Joe the Affenpinscher. (Photo courtesy STAN HONDA, AFP)
Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK - When Joe the Affenpinscher won the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night, his handler Ernesto Lara raised him high towards the rafters as if to say, "We did it!"
The uncommon dog with a familiar name proved that he was no regular Joe by becoming the first of his breed to win Best in Show at Madison Square Garden.
The 5-year-old Affenpinscher's full name is Banana Joe V Tani Kazari, but his handlers just call him Joe.
The Affenpinscher is known for its monkey-like face but human-like qualities. "They have a comical seriousness about them," Lara said. "He doesn't think he's funny. He doesn't know his size or know that he has a pushed-in face. He thinks he's Mr. America."
And after winning the most prestigious dog show of all, Joe's right. He was in demand the moment he won the famed silver cup. The morning talk shows clamored for an appearance and a Broadway show even asked Joe to do a cameo.
But America won't get to fete their top dog for too long. Westminster is Joe's last show. After his victory tour, he's headed home to Holland, where he spent his first three years with owner Mieke Cooijmans.
For the last three years, Joe has slept in Lara's bed and has been his constant companion at his Bowmansville, Penn., home. Saying goodbye won't be easy.
But at least, Joe will go out on top after beating six other contenders for Best in Show. "He's won big shows but none like this one," Lara said as he held Joe in his arms. Joe looked calm and confident as if it was just another day at the office. "I'm not bragging but that's just the way he is," he said.
For the first time since 1925, Westminster named a Reserve Best in Show winner, a runner-up of sorts. That honor went to the dog who was the most unexpected of the seven finalists.
Only 20 months old, Swagger the Old English Sheepdog entered the competition as a "class dog," a dog who isn't an AKC champion yet but has won a major. Due to a recent rule change, class dogs became eligible for Westminster for the first time since 1991.
"When you come with a class dog, you're just happy to be seen," said owner-breeder-handler Colton Johnson. "To win the (herding) group is astonishing."
The Johnson family, which has been involved with the breed for 35 years, is also a bit of an anomaly in a sport where many of the top dogs are bankrolled by owners wealthy enough to support major advertising campaigns.
Johnson's parents, Doug and Michaelanne, the 2006 American Kennel Club Breeders of the Year, run two kennels in Colorado Springs where they board, train and groom show dogs and pets. All five of their children work at the kennels either as groomers, trainers, handlers or in the office.
Swagger lives with Colton Johnson, his wife and their three children, ages 5, 3, and 5 months. Outside the show ring Swagger is a typical family pet. He sleeps on the kids' beds and doesn't mind when they drape themselves across his 90-pound body and play hide-n-seek in his fluff. "I find fruit snacks in his hair all the time," Johnson said.
A German wirehaired pointer named Oakley, the No. 1 ranked dog last year, won the sporting group Tuesday. With a salt-and-pepper coat, brown ears, scruffy eyebrows and a shaggy beard, Oakley became the first dog of his breed to win the group.
A Portuguese water dog named Matisse took the working group, upsetting a Doberman named Fifi. With his curly black coat and hindquarters trimmed to resemble a lion, Matisse looks like a fancier version of the First Dog, Bo. (No relation.) While President Obama delivered the "State of the Union," Bo's breed also commanded the spotlight in a different but equally political arena.
"I hope the 'State of the Union' goes as well as he did tonight," said owner Milan Lint.
In the Terrier group, the No. 2 ranked dog, a wire fox terrier known as Sky, was hoping to win the triple crown after winning the prestigious AKC/Eukanuba national championship and the National Dog Show. But Sky was upset by a smooth fox terrier named Adam known for being two-faced. Literally, half his head is black and the other white, divided right in the middle.
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