15 incredible underdog stories from the Westminster Dog Show

·8-min read
Dogs compete at the Westminster Dog Show.
Underdogs at the Westminster Dog Show. Seth Wenig/John Minchillo/AP Images
  • The 145th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is being held in New York this weekend.

  • Dogs found in kill shelters or mall pet stores have made it to Westminster in recent years.

  • Other dogs have proven that their long-overlooked breeds deserved to be named best in show.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories

Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, aka Stump, was the oldest dog to win best in show at 10 years old - he'd spent four years in retirement before his big win.

Handler Scott Sommer prepares Stump the Sussex Spaniel for judging.
Stump with his handler, Scott Sommer. Peter Kramer/AP Images

Stump was also the first Sussex spaniel to win best in show. Before his win in 2009, Stump had actually suffered a bacterial infection that nearly killed him. He spent four years in retirement before returning to compete. When his owners and handlers entered him in the show, no one expected him to perform well, much less win, but he wound up taking home the top prize.

Emma the mutt survived a kill shelter to a become an agility contender.

Emma the mutt clears a high jump.
Emma the mutt clears a high jump. John Minchillo/AP Images

According to E! News, Emma was found at an abandoned motel in 2010 and brought to a kill shelter that euthanizes dogs who aren't adopted within 48 hours. Luckily for Emma, her new owner, Christy Wrede, found her in time and brought her home.

Though Wrede had no background in dog training, she began teaching Emma agility, and she did so well that Wrede entered her for Westminster in 2014. It was the first year the competition allowed "mixed-breed dogs" to take part in an agility portion, in which Emma competed.

Lonnie, a mixed-breed dog born in an animal shelter, used to be "afraid of everything" before Westminster.

Lonnie, a female mixed breed from New Jersey, competes in the agility event.
Lonnie competes in the agility portion. Mary Altaffer/Getty Images

Owner Robin Lembo told the Associated Press in 2017 that Lonnie used to be afraid to even get in her car. Lembo started training Lonnie in obedience to build her confidence, and the pup couldn't get enough, eventually showing off her moves in the 2017 Masters of Agility.

In 2008, Uno proved that the beagle, a breed that had never won best in show in the competition's 132-year history, was worthy of the prestigious title.

Uno competed for Best in Show in 2008.
Uno the beagle. Seth Wenig/AP Images

At the 132nd Westminster Dog Show, K-Run's Park Me in First, aka Uno, became the first ever beagle to win best in show.

He was a much-beloved dog, gaining possibly more crowd fanfare than any other. After his 2008 win, he became the first Westminster winner to visit the White House, greeted by President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush. They met him in the Rose Garden and gave him a red, white, and blue collar.

Despite her breed never winning best in show, Heart the Labrador retriever has won the Masters Obedience Championship every year since it started in 2016.

Heart has won master of obedience three times.
Heart celebrates with her owner, Linda Brennan. Mary Altaffer/Getty Images

Though a Labrador retriever is yet to win best in show, Heart and her owner, Linda Brennan, have shown that the breed does have what it takes to win at Westminster — they've won five consecutive trophies for the Masters Obedience Championship since it began in 2016.

Each championship requires a dog and its owner to perform their own six-minute routine to show off their unique moves.

"It's a little overwhelming, really‚" Brennan told NJ Advance Media after their most recent win, in 2020. "It's hard to believe. She's an amazing dog."

Hailey the Boston terrier/beagle, a certified therapy dog, took home the 2016 All American title.

Hailey was the All American dog winner in the 2016 Agility Championship.
Hailey practices for her agility run. Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

A certified therapy dog for nine years, Hailey brought smiles to people's faces when she made hundreds of visits a year to hospitals, nursing homes, and senior centers, according to the American Kennel Club.

In 2016, she also brought joy to the audiences at the Westminster Master Agility Championship.

In a 2014 interview with ESPN, Hailey's owner, Karen Profenna, talked about having a mixed-breed dog at Westminster. "Certain people accept us now, but when we first started, people gave you looks like, 'Where'd that dog come from?' or 'Oh my God, what is it?" she said.

Alfie, a poodle mix, made it to the big leagues after being adopted from a mall pet store.

