February 8, 2019 / 11:17 AM / 9 days ago

Westminster 'Best in Show' title vaults winners to doggie stardom

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Like many Westminster grand champions, CJ became an A-list star when he won the most prestigious event on the U.S. dogshow calendar three years ago, but his owner says the German shorthaired pointer is still a beloved family pet at heart.

FILE PHOTO: Handler Valerie Nunez Atkinson poses with CJ, a German Shorthaired Pointer from the Sporting Group, after they won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show at Madison Square Garden in New York, U.S., February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

CJ’s hectic schedule in the days after he was crowned “Best in Show” included appearances on “Fox & Friends,” “Good Morning America,” “The View” and other television shows. There was a glitzy trip to the top of One World Trade Center, the nation’s tallest building, and a photo-op with fashion designer Michael Kors at Sardi’s Restaurant in New York’s Theater District.

“So much has changed and yet really nothing has,” said CJ’s owner, Valerie Nunes-Atkinson, a professional dog handler who runs a pet resort in Southern California. “He still terrorizes our cat.”

Judging from the similarly glamorous experiences of other Westminster Kennel Club champions, the winner of the 143rd annual competition, which opens on Monday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, can expect to be swept up in a whirlwind of excitement, too.

Uno, the first beagle to ever win at Westminster, toured the country for years after his victory in 2008, meeting President George W. Bush and lifestyle maven Martha Stewart, according to the American Kennel Club. His death in September at age 13 made national news headlines and was mourned by many.

Uno’s grandniece, Miss P, followed in his footsteps, becoming the second-ever beagle to be crowned “Best in Show” at the 2015 competition.

After celebrating her victory with appearances that included a meeting with then-real estate magnate Donald Trump years before he was elected president, Miss P retired to motherhood, staying out the spotlight in her native Canada.

German shepherd Rumor also gave birth to a litter of puppies after she won the competition in 2017, but not before appearing on the floor of the Wisconsin State Assembly.

The reigning Westminster champion, Flynn, a fluffy white bichon frise, stepped down in style this year with a walk down the runway as the first “celebrity spokesdog” at an American Heart Association fundraising fashion event this week.

Since triumphing at Madison Square Garden in 2016, CJ is still going strong. The six-year-old pointer has taken several canine titles, including a whopping 43 “Best in Show” titles at other, less well-known competitions.

Still, fame has not changed CJ much, according to his owner. When the Westminster hoopla was over, he headed back to California to roam the two-acre (0.81-hectare) property, lounge on the couch, and torture the family feline, Nunes-Atkinson said. He also works as a “therapy dog” with children, particularly those with disabilities.

“He was our crazy dog before he went to Westminster and after,” she said.

Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Sandra Maler

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