Miss P, a beagle in her final competition before retiring to make puppies, won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club's competition Tuesday, beating out more than 2,700 canines, including a cousin to White House dog Sunny.
The beagle, who comes from British Columbia, Canada, faced six finalists at the end of the two-day contest. They included Sunny's cousin Matisse, a Portuguese water dog with a crown of glossy curls; Swagger, an old English sheepdog with a name to match his confident attitude; Flame, an elegant black standard poodle; and Rocket, a shih tzu co-owned by Patty Hearst-Shaw, the publishing company heiress whose kidnapping in 1974 by an urban guerrilla group made world headlines.
The other finalists were Liz, an English springer spaniel; and Good Time Charlie, a Skye terrier.
"She was so smooth, so cute. She was just perfection," the judge of the hound group, Betty-Anne Stenmark, said after anointing Miss P the best hound in the bunch and sending her onto the finals.
"These seven wonderful, magnificent dogs are a tribute to their breeders, their owners and their handlers," the judge who crowned Miss P, David C. Merriam, said before announcing his selection.
Merriam, of Bonsall, in San Diego County, is a retired California judge who has judged dog shows since 1966. Merriam named Good Time Charlie Reserve Best in Show, or first runner-up.
Miss P became the second beagle to win the coveted title of Best in Show. She is a niece of Uno, who won at Westminster in 2008, and the shouts and cheers from the audience made it clear the 4-year-old was a crowd favorite, along with Swagger, the old English sheepdog.
Dogs representing 192 breeds from 48 states and 14 countries competed in the show, which is in its 139th year and is an annual tradition in New York City. Judging began Monday, with the field being narrowed by breed and then group: toys, herding, hounds, terriers, working, sporting and non-sporting.
One by one, the seven finalists trotted around the green-carpeted floor of Madison Square Garden to the roars and applause of spectators. Merriam scrutinized each of them, examining their muscle tone, teeth, ears, head size, jaw, stance and the other details that separate a mere dog from a champion.
This being a dog show, there were some unexpected events throughout the competition. A toy Manchester terrier leaped into a box while trotting around the ring during judging of the toy group; a Pekingese was pulled from competition due to nerves; and Nathan the bloodhound, who was considered a strong favorite in the contest, failed to make the finals.
Matisse had also been a favorite to win Best in Show, based on his record of 238 best in show titles. But dog owners and handlers said the contest was always unpredictable.
"It really comes down to this day, this minute, this second when you're in the ring," said Keri Savage, as she sat beside a cage where Miss P was having a nap before the finals. Miss P knocked Nathan out of contention by winning the hound group portion of the competition.
Savage said dogs, like people, have off days, and that can count against them in a ring full of other dogs who are in top form.
"She's really chill," Savage said, nodding toward Miss P, "but the competition is really hard on them."
The beagle's handler, Will Alexander, said after the win that he was speechless. "It was a tough lineup," he said of the finalists. "I really don't know what set her apart; they were all so wonderful."
Being named Best in Show carries no monetary prize, but it guarantees canine fame, TV appearances, a steak dinner at a New York restaurant and endless mating opportunities.
Alexander said Miss P would get started on the latter soon, now that she is retiring.
"We haven't decided who the father's going to be yet," he said. "We have a few candidates."