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NEW YORK -- Sydney Ellen, whose registered name is Grand Champion Ri Lee's Diamonds Are Forever, didn't come away from the show ring with any ribbons at the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show Monday. But the spirited Tibetan terrier, who survived a wild bobcat attack four years ago, will always be top dog in her owners' eyes.
"She's truly a miracle dog," said co-owner Brenda Algar of Landenberg, Pa. "I think she's a very inspiring dog. She really is the comeback kid because everyone gave her up for dead [or maimed]. She proved them all wrong."
The 6-year-old dog, also owned by Nikkie Kinziger of Green Bay, Wis., received top honors last year as the 2011 national specialty winner for her breed and also won a first award of merit at last year's Westminster. Her overall rankings placed her in the top five in her breed for two years running and earned her an entry to America's most prestigious dog show.
Best of breed judging for the 185 breeds entered in the show takes place for this year's 2,077 entrants on both Monday and again Tuesday. The winners then compete each day in the best in group judging.
The winners of each of the seven groups (sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, nonsporting and herding) compete Tuesday evening for top honors -- best in show at the historical dog competition, which was first held in 1877.
With Madison Square Garden -- the long-time home of the dog show -- undergoing renovations, the show floor and benching area (where dogs wait for their time in the ring) was even more crowded and chaotic this year compared to past years, according to attendees.
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It didn't keep away dog enthusiasts, who each paid $45 for a one-day general admission ticket and the privilege of rubbing shoulders with the top dogs and their owners and handlers. Two-day general admission tickets went for $80 and a two-day reserved seating ticket was $130.
Matthew and Diane Riordan from Brooklyn, N.Y. Attended their first Westminster show Monday night after their children gave them tickets for Christmas.
As they walked past a Basset hound being groomed by assistant handler Josh Agin of Chicago, the Riordans paused to admire best of breed Grand Champion Fort Merrill Topsfield Yahoo. Just as Mrs. Riordan said "Oh, they drool," Yahoo furiously shook his head. The couple burst out laughing as they wiped the saliva off their shirts.
"We've been baptized," Mr. Riordan said.
Celebrities were also spotted on the show floor Monday, including British dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, who has a long-running popular show on Animal Planet called It's me or the dog.
Also on hand was media mogul and domestic diva Martha Stewart, who was there to cheer on her Chow Chow, named "GK," who won best of breed and was to move on to the Best in Group competition Monday night. Ms. Stewart is co-owner of the dog with Karen Tracy from Leighton, Penn. Jan Kolnik, of South Salem, N.Y., is the handler. GK, whose registered name is Champion Pazzazz's Genghis Khan #8, and is the son of Ms. Tracy's Chow Chow that won the breed at Westminster last year.
Monday was an off-day for Sydney Ellen in the ring, but you wouldn't know it by her mischievous demeanor. She knew which jacket pocket Ms. Algar kept treats in and she wouldn't stop jumping and trying to get at them.
It's that drive and determination that made her one of America's top Tibetan terriers in 2010, 2009 and 2008, and also got her through two grueling surgeries and a long recovery period.
The 21-pound dog was attacked by a wild bobcat on the morning of Dec. 15, 2007, (three days after her second birthday), when the wild animal came over the 8-foot-tall, chain-link fence that surrounds the dog's play yard. Finding Sydney, the bobcat bit the dog clear down to the bone on her front left leg several times, piercing a major artery. When Ms. Algar found her, the dog was covered in blood and barely conscious.
Several veterinarians told Ms. Algar the dog would most likely need a leg amputation, but the dog managed to pull through without one, despite several persistent infections in her left front leg. At best, doctors told Ms. Algar she would drag the leg and would never show again.
"Sydney proved all of them wrong," Ms. Algar said.
She returned to the ring nine months after the attack, taking best of opposite sex (an award given to the best dog of the opposite sex of the best of breed dog) the first day out. This is likely Sydney's last Westminster, said Ms. Algar, who plans to retire Sydney from the ring.
After a break, Sydney will hopefully pass her vim and good looks on to a few litters of puppies, she said.
Contact Tanya Irwin at: email@example.com or 419-724-6066.