Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK - When Joe the Affenpinscher won the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night, his handler Ernesto Lara raised him high towards the rafters as if to say, "We did it!"
The uncommon dog with a familiar name proved that he was no regular Joe by becoming the first of his breed to win Best in Show at Madison Square Garden.
The 5-year-old Affenpinscher's full name is Banana Joe V Tani Kazari, but his handlers just call him Joe.
The Affenpinscher is known for its monkey-like face but human-like qualities. "They have a comical seriousness about them," Lara said. "He doesn't think he's funny. He doesn't know his size or know that he has a pushed-in face. He thinks he's Mr. America."
And after winning the most prestigious dog show of all, Joe's right. He was in demand the moment he won the famed silver cup. The morning talk shows clamored for an appearance and a Broadway show even asked Joe to do a cameo.
But America won't get to fete their top dog for too long. Westminster is Joe's last show. After his victory tour, he's headed home to Holland, where he spent his first three years with owner Mieke Cooijmans.
For the last three years, Joe has slept in Lara's bed and has been his constant companion at his Bowmansville, Penn., home. Saying goodbye won't be easy.
But at least, Joe will go out on top after beating six other contenders for Best in Show. "He's won big shows but none like this one," Lara said as he held Joe in his arms. Joe looked calm and confident as if it was just another day at the office. "I'm not bragging but that's just the way he is," he said.
For the first time since 1925, Westminster named a Reserve Best in Show winner, a runner-up of sorts. That honor went to the dog who was the most unexpected of the seven finalists.
Only 20 months old, Swagger the Old English Sheepdog entered the competition as a "class dog," a dog who isn't an AKC champion yet but has won a major. Due to a recent rule change, class dogs became eligible for Westminster for the first time since 1991.
"When you come with a class dog, you're just happy to be seen," said owner-breeder-handler Colton Johnson. "To win the (herding) group is astonishing."
The Johnson family, which has been involved with the breed for 35 years, is also a bit of an anomaly in a sport where many of the top dogs are bankrolled by owners wealthy enough to support major advertising campaigns.