For much of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show’s 142-year existence, winning the country’s most famous dog show meant the fast track to retirement.
Sure, sometimes a plucky soul returned the following year for another grab at the brass ring: After all, the very first Westminster Best in Show winner, the Smooth Fox Terrier Ch. Warren Remedy in 1907, came back to win it two more years in a row. But most dogs that are anointed the best of the best at Madison Square Garden are content to depart that Manhattan fanfare to the comfort of their hometown couch.
A History of Westminster “Retirees”
Today, most Westminster winners still hang up their show leads after scoring the big one. But especially after Uno the Beagle toured the country for literally years after his 2008 win, meeting everyone from President George W. Bush to Martha Stewart, the Garden’s top dog often hits the road in the newly minted role of canine ambassador.
That’s been the case with “Flynn” (Grand Ch. Belle Creek’s All I Care About Is Love), last year’s Westminster-winning Bichon Frise. The day after the show, accompanied by his handler Bill McFadden, Flynn rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and took to the stage at the Broadway show “Kinky Boots.” In the year that has followed, he’s made appearances at trade shows and events across the country.
“He’s a good dog and good little person,” McFadden says, adding that the gleaming white powder puff of a dog has the perfect temperament for the job. “He adapts to everyone he meets: If they’re a little timid, he’ll be gentle, and if it’s someone who’s obviously a dog person then he’s more active.”
Third Time’s a Charm
Sometimes, though, a dog can be too in-tune with his audience, as McFadden knows only too well. In 2003, he went Best in Show at the Garden with Mick the Kerry Blue Terrier after winning the Terrier Group with him the previous two years, only to see him dash his chances by misbehaving.
“All that energy and excitement make Madison Square Garden a hard place to show” an exuberant dog like Mick, McFadden admits. “He thought everyone was there to see him, and it was hard to ride him in that race.”
Because of the lack of expectation, winning with Flynn in 2018 was quite the opposite: Instead of feeling relief, as McFadden had with Mick’s third-time’s-a-charm win, the emotion that came flooding in with Flynn’s victory was “pure joy.”
Betty-Anne Stenmark, who bestowed the Best in Show win on Flynn, says it was “a given” that she would be judging seven magnificent dogs. She candidly ticks off their virtues: “The charming and captivating Sussex Spaniel who showed the worldwide audience what great characters show dogs can be, the beautiful piece of porcelain the Borzoi bitch, the handsome impressive Giant Schnauzer, the great little package that is the Norfolk Terrier, the crowd favorite the Pug, the engaging showy Bichon Frise, and the serious herding dog the Border Collie, looking all business.”
Stenmark says she was impressed with how the Giant Schnauzer – who eventually took Reserve Best in Show – stared down the remote camera, reacting like the attentive guardian that the breed should be. But it was the beautifully constructed, tail-wagging Bichon who captivated her, defying her not to point to him.
“There’s the dog who raises the bar, who sparkles, who gives that little extra something to separate himself out from the pack,” Stenmark reflects, “and who says, ‘It shall be me.’”
And so it was.
What’s next for Flynn?
Now, with the 2019 show in the offing, the focus is on the next dog to earn that vaunted Best in Show ribbon. Westminster is arguably the most mercurial of dog shows: Conventional wisdom is usually turned on its head, and nothing stays the same for long.
In keeping with that theme, last year’s Best in Show trio will be in attendance, all in different roles: Instead of judging, Stenmark will be rooting for a Dandie Dinmont Terrier that she co-bred and co-owns, as well as pitching in at the Meet the Breeds event the weekend before. McFadden will be handling, but also plans to be supporting his wife Taffe, who is showing some high flyers that they hope will do well.
And instead of taking the spotlight in the big ring, on the Thursday before this year’s show Flynn will strut his stuff on the runway during New York City’s Fashion Week. McFadden has requested that Flynn is paired with model Bo Derek, who has her own line of dog shampoos.
Welcome to retirement, Westminster style.
The 143rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show presented by Purina Pro Plan will be held Feb. 11 and 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Last year, 7 of the 7 Group winners were fueled by the specialized nutrition of Purina® Pro Plan®.
*The handler or owner of these champions may have received Purina® Pro Plan® dog food as Purina ambassadors.