10-Year-Old Spaniel Wins Westminster

Stump, who is 70 in dog years, is oldest to ever win coveted "best in show."

February 11, 2009, 8:10 AM

Feb. 11, 2009— -- Stump, a Sussex spaniel, was crowned "best in show" at the 133rd annual. Westminster Dog Show Tuesday night.

At 10 years old, Stump is the oldest winner in the history of Westminster. Stump was retired up until last week when his handler Scott Sommer suddenly decided: "He looks good. We'll take him."

Stump's comeback was impressive, he beat out nearly 2,500 dogs in 170 breeds and varieties and become the nation's top dog.

Stump has not competed since 2004 after becoming seriously ill. It's a "miracle," Sommer told The Associated Press. "He got very sick, His body just quit... here he is now winning the Westminister Show and I'm just like thrilled."

Stump takes the crown from Uno, last year's winner who was also a record setter: He was the first Beagle to win top honors at Westminster.

The annual Westminster competition, considered the Super Bowl of dog shows, drew a nearly packed audience at New York City's Madison Square Garden, where in the lobby the loudspeakers blasted the 1998 hit song "Who Let the Dogs Out."

Spectators, many who traveled from around the country, donned dog paraphernalia to watch the action on the main stage, while behind the scenes in the benching area, handlers busily coiffed, washed, blow-dried, primped and sprayed their dogs in hopes of making the best impression before judges.

Veteran dog handler Carol Rice traveled with her husband from Florida to present a Pekingese named Ripper, formally known as Champion Claymore Riptide. Although the Rices compete across the country, it's the Westminster show that takes their main focus for much of the year.

"It's such a thrill to be here. I've been a handler for years, but we just love coming to New York," she said.

It took months of preparation, time and money to get Ripper ready for Westminster's stage. Carole Rice triple-checked her suitcase for Ripper's must-have items -- custom toys from home, an ice pack to lay on, tap water brought from Florida and Ripper's favorite snack.

According to Rice, "That's the key, chicken Vienna sausages!"

And despite the special items, a lengthy bath and the hours of brushing, right before taking the stage Ripper undid much of Rice's work. "What's the first thing they do after all of that grooming? Shake their coats!"

Although Ripper didn't win in his breed, he seemed unaffected by the loss. He sat for hours posing for pictures with show attendees hoping to see some of the dogs up close.

Stump, a Sussex spaniel, was crowned "best in show" at the 133rd annual Westminster Dog Show.

For each dog, the path to the Westminster show is different.

A Papillion named Justus and his owner Tim Clark appeared together in dog competitions for years in their home state of South Dakota. They trained for months to get to Westminster, acing smaller competitions and racking up enough titles to have Justus considered a champion dog.

But Monday, when Justus made his Westminster debut, Clark wasn't there to show him.

Clark died in a car crash near his town of Vermillion less than a month before he planned to bring his wife, Melanee, their 11-year-old son, Tanner, and Justus to New York City for the first time for Westminster.

The show would have been a highlight for the Clark family, Melanee Clark told ABC News. "We were working all year long. Actually this was going to be the top of his career for Tim," she said.

Despite the family's loss, Tanner insisted that he and his mom continued on to New York City for the competition. Tanner, who hopes to follow in his father's footsteps, debuted his dog at Westminster Monday night, winning an award of merit for his Sheltie dog Jay.

In honor of her husband's memory, Melanee Clark filled in as the presenter for Justus. For her, just attending the competition was difficult. "It was really bittersweet for us this year," she said.

Justus was shown for the last time, at Westminster; the Clarks say he is being retired.

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