Westminster Winners Behind the Scenes


NEW YORK CITY — Here are reports on two winners of this year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show at Madison Square Garden, held Feb. 13-14. Neither dog won Best in Show, Best in Group, or even Best in Breed. Still, among the 2,000 dogs competing at the show, they’re very much winners in an ‘event’ far more important than any dog show: real life.

Susan Anderson’s Nami, a Shiba Inu (the dog’s father is named Tsunami), has a seemingly innate ability to bond with autistic children and bring them out of their shells. Even more amazing is how Nami is drawn to autistic children.

One day, at an airport in Seattle, Nami clearly became focused on a little girl, Anderson recalled. “I had no idea why, but Nami was insistent on meeting this girl,” she said. “So, I let that happen. The little girl acted like most little girls around a dog.” Her startled parents then explained that their daughter was autistic and never responded that way. How did Nami possibly know this girl was autistic, and why is she drawn to these special children?

Anderson, of Anchorage, AK, says simply, “Never sell what dogs know short.” Nami is also drawn to senior citizens. Anderson’s mother was touched by this angel with four legs. “Mom was intensive care over Christmas and was really out of it,” says Anderson. “I think she recognized my voice, but was really uncommunicative, except that she repeatedly asked for Nami. So, the hospital allowed me to bring Nami into the intensive care unit. Immediately, (mom) became responsive. I’ve seen Nami do this before, but this was my own mother. It was amazing. Soon, mom began to insist that she’d get well so I could participate in Eukanuba (a dog show). In no time, she was sitting up and on the mend.”

Still, being over 90, Anderson’s mother is forgetful. “Nami goes around closing cabinets that she’s left open,” Anderson says with a laugh. “Nami even shuts the door behind her after she comes in from outside.”

Nami’s schedule is busier than that of most people. She participates in several dog sports. She’s also a sort of mascot for a non-profit program called Job’s Daughters, designed to help young girls develop skills and confidence. All this, plus she competes in dog shows, including the king of them all, Westminster.

“My message is that dogs are capable of so much if we challenge them to be all they can be,” Anderson says.

As Sydney competed at Westminster, some handlers and breeders of Tibetan Terriers weren’t only surprised by the dog’s appearance. They were surprised that Sydney was alive and well. About a year ago, in Maine, Sydney was attacked by a bobcat, which nearly tore off the dog’s front left leg. Veterinarians at first doubted Sydney would survive at all.

“She lost so much blood that I didn’t think she was going to make it to the vet office alive,” recalled her misty-eyed co-owner, Brenda Algar, of Landenberg, PA. Although Sydney made it through surgery, there was still a question about whether or not her leg would have to be amputated. That possibility seemed certain after the pet developed a post-surgical infection.

Not only did Sydney overcome the infection, but within months was running and playing. “People ask about the kind of rehab we did,” Algar says. “She was such a fighter with so much heart. She just did it, and very quickly. She was in good condition in the first place, but still I can’t explain it. I’m not sure anyone can.”


Martha Stewart’s 4-year-old Chow Chow, Genghis Khan, won Best in Breed. Not only was Genghis Khan named after the Asian warlord of yore, but he was named after Genghis Khan “the first,” who tragically met his end in a 2009 kennel explosion and fire that also claimed the lives of 14 other dogs.

Dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, of Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog,” who’s known for rescuing shelter dogs, commented, “We can’t ignore dog shows, For one thing, they’re so popular. So, I say ‘get on the boat.’ I don’t think the world is going to exist without pedigreed dogs. I don’t think the world should exist without pedigreed dogs. I love pedigreed dogs as much as I love the mutt. If there is no responsible breeding, what will happen to the dog? But I am talking about breeding that must be responsible.”

 ©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services