They stood knee-high, even waist-high, but in the end, top honors went to the tiniest of the bunch. Coming in at shin-high was Banana Joe the affenpinscher. The small, black pup with the monkey-like face from the toy group beat out his six competitors to clinch the Best in Show title at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
The 6-year-old wiry-haired affenpinscher hails from the Netherlands and brings home his 86th Best in Show title with Thursday’s win. With a monkey-like face and a bouncy step, Banana Joe found a friend in judge Michael J. Dougherty, the congenial Californian tasked with choosing the top dog.
(TIME EXCLUSIVE: Behind the Scenes Photos at Westminster)
But Joey wasn’t quite the crowd favorite among the final field of seven. That was an honor that went overwhelmingly to the Old English sheepdog that resembled a giant cotton ball — and was appropriately named Swagger. The 20-month-old puffball was paraded around the arena multiple times to overwhelming cheers, but was ultimately bestowed with the “reserve” title, a Miss Congeniality–esque accolade.
For Dougherty, it seemed a tough choice: after parading the pups around once, he went back for at least two extra looks. That’s because in the end he couldn’t choose just one — this year, the Kennel Club instructed a “reserve dog” be chosen. Madison Square Garden, shoving out the New York Rangers hockey team this week in order to host the competition, erupted in cheers. After a second parade and a few chants and claps — the New York crowd was getting a bit impatient — Dougherty announced Banana Joe as the winner. “He just wanted it a touch more,” Dougherty said of the pup. “He was on from the second he walked in.”
For the second year in a row, first prize goes to the competitor from the toy group. Last year the winner was Malachy, a Pekingese. Banana Joe barked and jumped at his accolade, but overall he seemed calm and collected during his postshow press conference. It’s because he’s a seasoned professional — the tiny affenpinscher has been competing against dogs much larger than himself since a young age. “He doesn’t know his size,” said handler Ernesto Lara after Banana Joe clinched his victory. “He doesn’t know he has a fluffy face. He thinks he’s Mr. America.”
As professional and tense as the atmosphere can be, there was also much cooing. The Best in Show crowd was stacked with pups that captured the crowd’s cheers. Jewel the American foxhound proved to be strong competition — after all, she was the top American foxhound in last year’s show as well. And there was a symbolic entrant as well: Matisse the Portuguese water dog was paraded around as the top Working Dog on the same night when a famous Portuguese water dog owner — Barack Obama — served as the primary primetime competition for the Westminster Dog Show. Obama finished his State of the Union address just 30 minutes before the Best in Show competitors took the stage.
So what’s next for Banana Joe? After an exhausting competition circuit, he’s clinched what’s generally regarded to be the top dog-show honor in the U.S., if not the world. So, he’ll move out of his abode in Pennsylvania and retire to his homeland of the Netherlands.
But not before reveling in the media spotlight. Tonight, Banana Joe outswaggered Swagger itself.