10-Year-Old Spaniel Completes Comeback
By KATIE THOMAS
At 10 years old, Stump the Sussex spaniel should be well into his dotage. Instead, the dog who technically retired four years ago took home Best in Show on Tuesday at the 133rd Annual Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden, becoming the oldest to win the award.
Stump, officially named Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, might have surprised aficionados, who had their eye on a giant schnauzer, but the crowd clearly preferred the jaunty spaniel. Stump was greeted with deafening applause each time he plodded around the ring.
It was the first time that a Sussex spaniel won the top prize, although the breed, which originated as a hunting companion in England, was among the first to be recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Judge Sari Brewster Tietjen said she made her decision at the last minute.
“I didn’t know who he was or how old he was,” Tietjen said. “He’s just everything that you’d want in the breed, and I couldn’t say no to him.”
Stump won the sporting group at Westminster in 2004, but in early 2005 fell seriously ill with an undetermined sickness, said Scott Sommer, Stump’s handler and an owner along with Cecilia Ruggles and Beth Dowd.
Stump eventually returned to health, and by last year he was looking quite good. Still, Sommer said he was not sure until last Wednesday that he would definitely show Stump at Westminster.
“I wanted to take him here and hope he showed good,” Sommer said after winning the group. “That was my goal.”
The night brought to a close the reign of Uno, the beagle who went from being a humble hound to canine celebrity last year after becoming the first in his breed to win Best in Show. Uno spent the past year on a tour of the country, visiting the White House, riding on a Peanuts float at the Macys Thanksgiving Day parade, and even lighting the Empire State Building on Monday in Westminster’s signature colors of purple and gold.
Uno ceded his crown to another workaday dog, a spaniel who spends most of his time sleeping in Sommer’s bed in Houston “between the sheets.” Stump competes for space there with J. R., a bichon frisé who won Best in Show at Westminster in 2001 with Sommer.
Sommer said he did little to prepare Stump for his big night, barely even walking him around the driveway to see if he was show ready.
Sussex spaniels are a rare breed with a small gene pool, Sommer said. According to their breed standard, the dog should have a “cheerful and tractable disposition.” Stump’s merry gait is also in keeping with his breed: the standard describes a rolling gait that is charitably described as deliberate but not clumsy.
According to American Kennel Club statistics, Sussex spaniels are less common than 144 other breeds. Stump’s victory edges out Ch. Loteki Supernatural Being, an 8-year-old papillon who won Best in Show in 1999, for oldest winner.
Another favorite of the night was Spirit, a giant schnauzer who was the top-ranked dog in the country last year and who won her working group only moments before entering the Best in Show ring.
Other dogs competing in Best in Show were a standard poodle, a Scottish terrier, a puli, a Brussels griffon and a Scottish deerhound.
Despite Stump’s charisma, Sommer hinted that the dog was unlikely to replicate Uno’s demanding travel schedule. And at his age, who can blame him?
“Stump’s going to travel back to Houston and kind of stay there,” Sommer said. “He doesn’t travel that much.”