NEW YORK - Malachy the Pekingese, whose smushed-in face frames a mop of flyaway fur and whose pace rivals a snail's, is the fairest dog in the land.
The Peke put on a peak performance Tuesday night, wobbling off with best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club.
This little stump of a dog beat out the likes of a Dalmatian, German shepherd, Doberman pinscher, Irish setter, a Kerry blue terrier and wire-haired dachshund to become America's most prized pooch.
"He saved all his energy for the ring today," handler David Fitzpatrick said.
The 4-year-old Malachy won his 115th overall best in show title. The crowd was clearly was on his side, hollering his name at Madison Square Garden.
Fitzpatrick gave his 11-pound champ a bit of help he carried him onto the green carpet for the final lineup, shortening the long walk around the ring. Malachy's pink tongue popped out from his black face, his eyes sparkling like black diamonds as he soaked in the cheers.
"No other dog moves like this," Fitzpatrick said. It's true, as a Pekingese is supposed to move with a "slow and dignified" gait.
Malachy chilled out after his win, resting his silver and white coat on a cool pack. He had plenty of time to get ready, having won the toy group Monday night.
"I kept him quiet all day," Fitzpatrick said.
Judge Cindy Vogels chose Malachy in front of adoring fans. The No. 2 show dog in the nation this year had heard it before, having taken the toy group here last February.
"Super dog, and he had a stupendous night," she said. "There's a lot of dog in a small package."
The champion at Westminster wins a coveted silver bowl, but not a cent. Instead, the prestige of this title lasts a lifetime for any owner, and brings a wealth of opportunity in breeding potential.
This was the fourth time a Peke won at Westminster, and the first since 1990. Fitzpatrick, who's also a co-owner, said Malachy was likely headed back to East Berlin, Pa., for a life in retirement.
"He'll probably chase squirrels and he'll be pampered," Fitzpatrick said.
Right before the champion was picked, two PETA members were stopped by security as they tried to reach the center ring, drawing boos from the crowd. A few years ago, two protesters from PETA disrupted the presentation.
Several top choices lost out early as underdogs ruled the breed judging.
A black cocker spaniel called Beckham who was the nation's No. 1 show dog and a wire fox terrier named Eira picked by many to win proved once again it takes more than a great reputation to own this carpet.
Because no matter how many blue ribbons or silver bowls or shiny trophies any dog brings to Westminster, there's a phrase that ultimately decides who wins the top prize.
"Dog on the day," fanciers say.
More than 2,000 purebred dogs were entered overall and Marlene Ness came from Canada to show her black cocker, Ace, at Westminster for the first time. Her main opposition? Beckham, a popular pick to win the whole thing.
Yet on this day, Ace was aces.
"I should have bought a Lotto ticket," Ness said.
The fans gathered around Ring 3 seemed to sense an upset, cheering for Beckham but then yelling for the smoother-looking Ace. Judge Donald Sturz Jr. studied them intently, checking their body type and making them run around several times before making his final choice.
On this afternoon, Ace was in the right place. Best dog of his breed.
"Today was our day," Ness said. "Eye of the tiger, baby!"
Ace, however, was topped by Emily the Irish setter in the sporting round. Emily was a favorite of working moms she had a litter of 15 last May.
Eira made a real early exit. She won the prestigious National dog show that was televised on Thanksgiving Day and was the top terrier last year. That meant a lot terriers often rule Westminster, with wire foxes winning the silver bowl more than any other kind.
It was, however, a really big day for a Tibetan mastiff, and even more so for his owners.
Major won his breed, a nice start for Debbie Parsons and Brad Slayton. A few hours later, the co-owners from the Seattle area made it a special Valentine's Day they got married in the backstage benching area where hundreds of dogs are housed.
With dogs brushing by, people climbing on crates to get a better view and the total crush of the crowd, it made for a somewhat chaotic scene. Cherilyn Frei, a chaplain and director of family support for Ronald McDonald House in New York and the wife of Westminster television host David Frei, performed the 5-minute ceremony.
The 54-year-old Parsons wore a pale pink Vera Wang gown and the 58-year-old Slayton donned a silver tux, with each sporting accents of Westminster purple. The 120-pound Major stood right between them, giving away the bride, and they kissed him to celebrate.
"This dog brought us together," Slayton said. "Today," he added, choking up, "I bought a Valentine's Day card for my wife, not my girlfriend."