NEW YORK – To the owner of a big dog far away from home in central Maine, it was the best of omens.
The moment Quincy the Newfoundland stepped outside the Le Parker Meridien Hotel in midtown Manhattan early Tuesday morning, Sue Mendleson had a powerfully good feeling about her pet’s looming debut at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
“He pooped!” reported Mendleson with an optimistic smile. “He’s very particular about where he goes back home. But we walked around the block and he found a patch of snow and said, ‘OK, I know what that is!’ “
Someone give that dog a ribbon.
Which, in the end, they did.
I thought this trip to the pinnacle of dog showdom would be a relatively tranquil affair: Watch a half-dozen purebreds from Maine come down to the Big Apple, applaud politely as the top dogs in all the land roll right over them and call it a day.
Quincy had other plans.
By the time the black fur stopped flying in Ring 6 at Pier 94 late Tuesday morning, the 135-pound Newfie from the small town of Washington was one of four dogs — out of 15 — still standing.
One would be named “best in breed” and go on to Madison Square Garden to compete Tuesday evening in the working-group finals — with a chance to go on to the “Best in Show” extravaganza that climaxes this two-day Super Bowl of dog shows.
Another would get the “select” award, essentially the breed’s runner-up. Yet another would get “best opposite sex” from the winner, while a fourth would get “select best opposite sex.”
Mendleson watched anxiously as Quincy’s handler, Karen Hansen of Redding, Conn., put him through his paces.
Back home in Maine, Mendleson’s husband, Todd Bennett, watched the live stream on his computer.
Me? I’d just heard that Quincy’s great-grandfather, Josh, actually won Westminster’s “Best in Show” back in 2004.
“Between the great-grandfather and the early morning poop,” I wondered with a quickening pulse, “are we about to make a little Maine history here?”
Then, suddenly, with dizzying speed, judge Espen Engh began pointing from Newfie to Newfie. The crowd, five-deep around the green-carpeted ring, went wild.
And Quincy got robbed.
“Select,” Mendleson explained as I looked to her for interpretation.
I was crushed. Mendleson wasn’t.
“It’s great!” she said. “He needed to show his best — and then from there, it’s whatever the judge is going to do.”
The winner’s name is William. He’s from New Jersey. Enough said.
Two rings down, where 61 golden retrievers spent two hours tossing their best come-hither looks in the direction of judge Douglas Johnson, Maine’s three hopefuls fared no better.
Two-year-old Lush (also known as “Lushie Plushie”) of Falmouth actually lost her footing at one point while loping across the slippery carpet, but recovered quickly under the expert guidance of handler Graeme Burdon of Montreal.
“She trusts Graeme,” observed owner Jill Simmons. “Do you know when a little kid falls and they decide whether they’re going to cry or not? Lushie was like, ‘Hmmm …’ and then she was like, ‘Graeme, I love you!’ “
Added Simmons gamely after Lush failed to make the cut: “We’ll be back.”
Not so for 5-year-old Henry of Jay. This was his last show and, despite the best efforts of handler Brian Still of Thompson, Conn., there would be no Ray Lewis-like championship finish for this guy.
“He showed his heart out,” said Henry’s misty-eyed owner, Patty Richards, after Henry failed to make the cut. “It’s been an incredible journey, but this is it. He’s now retired.”
Sort of. Next up for Henry is a career as a therapy dog.
“He’s not going to become a couch potato,” promised Richards. “He’s going to have fun and he’s not going to stop moving.”
Then there was Tassel, the 3-year-old golden retriever from Lebanon.
You want pressure? Try having the Westminster Kennel Club put your grooming bench right next to Chloe, the No. 1 golden in the country. (Who, not surprisingly, trotted away with “Best Opposite Sex” on Tuesday.)
“I think (Tassel) was moving a little too fast,” said Maryterese Russo, a rare owner who handles her own dog, after Tassel was excused. “But she looked intelligent out there, right?”
Intelligent? Try purebred genius.
So here we are, fellow dog lovers, at the end of the line. There will be no Maine miracle in this year’s “Best in Show.”
But I’ve got to tell you, Westminster has taught me a thing or two about this dog show business.
First and foremost, these people really, really love their dogs. And their dogs really, really love them back.
Second, if you don’t count the pair of 60-something women who got into a nasty argument in the Pier 92 elevator — “Your elbow is digging into my side,” snarled one. “I know!” snarled the other — the folks here are among the nicest you’ll ever meet.
Finally, as they remove the larger-than-life poster of a champion Doberman pinscher that’s been staring down at me for the past two days, I’m looking forward to returning to a newsroom where I’m not surrounded by writers from “Modern Dog,” “Just Labs” and the ever-authoritative “Canine Chronicle.”
Nor will I ever forget the guy, again on the elevator, who squinted hard at my press credentials and finally asked, “So, you’re from the Portland Pet Herald?”
That’s it. I’m done.
Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: