Pekingese becomes America's top dog at Westminster
NEW YORK—The crowd at Madison Square Garden grew louder with every tiny step Malachy took, and he sure took a lot of them just to get halfway around the dog show ring.
That was perfect for this Pekingese. Gave him more time to soak in the cheers and look around the stands at his adoring fans Tuesday night.
Moments later, the Peke whose smushed-in face frames a mop of flyaway fur and whose pace rivals a snail's, became America's top dog by winning best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club.
This little stump of a dog beat out the likes of a Dalmatian, German shepherd, Doberman pinscher, Irish setter, a Kerry blue terrier and wire-haired dachshund. A 4-year-old pompom, Malachy wobbled to his 115th overall best in show title.
"He saved all his energy for the ring today," handler David Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick gave his 11-pound champ a bit of a boost -- he carried him onto the green carpet for the final lineup, shortening his long walk. Malachy's pink tongue popped out from his black face, his eyes sparkling like black diamonds.
"No other dog moves like this," Fitzpatrick said. It's true, as a Pekingese is supposed to move with a "slow and dignified" gait.
Malachy chilled out after his win, resting his silver and white coat on a cool pack. He had plenty of time to get ready, having won the toy group Monday night.
"I kept him quiet all day," Fitzpatrick said.
More than 2,000 purebred dogs in 185 breeds and varieties competed in the nation's most prestigious pooch parade. When it came down to a best of seven, Malachy was the last to enter the darkened ring.
Judge Cindy Vogels studied them before making her pick. The No. 2 show dog in the country came close last February after taking the toy group here.
"Super dog, and he had a stupendous night," she said. "There's a lot of dog in a small package."
The champion at Westminster wins a coveted silver bowl, but not a cent. Instead, the honor of this title lasts a lifetime for any owner, and brings a wealth of opportunity in breeding potential.
This was the fourth time a Peke won at Westminster, and the first since 1990. Fitzpatrick, who co-owns Malachy with Iris Love and Sandra Middlebrooks, said the cute pompom was likely headed back to East Berlin, Pa., for a life in retirement.
"He'll probably chase squirrels and he'll be pampered," Fitzpatrick said.
Right before the champion was picked, two PETA members were stopped by security as they tried to reach the center ring, drawing boos from the crowd. A few years ago, two protesters from PETA disrupted the presentation.
Several top choices lost out early as underdogs ruled the breed judging.
A black cocker spaniel called Beckham who was the nation's No. 1 show dog and a wire fox terrier named Eira picked by many to win proved once again it takes more than a great reputation to own this carpet.
It was, however, a really big day for a Tibetan mastiff, and even more so for his owners.
Major won his breed, a nice start for Debbie Parsons and Brad Slayton. A few hours later, the co-owners from the Seattle area made it a special Valentine's Day -- they got married in the backstage benching area where hundreds of dogs are housed.
With dogs brushing by, people climbing on crates to get a better view and the total crush of the crowd, it made for a somewhat chaotic scene. Cherilyn Frei, a chaplain and director of family support for Ronald McDonald House in New York and the wife of Westminster television host David Frei, performed the 5-minute ceremony.
The 54-year-old Parsons wore a pale pink Vera Wang gown and the 58-year-old Slayton donned a silver tux, with each sporting accents of Westminster purple. The 120-pound Major stood right between them, giving away the bride, and they kissed him to celebrate.
"This dog brought us together," Slayton said. "Today," he added, choking up, "I bought a Valentine's Day card for my wife, not my girlfriend."