He ran with the big dogs, and won.
A spunky little monkey-faced Affenpinscher named Banana Joe beat out the No. 1 show dog in the country and a crowd favorite Old English Sheepdog to win the 137th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
His prize? A giant silver cup and retirement in the Netherlands, where he was born.
"This is almost undescribable," said Joe's handler Ernesto Lara, who lifted the little dog into the air after he was named the winner. "Nobody told him he was small. I don't think he would believe it."
In a first, the show also named a runner-up, and that honor went to the dog that scored the loudest applause from the crowd in Madison Square Garden - an Old English Sheep Dog named Swagger.
Swagger, a 90-pound, 20-month-old dog still sporting his puppy fur, was a late entry to the show after a change in rules that allowed so-called class dogs - dogs not considered certified champions in their breed - to compete for the first time since 1991. Westminster was just Swagger’s fourth dog show.
(Swagger needs a name change: Swagga.)
Banana Joe beat out: Adam, a 5-year-old male Smooth Fox Terrier; Matisse, a 20-month-old Portugese Water Dog; Jewel, an American Foxhound in just her second year at Westminster, and Honor, a 4-year-old Bichon Frise with a penchant for strawberry milk.
Most notably, though, Joe won over Oakley, a German Wirehaired Pointer ranked as the No. 1 dog in the country and the most famous show dog in the world. With more than 80 best-in-show titles in his career, Oakley was a strong favorite going into tonight's Best in Show judging.
And there was more disappointment. The loudest buzz going into the group judging Tuesday night surrounded Fifi, a 4-year-old Doberman Pinscher known as “The Fifinator” to her thousands of fans who follow her every move on the dogs’s Facebook page.
Fifi’s fans call themselves Fifians. But Fifi, ranked as the No. 3 dog in the country by the American Kennel Club, didn't make it out of her group competition, bested by Matisse, the Portugese Water Dog.
Before the show, even co-host David Frei had admitted that Fifi was his “sentimental favorite.” But it wasn't meant to be.
There was just something about Banana Joe that captivated Best in Show judge Michael Dougherty, a professional handler and owner of a boutique pet resort in Escondido, Calif.
The perfect ending, then, to a perfect career for little Joe.
"Hard to believe," said show co-host Mary Carillo, "but Banana Joe is going to be a banana split."
| Lisa Gutierrez