Blog Posts by Holly Bailey, Yahoo News

  • Meet the dogs of Westminster: Rufus the Sussex spaniel

    Rufus, a Sussex spaniel, at Westminster (Holly Bailey/Yahoo News)Rufus, a Sussex spaniel, at Westminster (Holly Bailey/Yahoo News)

    One in a series on show dogs and their owners.

    NEW YORK—Mary Jo Marsh remembers the first time Rufus, her mahogany-colored, silky Sussex Spaniel, performed what she affectionately called his “hula dance.”

    “I was making dinner, and I turned around and he was standing on his hind legs, his paws in the air,” Marsh said. “I had never seen anything like it—”

    As she spoke, Rufus, who'd been sitting on his hind legs on the cold concrete floor at Pier 92—home of the day judging for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show—began the actual dance. His chest went in the air, and he began moving his front legs up and down in a swimming motion that looked like a cross between a doggy hula girl and a canine take on Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance. As people stopped to ooh and ahh over Rufus’s talent, Marsh grinned.

    “If only hula dancing could win shows,” she said with a laugh.

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  • Malachy, Westminster’s 2012 winner, transitions to a ‘nice, quiet life’

    Malachy at Westminster in 2012 (Michael Nagle/Getty Images)Malachy at Westminster in 2012 (Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

    NEW YORK—If the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is viewed as a beauty pageant for dogs, Malachy, the fluffy Pekingese who won 2012’s Best in Show, is the show’s exiting "Miss" America.

    It was just one year ago that Malachy wobbled into Westminster and won the championship. Looking very much like a fur tumbleweed on a leash, the male Pekingese immediately became the dog world’s biggest celebrity. He dined at Sardi’s, visited the Empire State Building and showed up for a photo-op at the New York Stock Exchange, where he was lifted in the air during the opening bell as if he were a fur sacrifice to the finance gods. Donald Trump even tried to buy him—telling his owner/handler David Fitzpatrick that he admired the dog's hair.

    Last week, Malachy returned to New York to make one last appearance at Westminster, kicking off a preshow press conference. Ahead of Malachy's wobble across the stage, Fitzpatrick spent several minutes meticulously combing and teasing the dog’s hair, resulting in a

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  • Meet the dogs of Westminster: Jewel the American foxhound

    Jewel at Westminster (Frank Franklin II/AP)Jewel at Westminster (Frank Franklin II/AP)

    One in a series on show dogs and their owners.

    NEW YORK—According to her owners, there are two sides to Jewel, the American foxhound who qualified Monday to compete for Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

    At home, they said, Jewel is an expressive dog known to stomp her feet if she's not getting the attention she feels she deserves. She obsessively watches squirrels, following them closely from the ground as they leap tree to tree.

    “She’ll bounce on the bed, bounce off, bounce on,” said Lisa Miller, her owner/handler. “She’s crazy. But in a good way.”

    Miller even said her dog has a favorite song: Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair.”

    “She throws her head back like that,” Miller said with a laugh. “She does it all the time.”

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  • Meet the dogs of Westminster: Aristocrat the Saint Bernard

    Aristocrat (Mario Tama/Getty Images)Aristocrat (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

    NEW YORK—Of all the big dogs at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Aristocrat may very well be the biggest.

    The hulking Saint Bernard from Hopewell, N.J., weighs in at a burly 180 pounds—far more than his handler, Melody Salmi, who says that looking after him is like “caring for a child.”

    For one thing, traveling with Aristocrat—affectionately known as “Cookie”—requires more than just toting around a few extra bags of treats. Salmi said she travels in an extended van that is “totally full” of Aristocrat’s equipment.

    “We’ve got dog food ... we bring ice, two coolers, wet clothes, grooming products, blow dryers, a microwave," said Salmi with a laugh.

    Always at risk of overheating, the dog has his own battery-powered industrial fan—which he was plopped in front of after a pre-Westminster press conference last week as Salmi misted him with a spray bottle of water. Salmi said he usually requires three fans—at least at indoor events. During the summer, she brings a minimum seven fans to every show.

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  • Four dogs advance to Westminster’s best in show

    Swagger, an Old English Sheepdog, wins the herding group at Westminster (Mike Segar/Reuters)Swagger, an Old English Sheepdog, wins the herding group at Westminster (Mike Segar/Reuters)

    NEW YORK—Hundreds of dogs competed, but just four made the cut on day one of the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Monday.

    An American foxhound, an affenpinscher, a bichon frise and an old English sheepdog all won their respective dog groups on day one at Westminster, a show that is considered the Super Bowl of the dog world. The four will face the winners of the sporting, working and terrier groups in Tuesday’s best-in-show finals.

    Jewel, a stoic American foxhound from Baltimore, won the hound group just a year after she made her Westminster debut. While Jewel won her breed at 2012’s show, her owner, Lisa Miller, said she wasn't ready when she competed last year.

    “She had a year to learn how to be a really good show dog,” Miller said, as Jewel sniffed at a mob of reporters surrounding the championship podium. “She had confidence last year, but she was a little more confident this year and had more style… She strutted in here, like, ‘Look at me!’”

    Banana Joe, an affenpinscher that looked like a tiny black storm cloud with lips, bested crowd favorites like the Pekingese to win Westminster’s toy group. As he stutted up to the podium to pose for photos, he was surrounded by his owners and a large entourage, including a groomer who cried as he combed out the tiny dog’s fluff of fur for his championship photo.

