NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stump, a mellow 10-year-old Sussex spaniel, made history on Tuesday as the oldest dog and first of its breed to win the coveted Best In Show at the prestigious 133rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
The new U.S. top dog overcame formidable odds, emerging victorious after five years of retirement from the show dog ring, and a protracted illness in the interim which his handler said nearly claimed his life.
Stump, formally named "Ch Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee," spent two years recovering from the illness "and this was his outing. It turned out to be a big one," Scott Sommer said of the champion with whom he lives in Houston.
Sommer, who also handled the 2001 winner JR, a bichon frise who is Stump's housemate, said he had no grand visions of winning when he decided just last week to bring the plodding spaniel to the show, which had more than 2,500 entrants representing 170 breeds and varieties from as far away as Russia and Brazil.
"It was like going for a walk with my pet," he said of the high-profile canine competition, which is broadcast live on cable television. "It was just fun."
The light brown 10-year-old Sussex spaniel, a relatively rare breed, wowed the sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, which through cheers and applause signaled its preference for the lumbering dog, who had won the club's sporting group title in 2004, among the seven best in show competitors.
Judge Sari Brewster Tietjen said Stump "is just everything you'd want. In the end, I just couldn't say no to him."
After awarding the dog his 51st best in show, she said he was a stellar example of the breed, and added that she was totally unaware of his advanced age.
Before Tuesday, the oldest best in show victor was an 8-year-old papillon.
In the coming days, Stump will bask in the kind of limelight traditionally reserved for more established single-named celebrities like Madonna or JLo as he embarks on a round of national television appearances. But Sommer said this is definitely his swan song in the ring.
"Oh yes, without a doubt, this is it," he said. Upon returning home, the dog will go back to favorite activities such as "meeting people, sleeping, saying hello to people, and sleeping," as well as playing with his favorite green Grinch toy, said Sommer, who co-owns Stump with Connecticut residents Cecelia Ruggles and Beth Dowd.
The other breeds vying for the big prize on Tuesday were a standard poodle, a Scottish terrier, a Scottish deerhound, a pulik, a Brussels griffon and giant schnauzer. Terriers have won best in show most often, prevailing nearly half the time throughout the club's history.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham