NEW YORK — A tiny black affenpinscher named Banana Joe won the coveted Best in Show award at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday, beating out more than 2,700 others for a title that guarantees canine fame, great dating and mating opportunities, and a chance to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange.
In the end, it came to the final seven, each of whom had been judged best in their categories: hound, sporting, working, herding, toy, terrier and nonsporting.
One by one, they were trotted around the green-carpeted floor of Madison Square Garden to the roars and applause of spectators. Cheers erupted in the huge arena as the judge, Michael J. Dougherty of Escondido, paced in front of the final group, examining the contestants’ muscle tone, teeth, ears, head size, jaw, stance and the other details that separate a mere dog from a champion.
“Every one of you deserves some serious ribbonage tonight. Unfortunately I have but two,” said Dougherty before presenting the prized award to Banana Joe, a 6-year-old from the Netherlands. He takes over the title of “America’s dog” from last year’s winner, a Pekingese named Malachy. The second ribbon went to Swagger, an Old English sheepdog, who was named Reserve Best in Show, or runner-up to the winner.
This year’s competition was notable for the addition of two new breeds — the treeing Walker coonhound and the Russell terrier — bringing to 187 the types of dogs represented. In addition, the show was opened for the first time in more than 20 years to so-called class dogs who lack the points earned in competition to mark them as “championship” dogs under American Kennel Club rules.
In the run-up to the final judging at Madison Square Garden, some favorites had emerged.
Fifi, a Doberman pinscher from Ohio, won best of breed and was a crowd favorite, eliciting screams of support as she trotted around the ring during preliminary judging Tuesday. But she came in second to a Portuguese water dog named Matisse in the competition for the working group category, eliminating her from the finals.
Swagger, a 20-month-old Old English sheepdog, stunned many observers, entering as a “class” dog and defeating far more seasoned competitors to win the herding dog category Monday. Swagger was a clear crowd favorite but came in second to Banana Joe in the final judging.
“I’m still in shock,” owner Colton Johnson of Colorado Springs, Colo., said earlier Tuesday of Swagger’s performance. “This is a hard show for dogs that are seasoned, let alone dogs that have showed just four times.”
The finalists were whittled down as dogs competed against others of the same breed and then went on to vie for honors in their individual groups. The seven group winners advanced to the final competition, but even those eliminated early on were considered winners by their owners for having made it to Westminster.
“That’s OK. We’re proud of him,” said Stephen Cabral after the Greater Swiss mountain dog he handles in the ring, Luke from Westlake Village, Calif., was knocked out of the competition for the best of his breed Tuesday.
The final competitors and their groups were Oakley, a German wirehaired pointer, in the sporting group; Swagger, in the herding group; Matisse, the Portuguese water dog, in the working group; Jewel, an American foxhound, in the hound group; Honor, a bichon frise, in the nonsporting group; Adam, a smooth fox terrier, in the terrier group; and Banana Joy.
“It’s almost indescribable,” Banana Joe’s handler, Ernesto Lara, said after the win, describing the dog — a member of the toy group — as a “small breed with a big heart.”