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Dalmatian Hopes to Break Out of Westminster Doghouse

A few years ago and fresh off starring in "101 Dalmatians" as the evil Cruella De Vil, Glenn Close was walking around backstage at America's biggest dog show.

She was in a hurry, and breezed right by the aisle lined with eager Dalmatians. Come to think of it, the Westminster judges usually ignore them, too.

There are probably 101 reasons why the popular breed has never won Best in Show in 130 years here. Still, a frisky black-and-white special named Boomer was hoping to break out of the doghouse Tuesday night.

"They're happy dogs, people like to see them," handler Michael Scott said hours before the final competition. "They're firehouse dogs, they're high profile."

Maybe overly so for Westminster tastes.

"They became too popular, too fast," USA Network announcer David Frei said.

Boomer, along with a colored bull terrier called Rufus, the top-winning pug of all-time and a Rottweiler led by a former Florida State linebacker were the early contenders.

Hound, herding and sporting group winners were to be picked later, then judge James Reynolds was to point to America's top dog.

Usually, terrier dominate Westminster. They've won almost half the time while other name brands such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, beagles and Dachshunds have been shut out.

No Rottweiler had ever won the working group until owner-breeder-handler Keith Carter guided Shaka to victory Monday night on the green carpet of Madison Square Garden.

Carter is accustomed to winning on another green field. He played with Deion Sanders for coach Bobby Bowden's Seminoles in the late 1980s, won four bowl games and carried on a fierce rivalry with Miami.

"This is bigger than the 'Noles-'Canes," he said. "This is very different than football, but it really gets your competitive juices going."

At 6-foot-3 with a shaved head, diamond earring and beautifully tailored suit, Carter had a commanding presence in the ring. He had powerful gait — like his dog — and pumped his fist after victory.

"I never thought I'd be standing here," he said.

Rufus pulled an upset by winning a terrier group over a favored Norfolk terrier called Coco and a Dandie Dinmont from Australia and co-owned by Bill Cosby. He's looking for his 32nd overall Best in Show title.

"Rufus was more primed for this show," handler Kathy Kirk said.

Dermot the pug won the toy group at his final event. He traveled about 50,000 miles last year by motor home, and was aiming for his 66th overall Best in Show victory.

At 17 1/2 pounds with a thick, full mug, 5 1/2-year-old Dermot was a crowd favorite.

"He's starchy, like a terrier," handler Barry Clothier said. "He's been an unbelievable show dog since the very first time we were out."

Boomer the Dalmatian is certainly surrounded by success. His kennelmate is Carlee, the German shorthaired pointer who won Best in Show last year.

"I'm savoring the moment," said Linda Stark, who owns both dogs. "It'd be a win of a lifetime. To have two dogs like that in a lifetime, it's unbelievable."

Boomer's handler said this easily could be his year.

"Why couldn't he?" Scott said. "It's the luck of the draw. The judge loves you or not."

"Maybe it hasn't been the appropriate time," he said. "Or maybe you've had a really, really good Dalmatian, but six other really great dogs are competing against you."

Scott was ready to use all his tricks.

"I like to get him to wag his tail when he's in line," he said. "I scratch him on the back, I talk to him, telling him he's a good dog. Then I whisper sweet nothings in his ear."

Best-selling author Jeffery Deaver works in a more sinister realm. Yet there was the man who wrote "The Bone Collector" — later made into a movie starring Denzel Washington — getting licked on the ear by Chance, his prize briard.

Deaver brought four dogs to Westminster from his home in Chapel Hill, N.C., and gently treated each one as if a child.

"Even though I write about really creepy things, actually I'm a sweetheart," he said.