Alfie, a poodle mix, demonstrates his agility skills.
Alfie, a poodle mix. Seth Wenig/AP Images

Alfie's owner, Irene Palmerini, first saw him in a mall pet store, on sale for $99. She said he had so much energy that she decided to put him in agility classes. Seven years later, in 2014, she entered him at Westminster for the agility event.

"I didn't breed this dog to do agility. He's just my pet," she told the Associated Press in 2014. "(Agility) is just about performance. It doesn't matter what your dog looks like. It doesn't matter who their mother or father was."

Torums Scarf Michael, aka Mick, was the first Kerry blue terrier to win best in show. Historically, the breed was known as a peasant farmer's dog.

He is the first and only Kerry Blue to win.
Mick runs on his way to winning Best in Show. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Mick won his title in 2003, making him the first Kerry blue terrier to do so. Unlike other terriers, Kerry blues have a less noble lineage, and they were often bred as dogs for peasants.

The Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation describes them as "a willful, headstrong dog with a mind of its own, obsessed with squirrels (or the household cat), willing to take risks and second-guess and outsmart its handler."

In 2015, a quiet beagle named Miss P surprised the crowd by beating the favorites, including Sunny Obama's cousin and a shih tzu owned by Patty Hearst.

Miss P was named best in show in the 2015 Westminster Dog Show, in a surprise win.
Miss P was named best in show in 2015. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The Associated Press noted that "the best-of-seven final ring was full of favorites," including Swagger the old English sheepdog who had come second in the competition two years prior.

So the crowd gasped as Miss P was named top dog.

"She is a princess," her handler, Will Alexander, said.

Plop, who was rescued from a shelter after his owner saw him on Facebook, won the 2019 All American agility category.

Plop with his owner Lisa Topol.
Plop with his handler. Noah K. Murray/AP Images

Small in stature but high in speed, Plop was the fastest All American dog at 2019's agility event. Plop's owner, Lisa Topol, found him on Facebook, where he was advertised by a shelter in Alabama. They soon became inseparable and would go on to win numerous agility events together.

In 1999, Loteki Supernatural Being, aka Kirby, became the first Papillon to win the top prize - he was 8 years old.

Kirby and his owner John Oulton react to their big win.
Kirby and his owner, John Oulton, react to their big win. Mark Lennihan/AP Images

Kirby made history as the first of his breed to win best in show, but he was unique in other ways too. He weighed in at just 6 pounds and was 8 years old at the time, making him one of the oldest dogs to win.

Handler John Oulton told the New York Times in 1999 that Kirby wasn't as prim and proper as he appeared. "At home he's a tough little guy; he tears around the yard with the rest of them," he said.

Pomeranian Great Elms Prince Charming II was the smallest dog to ever win, at just 4.5 pounds.

Prince Charming II was the first Pomeranian to win Best in Show in 1988.
Prince Charming II sits happily in his winner's cup. Bettmann/Getty Images

Not only the smallest dog to ever win, but also the first Pomeranian, Prince Charming II had two historic firsts for his 1988 win.

Panda competed the first year mutts or "All American" dogs were allowed at Westminster.

Panda the All American scales a high jump.
Panda the All American scales a high jump. John Minchillo/AP Images

An Australian shepherd/cattle dog mix, Panda finished fourth in her class at the 2014 show. She was one of the first mutts or "All American" dogs to compete. Westminster had long been criticized by animal rights groups like PETA for its exclusion of mixed-breed dogs, saying it hurt shelter dogs' chances at adoption by promoting purebreds.

Foxcliffe Hickory Wind overcame her breed's skittish nature to become the first ever Scottish deerhound to be named best in show.

Foxcliffe Hickory Wind prances on her way to her win.
Foxcliffe with her handler, Angela Lloyd. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Foxcliffe Hickory Wind won the top prize in 2011. Though deerhounds can sometimes be a bit more skittish, Foxcliffe was able to sail through the competition.

Her handler, Angela Lloyd, told the New York Times, "She was solid and steady and even through all of the lights and cameras and the noise and spotlights, she came right through it."

All American Sadie was saved from dire straits in Kentucky.

Sadie the All American dog.
Sadie completes the agility course. Wong Maye-E/AP

In 2014, Sadie competed with her owner, Lisa Tibbals, who found her on Petfinder.

Tibbals said she knew Sadie was special when she first saw her: "There was something about her face that just grabbed me."

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