Dalmatian spot on at Westminster

A Dalmatian named Ian, with his handler Michael Scott, competes in the non-sporting group, which he won, at the 136th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York, Monday, Feb. 13, 2012. ( AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

February 14, 2012 9:26:50 AM PST
More than 101 Dalmatians have tried to become America's most prized pooch. More than a thousand, probably. And they've all ended up in the Westminster Kennel Club dog house.

That could change Tuesday night when a sprightly package of polka dots called Ian takes to the final ring at Madison Square Garden.

"He's silly, crazy and pretty wonderful to live with," handler Michael Scott said after Monday night's win in the nonsporting group.

Wobbling the whole way, a people-pleasing Pekingese made quite a walk down the green carpet to join the best of seven collection. He'll be joined by a German shepherd named Captain Crunch who likes to play soccer with his 15-year-old co-owner and a spirited wire-haired dachshund.

"These are dogs that people recognize, people like them," Westminster television host David Frei said.

The terrier, sporting and working champions will be picked Tuesday evening, with judge Cindy Vogels choosing the best in show just before 11 p.m. She has a strong terrier background but, as the fanciers like to say, the winner often comes down to "the dog on the day."

And it could be the Dalmatian. Entered in the very first Westminster in 1877, these fire house dogs have made it to the final cut seven previous times. They're not alone -- Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and dachshunds also are among the country's most popular dogs, but have never won the coveted silver bowl at the country's most prestigious show.

"I don't know why that is," said Ian's owner, Barbara Lyons. "I think it's because of the fierce competition."

In fact, she wasn't expecting this group win, either. She was set to head home to Laguna Beach, Calif., on Tuesday, but was changing her plans.

Ian is certainly distinctive. He has black spectacle markings around his eyes and plenty of spots evenly placed on his coat. He celebrated his win by jumping on most everyone around him.

Ian has won four best in show titles in his career. The Pekingese he'll face has won a whopping 114 titles.

Malachy the Peke drew cheers that grew louder with every tiny step as he repeated as the top toy. Pink tongue peeking out from his black face, he beat a heralded affenpinscher called Banana Joe in a most competitive group.

"He doesn't run. He has a dignified Pekingese gait," handler David Fitzpatrick said.

Mexican-born Captain Crunch romped to victory in the herding group. Handled by old pro James Moses, his champion attracted ample applause, as German shepherds always do at the Garden.

"The crowd really had him up," Moses said. "He handles the carpet well."

Handles soccer balls, too. That's what he enjoys doing with teen Maria Deschamps, one of his several owners.

"I like to play with him all day long," she said.

Cinders the wire-haired dachshund led the hounds, then wanted to sit rather than stand for her victory picture.

"She's a clown," handler Cheri Koppenhaver said.

More than 2,000 entries in 185 breeds and varieties were at the 136th Westminster. Still to show early Tuesday: a wire fox terrier who won the National show and a standard poodle who took the Eukanuba event.

There's also a black cocker spaniel who was the No. 1 show dog last year -- he's named Beckham, maybe a good omen since a 12-story ad featuring soccer star David Beckham posing in his underwear is painted on a building that overlooks the Garden.

Beckham the dog, by the way, beat out Malachy as the country's top-winning show dog in 2011.

Plus there's a Valentine's Day treat on tap: A couple from Washington state with a Tibetan mastiff plans to hold their wedding among all the pooches.

Breed winners included a chow chow co-owned by Martha Stewart and a xoloitzcuintli called Giorgio Armani, a nice start for the alphabetically challenged contestant during Fashion Week in New York City.

The xoloitzcuintli (shoh-loh-eets-KWEEN'-tlee), formerly known as the Mexican hairless, is among six new breeds at this year's show. "Pronounce it!" a couple of fans playfully called out when the name appeared on the scoreboard.