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Archive for Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sussex spaniel oldest winner of dog show at 10

February 11, 2009

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Handler Scott Sommer and his Sussex spaniel Stump wait for their turn in the ring during the Sporting Group competition, which Stump won, during the 133rd annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday in New York. Stump was named best in show.

Handler Scott Sommer and his Sussex spaniel Stump wait for their turn in the ring during the Sporting Group competition, which Stump won, during the 133rd annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday in New York. Stump was named best in show.

— 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.”

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 were begging. He didn’t have to — he was already No. 1.

Nearly 2,500 dogs were entered at Westminster. Last year’s champion, a beagle named Uno, was perhaps the most popular winner ever.

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 Forest.

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.

This was the 133rd edition of Westminster and the dogs came in 170 breeds and varieties.

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