Pekingese 'Malachy' The Top Dog At Westminster

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Robert Siegel talks with David Frei of the Westminster Kennel Club, and David Fitzpatrick about Tuesday's Best in Show winner at the club's 136th annual dog show. Fitzpatrick is the handler of the winning dog Malachy, a Pekingese.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As Julie Rovner said a moment ago, this was the week of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Last night, at Madison Square Garden, 185 breeds had been whittled down to seven dogs each judged Best in Group. And those seven were inspected and eyeballed by Judge Cindy Vogels who then pronounced the result.

CINDY VOGELS: Best in Show is the Pekingese.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SIEGEL: What the Lombardi Trophy is to football, what the Stanley Cup to hockey, more than what the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are to would-be presidents, that's the kind of glory that rained down on the four-year-old Peke, Champion Palacegarden Malachy, who today was toasted at the fabled Manhattan watering hole, Sardi's.

That's where we found David Frei, director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club, who doubles each year as the Bob Costas or the Al Michaels of dogs. Welcome back to the program.

DAVID FREI: Thank you, sir.

SIEGEL: Tell us about Malachy's day as Westminster's new reigning Best in Show.

FREI: Well, Malachy has had a great day so far today in his first day as America's newest single-name celebrity. We started out by visiting "Fox and Friends," and then "The Today Show," then to "Morning Joe." Then we went on to visit Martha Stewart and then "The View." Now we're here at Sardi's, the famed Theater District restaurant where Malachy was served chopped chicken and rice on a silver platter, by Max Klimavicius, the owner. So...

SIEGEL: What's with chicken? I thought it was steak tartare would be, as Best in Show was served.

FREI: Well, it's usually steak tartare, but Malachy is not at stake kind of dog.

SIEGEL: Well, let's talk about what kind of dog Malachy is.

FREI: He's a Pekingese.

SIEGEL: On television, I have to say, Malachy is not entirely recognizable as a dog.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: He could be any furry animal, or hat for that matter - if it's moving. And even looks like one of those robotic vacuum cleaners with a fur hat on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: What's the charm of the Pekingese?

FREI: You know, they're bred to be a companion. They're bred to be the Palace dog in China with - for royalty in China. And he looks like he can fill that job very well. And it was fun to watch him on the floor. We say the great dogs that are standing there at the end - the seven finalists, the seven group winners - standing in there for Best in Show, have to be great specimens of their breed and they all normally are.

So, you can't really decide it just on that alone. You have to find something else with the dog, like its charisma or showmanship, or it's owning the ground they stain on. Or...

SIEGEL: How can we tell if Malachy owns the ground that he stands on?

FREI: You can't really see that ground under Malachy...

SIEGEL: No, you can't.

FREI: ...but he obviously just exudes all the great breed traits that he needs, and also exudes his confidence and abilities as a show dog, as well.

SIEGEL: Listen, you had a little controversy this year about dog food ads that would have depicted shelter dogs, in which I gather you found too sad for the evening. Why not acknowledge in the midst of this show about happy dogs, also the plight about less fortunate, less happy dogs?

FREI: Well, we've been supportive of dogs in shelters and animal welfare since our very first show in 1877. Our show was so popular then when it began that we extended from three days to a fourth day, and we gave all the proceeds from that fourth day to the ASPCA to start their Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital. And we've continue to support them every year since. So...

SIEGEL: David Frei, one other question. When it came down to Best in Show, whom were you actually pulling for?

FREI: I love them all. You know, that's my job. I'm the dog guy. But as a breeder/owner/handler myself, I often find myself rooting for the breeder/owner/handler in the ring. And last night, we had one with a Doberman. And it was fun to think, well, maybe we'll get a breeder/owner/handler. We haven't had one win since 1983, but not at the expense of leaving a great dog out of the mix.

We had all these wonderful dogs, and Malachy was very deserving, no matter who I liked.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: And I guess the only other question about Malachy is how much time does it take to groom Malachy every day with that coat on him?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FREI: Well, somebody said how many minutes a day do you groom? And the funny answer is all of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: All of them, I see.

FREI: All of them. So, you can never let a coat like that go. And this is the coat that doesn't get any trimming. It doesn't get any scissoring, and it gets a lot of attention.

SIEGEL: Well, David Frei, thanks a lot for talking with us once again. And convey our best wishes to Malachy, the new Best in Show.

FREI: OK, Robert. Thanks for your interest in Westminster and in our great celebration for dogs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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