February 15, 2006

Colored Bull Terrier is Westminster Show’s Top Dog

By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK -- A colored bull terrier known as Rufus made history on Tuesday, becoming the first of his breed to win best in show at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Formally named Rocky Top's Sundance Kid, the 5-year-old tan and white bull terrier beat six other finalists, including classic family dogs such as a golden retriever and an Old English sheepdog who were the clear crowd pleasers. He also triumphed over more than 2,600 other entrants at the world's largest and most prestigious dog show.

But Rufus' owner Barbara Bishop of Holmdel, New Jersey, said her dog was "first and foremost a family dog," even though he had won best in shows 31 times previously.

"We're going to have a buy him a steak somewhere," the beaming owner said after his big win before a packed arena at Madison Square Garden.

"We were kind of unprepared for this," she said, adding that Rufus competed at Westminster in the last three years but never made it to the final seven. "This is just the ultimate."

Rufus was the first colored bull terrier to win best in show in Westminster's 130-year history, although a white one did win some 90 years ago.

In another respect the winner was in good company, as the terrier group has produced more best in show winners by far than any other category, taking the prize nearly half of the time.

The other breeds competing for the big prize were a Dalmatian, a Rottweiler, a pug and a Scottish deerhound, a breed competing at Westminster for the first time.

Rufus' handler Kathy Kirk had nothing but praise for him, crowing "he's the king of dogs" and declaring him "the best bull terrier in the history of the breed."

She cited in particular the egg-shaped curve of his head, a distinctive feature of the breed which was also cited by Ontario judge James Reynolds as "the classic profile of the bull terrier." The dog's sturdy, assured movement and sociable demeanor only enhanced his appeal, and the audience showed its approval with a standing ovation.

His nickname, Kirk said, is "Puppyhead."

Kirk, who said she had been working with the dog for about four years, added that Rufus was much more than a show dog.

"Oh, he's happy-go-lucky, he's funny, he jumps, he does hucklebucks," she said, describing an athletic leap the breed is known for, in which they jump into the air and slam their heads against the wall.