NEW YORK – A Scottish deerhound who loves to chase wild animals wound up catching her biggest prize yet.
A 5-year-old named Hickory pulled a huge surprise Tuesday night at the Westminster Kennel Club, winning best in show and the title of America’s top dog. She became the first of her breed to capture the purple-and-gold ribbon and shiny silver bowl.
“I think Hickory could feel my lead that I was excited and went with it,” handler Angela Lloyd said.
Judge Paolo Dondina of Italy thanked everyone at Madison Square Garden, then picked Hickory from a best-of-seven final show ring that truly sounded international – there was a Pekingese, Portuguese water dog, Chinese shar-pei, smooth fox terrier, bearded collie and black cocker spaniel.
“The quality of all of the dogs were outstanding,” Dondina said. “This animal is like in the heavens. It’s not of this world.”
Hickory lives on a 50-acre farm in Warrenton, Va., where she enjoys running after deer and rabbits. Owners Sally Sweatt and Cecilia Dove and Dr. Scott Dove will certainly let her romp all she wants after this victory, her 16th best-in-show overall.
The 135th Westminster was considered a wide-open field from the start. A smooth fox terrier that was the No. 1 show dog of 2010 recently retired and an Australian shepherd that won the big AKC/Eukanuba event did not enter.
Hickory won the hound group Monday night, then had to wait around all day for her big chance. That was a lot to ask for a kind of dog that feels most comfortable in the woods, but she clearly managed to do just fine.
“She’s not used to lights, camera and noise,” Lloyd said.
The 31-year-old Lloyd had won at Westminster before – in 1998, she was honored for her handling in the junior showmanship for youngsters who hope to work in the dog world.
“People who own, breed (and) show dogs dream of this day,” she said.
Among the owners who showed earlier in the day: Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, an Army surgeon who was shot down from a helicopter during the Persian Gulf War and briefly held as a prisoner of war. She was at the Garden showing a Gordon setter.
Cornum was clear on which was more difficult, ascending in the show ring or in the military.
“No question, it is dogs,” she said.
Sitting high up in section 118, Linda Melvin kept her eyes fixed on those Gordon setters competing on the floor. A seat away, her daughter fixated on her cell phone.
Krista Piller was busy posting on Facebook: “Wants a big dog to win the WKC dog show this year.”
“I’ll being putting up more, too,” Piller said.
From the stands, to the rings to backstage, people were a-twitter – iPads, Blackberries, Droids and then some at an event that started in 1877. Signs of social media were everywhere at the Westminster Kennel Club show.
Westminster had 49,000 friends on Facebook by late Tuesday afternoon, said Susi Szeremy of the kennel club’s social media team, and the number quickly zoomed to more than 60,000.