    Ernesto Lara, his handler, explained Westminster would be Banana Joe’s last show. After Tuesday night’s show, he will retire. “This is his swan song,” Lara said, his voice thick with emotion. He clutched the tiny dog in a tight embrace.

    “He is surrounded by love,” Lara added. “He has just wonderful charisma. I’ve been lucky to have him in my life.”

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  • Meet the dogs of Westminster: Joey Bag A Donuts, French bulldog

    One in a series on show dogs and their owners.Joey Bag A Donuts (Holly Bailey/Yahoo News)Joey Bag A Donuts (Holly Bailey/Yahoo News)

    NEW YORK—For every dog that wins at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, there are hundreds who don’t make the cut.

    On Monday morning, one of those dogs was Joey Bag A Donuts, a black French bulldog from Boston who was eliminated from a packed competition that featured more than 30 other dogs.

    Joey, who has a brother named Mafia, seemed unfazed by his loss. Lounging at his purple-and-gold holding area, he posed for picture after picture taken by a steady group of fans. Only once did he yawn—and even that move elicited a coo of joy from one woman, who snapped at least a dozen photos of the Frenchie.

    “He’s actually really tired,” Penny Wyatt, Joey’s handler, said, adding that they woke up at 4:30 a.m. to make it to the show.

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  • Meet the dogs of Westminster: London, the standard poodle

    One in a series on show dogs and their owners.London (Photo via Jamie Danburg)London (Photo via Jamie Danburg)

    NEW YORK—The first thing you notice about London, a standard poodle competing at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this week, is his giant fur pompadour. The black hairdo makes him look like, well, a doggy Elvis.

    It's a hard look to achieve. According to his owners, Jamie Danburg and Michele Molnar from Boca Raton, Fla., it takes an average of four hours to get London ready for a dog show. Among other things, he’s combed and shaved, his hair is coated in oil and then wrapped—making it appear as though he's wearing giant curlers.

    “We call them his boy curlers,” Molnar said. “It's like what little old ladies used to do back in the old days. His hair is wrapped to protect his coat from breakage because when he scratches, it might snarl.”

    Four hours of grooming seems tedious for anyone, much less a dog, but Molnar said London “just loves it.”

    “He loves the attention, being talked to,” she said. “He’s an attention monger. London would tell

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  • Advice from a Westminster dog owner: Be chill

    NEW YORK—Steven Sansone knows firsthand how nerve-wracking it can be to compete at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Three years ago, he and his wife, Cynthia, competed for the first time with their giant schnauzer Baccus, who won an award of merit in his breed—a good showing for a rookie.Havannah (via Steven Sansone)Havannah (via Steven Sansone)

    In the years since, Sansone, who describes himself as a rabid competitor, has settled on a Zen-like approach to the dog show experience. In short, he said, owners shouldn't take it all too seriously.

    “Don’t apply logic to it. You have to do it strictly for the fun of it,” said Sansone, who is competing this week with Havannah, another giant schnauzer. (The Sansone's have a handler for the contest.) “To say you are going to win all the time, it just doesn’t happen. You are subjected to people’s opinions, and they vary. And your dog might be ‘on’ one day and ‘off’ on another. There might be better competitors at different shows. You just never know. A lot of it is out of your control.”

    Sansone added, “You just have to go into it for the fun and sport, not to think you are going to achieve great success, accolades and money. In fact, I would probably put money at the bottom of the list.”

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  • Veteran dog handler on Westminster: It’s not a ‘useless beauty contest’

    A poodle shows at Westminster (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)A poodle shows at Westminster (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

    NEW YORK—Nancy Martin has seen plenty of changes in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show since she began competing there in 1970.

    Among other things, there are bigger crowds and more media attention, said the veteran dog handler. But while Martin likes most of the changes, she still believes the “average person” doesn’t understand what dog shows are about.

    ‘They visualize it as this useless beauty contest, which isn’t the case at all,” Martin, who competes this week with Mimi, a Japanese Chin, told Yahoo News. And the biggest misconception, she said, is that poodles are groomed simply to look like divas.

    “You'll be in the stands at [Madison Square Garden], and you will have people go, 'Ugh! Those poodles look so stupid with their butts shaved!’ Except it’s not that at all. Yes, they look fancy because it’s a dog show. But they are groomed that way to show their proficiency as a breed.”

    Poodles, she pointed out, are actually water dogs who retrieve.

    “You shave them to give them a

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  • Meet the dogs of Westminster: Leo the Irish terrier

    One in a series on show dogs and their owners.Leo in competition (Photo courtesy of Denise Sutton)Leo in competition (Photo courtesy of Denise Sutton)

    NEW YORK—Denise Sutton had been showing her dog, Leo, a 3-year-old Irish terrier, in regional shows near her home in Chicago when her dog's handler gave her surprising news last fall.

    Leo, who had won several Best of Breed and other titles throughout 2012, was now ranked in the top five of all Irish terriers in the country, the handler said—and would likely get an invitation to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

    “I was really stunned,” Sutton recalled. “I had always watched Westminster on television, and I thought maybe at the back of my mind of going someday, but I was just, wow.”

    Sutton is a newbie to the award show circuit. She said she had always been a “dog person” and had watched competitions on TV. It wasn't until three years ago that she got into the game with Leo, whom she has been showing since he was 9 months old.

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