Retired at age 4, Wasabi still holds himself up like a champion

East Berlin, Pa. – For a brief, glittering moment last summer, the Wasabi Pekingese was the most famous dog in America, all hair and hauteur as he posed next to his best in show trophy at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

But a new champion will be crowned on Wednesday, when the 2022 competition kicks off at Lyndhurst, a mansion in Tarrytown, New York. Which raises the question: what has happened to the old champion? Once the dog reaches the pinnacle of success, what does it do next?

A recent trip to rural Pennsylvania found GCHG CH Pequest Wasabi, as he is officially known (the letters represent his winning credentials), chilling at home, already half-years old at 4. -retired. To say hello to himself, he did not move at all, but moved with all deliberate speed, his magnificent locks waiting like wheat blown in the wind.

Don’t rush a Pekingese. If there’s one thing about wasabi, it’s that you don’t own it. “If I throw a toy for him, he’ll take it, but he won’t bring it back,” said Wasabi’s breeder, handler, and co-owner David Fitzpatrick. “He knows I’m going to get it for him.”

Wasabi was the nation’s top dog in 2021 and has nearly 50 best-in-show wins under his collar. Along with his Westminster title, he won best in show at the American Kennel Club National Championships in 2019 and at last year’s Morris & Essex Kennel Club Dog Show, an event held once every five years in which human participants dress up in genteel 20 Costumes of the early twentieth century. These three titles make the Wasabi a truly rare dog, the dog equivalent of a Grand Slam winner in tennis.

But she hardly spent this time wearing a teeny tiara or taking Miss America-style championship laps across the country. Wasabi’s life was much the same as before, a nonstop schedule of sleeping, eating, priming, roaming and lying down. If that seems largely unconvinced by the success, it is because winning Westminster is more pride than robbers.

A top dog can get some free food – Fitzpatrick, 65, is an ambassador for Purina’s Pro Plan brand, which means he accumulates points that can be exchanged for food discounts and other benefits could. But no money is exchanged in Westminster, unless we are talking about the cost of transportation, grooming, food and accommodation to the contestant. And unlike, say, horse racing, in stud fees the winners are commanded with little, or nothing.

Nevertheless, Wasabi has raised six puppies. (Fitzpatrick brought two of them in a small flower basket. He declined to comment, being only a couple of weeks old, but he opened his eyes.) The dog comes from impeccable stock: his grandfather Malachie Won Best in Show Westminster in 2012; His nephew Fortune Cookie is competing on the show this year.

Even when he himself was a child, a small piece of sentimental fluff, Wasabi seemed destined for great things.

“I knew this when he was 4 months old,” Fitzpatrick said. “He just had a lot of presence, a ‘hey, look at me’ attitude. And then when we pushed him—sometimes he struggles to move on—he took it like a bat out of hell.

Not everyone immediately appreciates the subtle allure of the Pekingese. When they are resting on the ground, they can resemble wonderfully stretched hairpieces. Their flowing fur, which rises to a crest on their tail and then falls down, has a way of obscuring their legs, so it looks like they are moving through leverage rather than levitation. Their small faces leave nothing.

During last year’s show, social-media commentators compared Wasabi to, among other things, a Tribble, a Furby, and Cousin It from “The Addams Family.” New York magazine called him “a gorgeous cotton ball”.

“People are always making fun of Pekingese – ‘Why is your dog so slow?’ Or, ‘Your dog looks like a mop,'” Fitzpatrick said. “People will say things right to my face. I say, ‘You won’t appreciate a Pekingese. They’ve appealed to good people for hundreds of years.’ It goes right over their heads.”

Other contestants jogged in the ring enthusiastically last year; Wasabi was taken into the arms of Fitzpatrick, entitled as an emperor. But the best-in-show judge, Patricia Craig Trotter, immediately noticed the star quality of the dog.

“He couldn’t be denied this evening,” Trotter said over the phone. According to the rules of the show – that the winner is the dog that best embodies the true version of its breed – Wasabi was the runaway champion.

Part of this was how closely he followed Pekingese standards, approaching the peak Peke with his pear-shaped body, luxurious hairdresser, high-set tail, clever Leonine face, rolling gait and his front half. He was heavier than the back half. He actually looked like a “little lion,” as the breed is meant to be, Trotter said.

And part was the je ne sais quoi of a true champion. The Wasabi has a relatable charisma, a royal bearing that speaks to the noble origins of its breed in imperial China many centuries ago, Trotter said.

“They’re not just a little jumping ball of fur,” she said. “This little breed was respected in the Chinese court, and it indicated to me that he had that kind of dignity.”

Fitzpatrick said that he taught the Pekingese for their lofty attitude and refusal to beg for attention, humiliating themselves for feasts, bringing sticks, herds of livestock, running for help, performing agility feats, or anything like that. Liked for which suggests “working for a living”. keep this.

“Spaniels are so needy, they’re clingy, they’re pouting at you,” he said via counterintelligence. “Golden retrievers – they are always there, and they make great pets, but that is not the kind of temperament that I like. I wouldn’t even like it in one person.”

Conversely, he said, “The Wasabi is trained to be a loving dog. He will come when called, but otherwise he does nothing except walk on a lead. I don’t want my Dogs do anything but enjoy the life of your little one.”

Dan Sayers, editor-in-chief of Showsite Magazine, which covers the dog-show world, said that making a Pekingese great requires some expertise.

“I have to admit, the Pekingese is a breed that I don’t fully understand,” he said. “When a dog has short legs and a lot of hair, you and I see that it looks like a ball of hair.

“But I have visited David and sat on his floor and played with his dogs, and they are 100% dogs,” he said. “They can move around and run around and jump and be fun and funny. They are definitely more dogs than we thought.”

By the end of the trip it was clear that Wasabi was his own dog. Like most successful celebrities, he exudes a charming mix of intimacy and mystery, revealing enough of himself to leave fans hungry for more. One minute he is rolling on his back, his paws waving happily in the wind; Next he lies comfortably on the ground, murmuring only “I want to be alone” from behind a thick curtain of his hair.

“He loves it when people come over; he thinks everyone is here to see him,” Fitzpatrick said. “He doesn’t have to win dog shows to feel special. He always feels special.”

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