EAST BERLIN, Pennsylvania — For a brief, glorious moment last summer, Wasabi the Pekingese was America’s most famous dog, all hairy and tall as he posed next to his best show trophy at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
But a new champion will be crowned on Wednesday, at the end of the 2022 competition at Lyndhurst, a mansion in Tarrytown, NY. Which raises questions: What happened to the former champion? Once a dog reaches the pinnacle of success, what does it do next?
A recent visit to rural Pennsylvania found GCHG CH Pequest Wasabi, as he is officially known (the letters stand for his winning credentials), relaxing at home, already semi-retired at age 4. Wiggling to say hello, he didn’t exactly run, but moved with deliberate speed, his lush locks billowing like wheat blowing in a breeze.
Don’t jostle a Pekingese. If there’s one thing about Wasabi, it’s that you’re not his boss. “If I throw a toy at him, he’ll go get it, but he won’t bring it back,” said Wasabi breeder, handler and co-owner David Fitzpatrick. “He knows I’ll get it for him.”
Wasabi was the top dog in the country in 2021 and has some 50 best wins on the show under his collar. In addition to his Westminster title, he won Best Show at the 2019 American Kennel Club National Championship and last year’s Morris & Essex Kennel Club Dog Show, a once-in-five-year event. in which the human participants dress in elaborate costumes from the early 20th century. These three titles make Wasabi a rare dog indeed, the canine equivalent of a Grand Slam winner in tennis.
But he barely spent that time wearing a tiny tiara or taking a Miss America-style championship tour across the country. Wasabi’s life is much the same as before, an uninterrupted schedule of sleeping, eating, prepping, frolicking, and lying down. If he seems largely unaffected by success, it’s because winning Westminster is more glory than gain.
Top dog could get free food – Fitzpatrick, 65, is a Purina Pro Plan brand ambassador, meaning he accumulates points that can be redeemed for food discounts and other advantages. But no money is exchanged in Westminster, unless we are talking about the human expenses related to the transport, the toilet, the food and the accommodation of the candidate. And unlike, say, horse racing, winners command little, if any, in stud fees.
Still, Wasabi fathered six puppies. (Fitzpatrick pulled out two, in a small basket of flowers. They declined to comment, being only a few weeks old, but briefly opened their eyes.) Westminster in 2012; his nephew Fortune Cookie is on the show this year.
Even when he was a baby himself, just a tiny piece of sentient down, Wasabi seemed destined for great things.
“I found out when he was 4 months old,” Fitzpatrick said. “He just had a lot of presence, a ‘Hey, look at me’ attitude. And then when we put him in the lead – sometimes it’s hard to get them to move – he went at it like a bat. from hell.
Not everyone instantly appreciates the subtle looks of a Pekingese. When resting on the floor, they can look like beautiful sprawling hairpieces. Their flowing fur, which peaks at their tail and then cascades down, has a way of obscuring their legs, so they appear to levitate rather than ambulate. Their little faces reveal nothing.
During last year’s show, social media commentators compared Wasabi, among others, to a fiddlea Furby and Cousin Itt from “The Addams Family”. The New York magazine called it a “magnificent ball of cotton.”
“People always make fun of Pekingese – ‘Why is your dog so slow?’ or, “Your dog looks like a mop,” Fitzpatrick said. “People will say things to my face. years. It goes over their heads.”
Other contestants enthusiastically ran into the ring last year; Wasabi was carried into Fitzpatrick’s arms, titled as Emperor. But the show’s top judge, Patricia Craige Trotter, immediately saw the dog’s star quality.
“Tonight he couldn’t be turned down,” Trotter said by phone. By the rules of the show – that the winner is the dog that best embodies the perfect version of their breed – Wasabi was the runaway champion.
Part of that was how well he adhered to Beijing standards, approaching peak Peke with his pear-shaped body, splendid hairstyle, high tail, cunning leon face, rolling gait and heavier front half. than its rear half. He definitely looked like a “little lion,” as the breed calls it, Trotter said.
And part of it was the je ne sais quoi of a true champion. Wasabi has a confident charisma, a regal bearing that speaks for its breed noble origins in imperial China centuries ago, says Trotter.
“They’re not just a little jumping ball of fur,” she added. “This little breed was honored in the Chinese court, and he pointed out to me that he had that kind of dignity.”
Fitzpatrick said he preferred Pekingese for their noble attitudes and proud refusal to ask for attention, humiliate themselves for treats, fetch sticks, herd cattle, run for food help, perform feats of agility, or do anything that suggests “working for a living”. Put the.
“Spaniels are very needy, they’re clingy, they prance about you,” he said as a counterexample. “Golden retrievers – they’re still around, and they make fabulous pets, but that’s not the kind of temperament I like. I wouldn’t even like that in a person.
In contrast, he said, “Wasabi is trained to be a loving dog. He will come when called, but otherwise he does nothing but walk on a leash. I don’t want my dogs to do anything but enjoy their little lives.
Dan Sayers, editor of Showsight magazine, which covers the world of dog shows, said it takes some expertise to recognize what makes a Pekingese great.
“I have to admit that the Pekingese is a breed that I don’t fully understand,” he said. “When a dog has small legs and lots of hair, all you and I see is that it looks like a ball of hair.
“But I visited David, sat on his floor and played with his dogs, and they are 100% dogs,” he continued. “They can move, run, jump and be fun and funny. They are definitely more doggy than we think.
It was clear by the end of the visit that Wasabi was his own dog. Like the most successful celebrities, he exudes an alluring mix of intimacy and mystery, revealing just enough of himself to keep fans coming back for more. One minute he’s rolling on his back, his paws waving happily in the air; the next day, he lies languidly on the floor, almost muttering “I want to be alone” behind his thick curtain of hair.
“He loves when people visit; he thinks everyone is there to see it,” Fitzpatrick said. “He doesn’t need to win the dog show to feel special. He always feels special.