German shepherd, Rumor, is Westminster’s crowd favorite

NEW YORK (AP) — She’s ranked as the No. 1 show dog in America. And listening to the crowd at Madison Square Garden chant her name, she easily was Miss Popularity, too.

“Let’s go, Rumor!” fans hollered shortly before the German shepherd ran rings around her competition.

That was Monday night at the Westminster Kennel Club. On Tuesday night, the 4-year-old who’s already won 101 best in show titles will try to add the crown at the nation’s most prestigious pooch event.

Provided, of course, she gets her proper exercise. Not always easy to locate enough space in New York City, especially with the recent snow.

“It’s hard to find green places to take her and keep her fit,” said handler Kent Boyles of Edgerton, Wisconsin.

“What’s most important is that she’s enjoying herself,” he said.

Only one German shepherd has ever won Westminster, the famed and fittingly named Manhattan in 1987.

Rumor was the perfect picture of a well-groomed champion in winning the herding group. Poised, she seemed to look at the crowd as she ran across the green carpet.

Only after she was picked did she break character and jump up a bit.

“She’s a sweet, beautiful animal. She wants to please,” co-owner Pamela Buckles said.

Rumor is fresh off her biggest win yet, at the AKC/Eukanuba show in Florida last December.

With more than 2,700 dogs entered, her top competition could come from Charlie the Skye terrier, who won the prominent National Dog Show in Philadelphia shortly before Thanksgiving.

Already assured spots in the final ring of seven are hound group winner Lucy the borzoi, toy winner Panda the shih tzu and nonsporting champ Annabelle the bulldog.

The top sporting, working and terriers get chosen Tuesday night, followed by the best in show pick shortly before 11 p.m.

Panda has only one best in show victory so far. But after five hours of grooming to get ready at Westminster, he made the effort worthwhile for handler Kathy Bilicich-Garcia.

“He really, really liked the environment,” she said.

Enough that he probably would get to enjoy a favorite ritual — rolling onto his back, sticking his legs straight in the air and getting his tummy rubbed.

Also on display:

RING ROOKIES: There are 199 breeds and varieties of dogs at the show, including seven newcomers this year. Two of them are set to make their debuts Tuesday, the Boerboel and lagotto Romagnolo.

The public-address announcer at the Garden welcomed five first-timers on Monday night — the Bergamasco, Cirneco dell’Etna, berger Picard, Spanish water dog and miniature American shepherd. They all got nice cheers, though none advanced beyond the group stage.

CATWALK TO DOGS WALK: This is Fashion Week in Manhattan, and the models are strutting less than a block from the Garden. But don’t expect to see any of them venturing from the runway over to the ring.

Even though designer Valentino famously brings his pugs everywhere, most of the fashionistas are pretty busy. Instead, watch what the top handlers wear on the green carpet.

As a rule, the pooches are supposed to be the stars, so no glitzy couture or loosey-goosey garments. Michelle Scott is among the very best, she’s twice won best in show at Westminster. Notice how she often opts for solid colors and tailored outfits that don’t distract from the dog.

“It has to be comfortable. It has to be professional. And I like bright colors,” she said.

As for the models on the catwalk, would they be dressed for success with the dogs?

“Oh, they’re all so beautiful,” Scott said. “But those high heels and short, little outfits. I don’t think that would work.”

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