NEW YORK — When Flynn, a bichon frisé, won best-in-show honors at the 142nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night, he acted as if he had been there before, jumping straight onto a raised purple platform in the center of Madison Square Garden.
Although he was the No. 4-ranked dog last year, he was entered in this year’s show as something of an afterthought, if not an underdog.
“Well, it feels a little unreal,” said Bill McFadden, Flynn’s handler. “I came in expecting nothing, hoping for a good performance, and I got it.”
With a powder puff of a head, expressive eyes and a bouncing gate, the 5-year-old Flynn beat a strong group of contenders: Slick the border collie, Lucy the borzoi, Biggie the pug, Bean the Sussex spaniel, Winston the Norfolk terrier, and Ty the giant schnauzer, who finished as the runner-up.
“It’s just magical,” McFadden said.
He described Flynn as a dog “looking for a lap” and one who was eager to please. “He can lift one eyebrow and make you laugh,” he said.
It was the second time a bichon frisé had won at Westminster. The first was J.R., who won over the crowd in 2001 with his trademark move: a wave to his fans with both front legs.
Flynn, however, kept all four paws on the ground in what McFadden said was probably his last trot around the ring.
“I’m pretty sure I can drop the mic and say he’s retired,” McFadden said.
The competition was tough. When Bean the Sussex spaniel sat up on his hind legs and begged for chicken, the crowd melted.
“He felt the energy,” Bean’s handler, Per Ingar Rismyhr, said. Even the judge was not immune. Bean upset two sporting group favorites: Striker the cocker spaniel, the No. 3 dog last year; and Angus the clumber spaniel.
When Bean flashed his best pout and begged again, he had secured his status as the fan favorite.
“He just does it naturally,” said Rismyhr, noting Bean’s long body.
While Bean was the sentimental pick, there was plenty of love to go around. Before handler Katie Bernardin led Ty, the giant schnauzer, around the ring, she planted a kiss on his mouth. After Ty won the working group, he leapt into Bernardin’s arms and wrapped his front paws around her back, nearly knocking her down.
But this night belonged to a dog no less a giant. When Flynn draped his paws over a sign that read best in show, he looked quite like a dog that belonged.