NEW YORK — An old Sussex spaniel taught dogdom a new trick.
A nearly full crowd at Madison Square Garden cheered loudly when judge Sari Tietjen pointed to the new champion. Perhaps the fans knew Stump's backstory — he almost died in 2004 from a medical condition, saved by the vets at Texas A&M.
"It was miraculous," expert handler Scott Sommer said.
Then again, maybe folks just liked rooting for the old guy. In human years, he's almost 70!
Never before had a Sussex spaniel won the nation's top pooch show. The previous oldest winner was an 8-year-old Papillon in 1999.
With floppy ears and a slow gait, the golden-red Stump beat out a sparkling field. Sommer guided him past a giant schnauzer that was ranked the nation's No. 1 show dog, a favored Brussels griffon, a Scottish deerhound named Tiger Woods, a standard poodle with 94 best in show wins, a Scottish terrier and a puli.
Nearly 2,500 dogs were entered at Westminster. Last year's champion, a beagle named Uno, was perhaps the most popular winner ever.
But with a bounce in his step, Stump is sure to win over plenty of people while he reigns for a year.
Stump won the sporting group at Westminster in 2004, then went into retirement. Soon after, he nearly wasted away and spent 19 days in a pet hospital.
"It was very traumatic," Sommer said.
Once he recovered, Stump mostly spent his days hanging out with Sommer, living a dog's life. That was more than fine with Sommer. He'd already handled a great Bichon Frise to the best in show at Westminster in 2001, and wasn't looking for Stump to try again.
Then five days before this show, Sommer thought Stump might enjoy one last walk on the green carpet at the Garden. And what a walk it was.
This was the 133rd edition of Westminster and the dogs came in 170 breeds and varieties. Among them was Domino.
Asleep in his crate, Domino looked like the most peaceful, innocent pooch on the planet.
Ha! Just wait, handler Paul Clas cackled.
These Portuguese water dogs can cause all sorts of mischief, he said. And if President Barack Obama really does decide make one the First Dog, look out.
"They'll bring comedy to the White House. Interesting things would happen," Clas said earlier Tuesday. "I think it would be hilarious."
Pacifying this active breed — among the two the Obamas are considering — isn't always easy, even with a big yard and a big staff. It sometimes takes an extra treat.
"Obama may not take bribes, but his Portuguese water dog would," Clas said.
Clas wouldn't mind having one as a neighbor — he lives in Thurmont, Md., near the presidential retreat of Camp David.
Obama said his family had narrowed the choices to a "Porti" or a Labradoodle, a designer mix of a Labrador retriever and a poodle.
The president has said he is ready to begin visiting shelters with wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia. A main consideration is a dog that is hypoallergenic.
"I like to see them pick the Portuguese water dog. They're a proven breed for many years," Clas said.
Portis are medium sized, weighing 50 or 60 pounds. They can be black, brown, white or a mix, with either a wavy or curly coat of hair, not fur. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., owns them.
Westminster spokesman David Frei, in his 20th year as television host for the show, said the Obamas are doing a good job in taking their time.
"It's an important decision. Whichever dog he picks will probably be with him longer than anyone in his Cabinet," Frei said.