— NEW YORK - A surprise win at the 133rd Westminster Dog Show on Tuesday catapulted dog handler Scott Sommer of Houston and his adorable senior citizen Sussex spaniel Stump into the media glare and the hype and hoopla.
At 5:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, Sommer and Stump found themselves escorted into a van, along with an entourage of publicists and press, heading off on the already busy city streets for their first TV appearance of the day at "Fox and Friends."
Sommer is no newcomer to the publicity game that is an integral part of handling America’s top dog, as he did it all in 2001 when his Bichons Frise named JR won. Accompanying them was Stump's other owners, Cecelia Ruggles of Redding, Conn., and Beth Dowd of Pinehurst, N.C., and Dowd's daughter, Carol, and her fiancé, Rahmean Kamalbake.
For all concerned, life as they knew was put on hold and plans were changed to assure Stump got his day in the spotlight. Beth Dowd, who runs a senior care service, was busy canceling appointments she had lined up in North Carolina, while her daughter canceled out on fashion designer Vera Wang, who is designing the dress for her September wedding.
With all that out of the way, the two used up cell phone minutes calling family, friends and business associates to inform them of Stump’s TV lineup so that they could tune in at the appropriate times and witness the dog’s success.
Stump’s story is truly a great dog tale, intriguing every interviewer Wednesday. He had overcome an unknown bacteria infection, which had forced him to be hospitalized for 19 days at the veterinary hospital at Texas A&M. Then as quickly as Stump got ill, he recovered.
Since then, he’d been enjoying his retirement, playing with his housemate JR at Sommer's home in Houston and filling his days lounging on the furniture, chewing up his favorite toys and generally living the good life.
On a whim, Sommer decided to bring Stump out of retirement for the 2009 show, not entering him in any previous shows.
“I didn’t have to prepare him,” Sommer said. “The dog is in fabulous shape. Further because there was no build-up to the event, when we went on to the green carpet, it was just like going for a walk with my pet.”
While Scott spoke quietly, patiently answering questions, Stump quickly got the hang of TV attention and jumped on the couch, making it very clear that he’d like some water. Out of nowhere, minions arrived to attend to his request, and he lapped up both the water and the hands-on attention.
On a tight schedule, held together under the reins of Westminster publicist Kelly Rubin, it was on to the "Today" show and before he could shake his ears, the convoy was moving again. The CBS studios were the next port of call for an appearance on the "Morning Show with Mike and Juliet."
The green room was a hive of activity, as Victoria Secret’s models sat around waiting to show off the latest Valentine underwear and comedian Gilbert Gottfried was getting ready to entertain the live studio audience. Jessica Simpson was also making an appearance, but Stump couldn’t have cared less.
At 9 a.m., the convoy was on the move again, edging its way through the thickening traffic to Martha Stewart’s studio. Stewart's minions were also on hand, and Stump was whisked off to another green room to hang out with some other Westminster show dogs until it was time for the segment. He sat sniffing hopefully as the humans in his entourage nibbled on some of Martha’s famous blueberry muffins and sipped piping hot cappuccinos.
“I never thought it would be like this,” Carol Dowd said. “I am enjoying every single moment of it. This is such fun.”
There was no time to drink the cappuccinos to the last drop as Rubin ushered everyone back to the vans and on to the next destination. There was, however, a slight hold-up when Stump needed a toilet break.
At Grand Central Station, the next destination, a barrage of cameras and lights greeted Stump as TV networks had set up a mini-studio.
While David Frei and Sommer got miked up and had their noses powdered, Stump just sat there chilling, obviously enjoying the attention.
“He is a really great dog to carry on the Westminster tradition,” Frei said. “He is such a perfect specimen of his breed best described as being long, level and low. And he has such a lovable personality. He is going to be hugely popular.”
Stump was certainly the crowd pleaser when he took the Best in Show title.
“Yes, he’s very sociable and loves people,” Ruggles said. “He is just such a great dog to have around.”
According to Westminster tradition, the morning after the show, the phone usually rings off the hook from dog lovers inquiring about the breed.
“They are a rare breed,” Frei said. “So I doubt that there will be enough puppies to meet any kind of demand. But on the other hand, they are not for everyone. As with any breed, people need to do intensive research to ensure the dog they are selecting matches their lifestyle.”
While the interviews went on for two hours, members of the Metropolitan Dog Club were gathering for a special luncheon in his honor. Stump must have smelled that food was on the way as his nose was switching and he kept looking at Sommer with inquiring eyes.
Sure enough, at 1:30 p.m. out came a special steak, served on a silver platter. The photographers had to be quick to capture this time-honored Westminster winner's tradition, because Stump didn’t let it rest long on the plate.
By 3 p.m., everyone in his entourage looked low on fuel and ready to collapse. Luckily he could cat nap and nobody minded. But his day in the spotlight wasn’t over yet; there were more appearances scheduled, including another visit to the Fox studios to appear to Shepherd Smith.
Many New Yorkers caught a glimpse of Stump as he plodded the sidewalks of the city and was picked up and plonked in the van.
More than 12 hours later, the van finally pulled back again outside his Seventh Avenue hotel. At last someone could put the “Do Not Disturb” sign up for him on the door, confirming that he’d had a doggone good day and certainly earned the right to snooze in peace.