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Happy Meal fuels poodle’s quest at Westminster dog show

NEW YORK — Chic and strong-headed, Siba the black standard poodle will only eat chicken — no meat, no veggies, not even turkey. That became a problem when handler Crystal Murray-Clas couldn’t find any at the Westminster Kennel Club show Monday.

So this prim and proper poodle chowed down on the closest thing her humans could find — a fast-food treat that proved to be the perfect fuel for her final show.

“It’s usually all about the chicken,” Murray-Clas said.

After lunching on grilled chicken sandwiches from a nearby McDonald’s, Siba won the nonsporting group at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, one of four dogs to qualify for the best in show final ring. Bono the Havanese took the toy group, Bourbon the whippet was named top hound, and Conrad the Shetland sheepdog won herding.

Winners for the other three groups — and best in show — will be crowned at the Garden on Tuesday night.

A finalist at the dog show out of 2,630 entries, Siba earned her way with a most dignified showing. The 3 1/2 year old struck a pose waiting for the judge to start, planting her feet firm and pointing her perfectly cut head high. She strutted confidently across the green carpet, not a hair out of place on her carefully clipped coat.

“She knows she’s special,” Murray-Clas said. “I think everything she does shows that.”

A princess at times, Siba isn’t always so elegant. She lives with Murray-Clas and adores her rambunctious 2-year-old son. When she’s off show duty, Siba is happiest running around the fields near Murray-Clas’ home in Hanover, Pennsylvania — and tracking mud into her house.

She’ll have plenty of time for that when she retires from shows after this week.

“You would never know she was a show dog,” Murray-Clas said.

Going out as top dog won’t be easy.

Bourbon, for instance, comes from a top-shelf litter. Her brother Whiskey won the National Dog Show in 2018 and was a favorite here last year — until Bourbon upset her go-to cuddle buddy in the breed competition.

Whiskey stayed home this year, giving Bourbon a clearer path to the breed ribbon. The 4-year-old, colored more like a pale Scotch than an amber Kentucky liquor, could become the first whippet since 1964 named America’s top dog.

As strong a shot as any, she’s won a breed-record 73 best in show ribbons in the past year.

“I can’t even believe it,” handler Cheslie Pickett Smithey said.

Then there’s Bono, every bit the rock star that his U2 namesake would suggest. The crowd fawned over slo-mo replays on the Garden’s video boards — a striking highlight with Bono’s exaggerated mustache flowing at his side. They roared in approval when he was awarded best in group.

When Bono won the breed competition earlier Monday, he was immediately swarmed by dog show judges-in-training eager to inspect the superb example of the national dog of Cuba.

“He wants to be out there,” handler Taffe McFadden said. “And he makes people look at him.”

Also fitting for Bono: this 3-year-old still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.

He was rated the No. 1 show dog in the country last year, but he’s yet to fetch the top prize at the circuit’s two most heralded shows. He was runner-up at Westminster last year to King the wire fox terrier, and also finished second to Thor the bulldog at the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving Day.

Bono has 90 best in show victories, and McFadden is hoping to get to 100 before the dog retires. Either way, a comfortable life as McFadden’s pet awaits.

“He sleeps on my bed,” she said. “And he loves my cats. Which is more than my husband does.”

Even without ribbons, a few other dogs emerged as big winners Monday.

Relic became the first Azawakh to strut the Garden floor. The West African sighthound — built a bit like a skinny greyhound — made its Westminster debut for this year’s show.

And a bit of drama from last year’s show was resolved when Colton the schipperke took his turn. After earning a spot in the final ring of seven in 2019, Colton was ruled ineligible for best in show due to a conflict of interest involving the top judge.

This time, he was greeted with big applause. The black lapdog pranced proudly when his turn came.

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