sommer for owners Cecilia Ruggles and breeder/owners Eleanor McDonald and Flavio Werneck. Also pictured, standing from left, WKC President Chester F. Collier, judge Dorothy M. Macdonald and show chairman Ronald H. Menaker. Photo by John Ashbey.

Ch. Special Times Just Right demonstrated his breed’s typically cheerful attitude when judge Dorothy Macdonald selected the white powder puff as her 2001 Westminster Best in Show winner. As handler Scott Sommer lifted the sport’s newest celebrity into his arms, JR showed his appreciation by waving his paws unforgettably for the cameras. The 3-year-old dog, owned by Cecilia Ruggles and his breeders, Eleanor McDonald and Brazilian Flavio Werneck, did more to promote purebred dogs that night than any show committee could have hoped.

The top dog all-breeds for 2000, JR’s total win record includes 101 Best in Shows, the 2001 inaugural AKC/Eukanuba National Championship and the Bichon Frise National Specialty. Like many retired champions, JR worked on behalf of purebred dogs through charities and therapy dog programs. He was later joined by Scott’s other Westminster winner, the Sussex Spaniel Stump, in what must surely have been the only household where two Westminster winners could simultaneously lay their heads to rest.

JR made a contribution to the breed as a sire as well. Even before reaching top dog status he had champion offspring. After retiring from the show ring he became the top Bichon sire in both 2002 and 2003. All in all he sired more than 60 champions.

Ch. Rocky Top’s Sundance Kid

Colored Bull Terrier Ch. Rocky Top’s Sundance Kid was Best in Show at the 2006 Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Owned by Barbara and Tom Bishop, Dorothy Cherry, Norma Shepherd, and William F and Rebecca P. Poole, ‘Rufus’ was bred by the Pooles and Robert S. Long, and handled by Kathy Kirk. Also pictured, standing from left, judge James G. Reynolds, show chairman Thomas H. Bradley III and WKC president Peter R. Van Brunt. Photo by John Ashbey.

The Colored Bull Terrier, Ch. Rocky Top’s Sundance Kid, is the only dog of his variety with a Westminster win to his credit. The handsome 5-year old, known as Rufus, was fresh from a victory at the National Dog Show, hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, when he was selected by Canadian all-rounder James G. Reynolds as Best in Show in 2006. Kathy Kirk handled the Terrier to the win for owners Barbara and Tom Bishop, Dorothy Cherry, Norma Shepherd and William F. Poole and Rebecca P. Poole. Robert S. Long and the Pooles bred the dashing red dog. The Pooles also represented the Terrier Group for AKC’s 2005 Breeder of the Year.

Rufus was the product of an international pedigree. His sire, World Int. German Dk. Ch. Einstein The Joker, bred and owned in Germany by Cathie and Rudi Dettmar, became the youngest World Champion in Bull Terrier history at the World Dog Show in Belgium in 1995. He sired 30 champions, and his very last litter, by frozen semen and whelped in the U.S., earned him the Bull Terrier Club of America Raymond Oppenheimer Stud Dog Trophy for 2002 as the top sire in America for the year. Einstein The Joker’s sire, German Ch. Merlin von der Alten Veste, was a very significant sire in Europe. Rufus’s dam, Am. Ch. Rocky Tops Ulster Annie, was of quality English and American breeding.

Rufus’ win record of 35 Best in Shows and 128 Group Firsts includes the 2005 edition of the Morris and Essex Kennel Club show, as well as the 2005 National Dog Show. Not content with his record-breaking all-breed awards, the winningest Colored Bull Terrier of all-time also won his breed’s National Specialty on three separate occasions.

While spending his retirement with the Bishops, Rufus became a certified therapy dog, providing comfort to those in need. He also was a fixture at Meet the Breeds events where his big Bully personality endeared him – and his breed – to everyone. Perhaps most importantly, he, like his sire, won the BTCA Raymond Oppenheimer Stud Dog Trophy in 2006 and 2007. Also like his sire, Rufus contributed to breeding programs around the world.

Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee

Sussex Spaniel Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee was the 2009 Westminster Best in Show winner, owned by Cecilia Ruggles, Beth Dowd and Scott Sommer. ‘Stump’ was bred by Douglas Horn, Douglas Johnson and Dee Duffy, and handled by Sommer. Also pictured, standing from left, WKC president Peter R. Van Brunt, judge Sari Brewster Tietjen, chief steward Sean W. McCarthy and show chairman Thomas H. Bradley III. Photo by John Ashbey.

The top Sporting dog of 2004 was Sussex Spaniel. Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, known to his friends as Stump. Prior to beginning his career in the specials ring, Stump finished his championship at American Spaniel Club under Sporting dog authority Mary Ann Alston and won the National Specialty under Dr. Donald Sturz.

The golden liver dog with the silky ears and stumpy legs is also the only representative of his breed to go Best at the Garden. The 10-year-old dog set a new record when Sari Brewster Tietjen called him to the center of her Best in Show ring. Handled by his co-owner Scott Sommer for Cecilia Ruggles and Beth Dowd, Stump became Westminster’s oldest winner with his 2009 victory.

Bred by Douglas Horn, Douglas Johnson and Dee Duffy, Stump is but one of the exceptional dogs bred at the world-renowned Clussexx kennels of Clumber, Sussex and Welsh Springer Spaniels. In 1996, another dog bred by Doug Johnson also walked away with a Westminster win. Clumber Spaniel ‘Brady,’ Ch. Clussexx Country Sunrise, was handled by Jane Alston Myers to Best in Show for owners Judith and Richard Zaleski under judge Roy Holloway. Doug Johnson also represented the Sporting Group for the 2005 AKC Breeder of the Year.

The pedigrees of Stump’s sire, Ch. Three D Genghis Khan, and his dam, Ch. Clussexx Sprinkled With Dew, trace back to two of the oldest Sussex Spaniel kennels in the United States, Lexxfield and Ziyadah, both founded in the 1970s using stock imported from England.

Stump was a two-time Garden Group winner. Five years before his Westminster BIS victory, he won the Sporting Group for the first time. He was retired then with 50 Best in Shows to become a goodwill ambassador for purebred dogs. A last-minute decision to enter the veteran again in 2009 allowed him to triumph with his 51st and final victory.

Only a win at Westminster delivers on the promise of lasting fame. The show’s significance within the purebred dog world and in the popular culture cannot be overstated, as the lasting memory of these unforgettable winners attests.