Wednesday, February 13, 2013

No Ordinary Affenpinscher, Banana Joe Is Named Best in Show – The New York Times

Banana Joe, a five-year-old affenpinscher. “This isn’t a breed you train," said Ernesto Lara, his handler.
"He’s like a human. You befriend him.”
No Ordinary Affenpinscher, Banana Joe Is Named Best in Show
by Richard Sandomir

"Banana Joe, a black dog with a monkeylike face, became the first affenpinscher to win Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night. He defeated six dogs, one a Portuguese water dog on the same night that Bo, who is the same breed, watched his master, President Obama, deliver the State of the Union address.

“He’s won a lot of big, big shows, but none like this one,” said his handler, Ernesto Lara, who held onto Joey, as he calls him, during a postshow news conference.

Joey sat calmly, as if he could have gone back onto the floor of Madison Square Garden and taken on his challengers again. He stuck his tongue out as Lara answered questions. He didn’t appear to need any celebratory drinks or snacks.

“I don’t think he has anything to prove,” Lara said. “I’m not bragging, this is just the way he is. The best thing is that I was in cue with him.” He added: “This isn’t a breed you train. He’s like a human. You befriend him.”

Joey, who will turn 6 next month, will retire, as many Westminster winners do. He will no longer be Lara’s bedmate in Bowmansville, Pa. Instead, he will head back to the Netherlands, where he was bred and born. The judge, Michael Dougherty, had no doubt that he made the right choice.

“This little fella seemed to want it a touch more,” Dougherty said. “He’s a fantastic affenpinscher, with a fantastic face, a great body. I’ve never had my hands on a better affenpinscher. Ever.”

He added, “He has the muscle tone of a big dog.” 

Matisse the Portuguese Water Dog
Jewel the American Foxhound
Dougherty selected Joey, the toy group winner, over six other group winners: Matisse, the Portuguese water dog; Honor, a bichon frisé; Jewel, an American foxhound; Swagger, an Old English sheepdog who got most of the crowd’s cheers; Oakley, a German wirehaired pointer; and Adam, a smooth fox terrier whose face, one side black, one side white, was like Frank Gorshin’s as the alien Bele in a “Star Trek” episode. 

Swagger the Old English Sheepdog

“Seven fantastic dogs presented in the most immaculate manner,” he said. Although Joey, serene in victory, did not appear to be canine stand-up comic, Lara insisted that he was a comical dog, if perhaps deadpan — perhaps the dog world’s version of Steven Wright.

“Like any comedian, when he’s in a situation, he doesn’t think it’s funny,” Lara said. “He doesn’t know his size or that he has a pushed-in face. Once you live with one, you know that’s the standard. They need a comic seriousness.”

Like most handlers asked to describe their champion dogs, Lara said that Joey was aware of what he was doing and enjoyed pleasing the crowd.

“He’s smarter than you think,” Lara said. “He knows when it’s showtime.”

The little black monkey-dog did not say a word. Even if you got very close to him, you could not get him to crack a joke.

The Best in Show was the last of four parts of the second night of the Westminster show, coming after the last three group winners were chosen. 

Michael Dougherty, the Westminster
Kennel Club Dog Show judge, left,
alongside the Best in Show dog,
Banana Joe, and his handler,
Ernesto Lara
Looking stone-faced, Dougherty watched as the seven handlers showed their dogs one last time.

One man kept shouting, “Come on, Jewel!” for the American foxhound. But the underdog sheepdog, Swagger, was the overwhelming fan favorite because of his status — a class dog who has not built a resume of championships — with cheers that sounded like those given to Uno, the beagle, on his way to winning Best in Show in 2008.

When he made his decision, Dougherty walked to a table on the sideline, signed some papers and emerged to announce Banana Joe’s victory.

Lara ecstatically lifted his little competitor in the air, wiggled him back and forth and secured him in a hug. “I had, absolutely, the time of my life,” Dougherty said. So did Banana Joe, the monkey-faced dog with the deadpan wit." — The New York Times

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