Best in show: Westminster set to pick the top dog

NEW YORK - Sound asleep in her crate, a red rabbit stuffed toy at her paws, Fifi looked like the most docile dog in the world. Not exactly how many people see a Doberman pinscher.

"They can be intimidating," Jocelyn Mullins said.

That's why thousands of the Fifinator's Facebook fans and Mullins -- her owner, breeder and handler -- hoped she could win the 137th Westminster dog show.

"It would humanize the breed," Westminster Kennel Club President Sean McCarthy said. "A win for the Doberman would be an acceptance of that breed."

Judge Michael Dougherty was set to pick best in show shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday. Earlier, the top sporting, working and terriers were to be chosen.

Already assured a place in the best-of-seven final ring at America's premier dog competition were an American foxhound, an affenpinscher, an old English sheepdog and a bichon frise. They won their groups Monday.

Fifi, a finalist on the green carpet at Madison Square Garden last year, gave herself another chance by winning best of breed Tuesday afternoon. Eyes alert, ears pointed, the 4-year-old champion officially named Protocol's Veni Vidi Vici barked in the ring and then jumped on Mullins when the judge pointed to her.

More than show dogs, powerful Dobermans are linked with the police and military, ready to protect, watch and even attack. Put it this way: Backstage at Westminster, few little children wandered up to pet the Dobermans, instead saving their love for the St. Bernards a few feet away.

A complete misperception, Janie Hoffman offered. In town from Atlanta, she's totally a Fifi follower.

Last year, Hoffman and her sister attended best-in-show night at the Garden. When Fifi came into the ring, her sister braced, adding, "I wouldn't want to go near that dog."

Unbeknownst to them, Mullins' husband was sitting a row in front.

"You could put your head in her mouth," Kevin Mullins assured them.

Back at her house in Dublin, Ohio, Fifi acts more like a pet than a prize winner with 70 best-in-show ribbons. She enjoys chasing the red spot from a laser pointer -- "like a cat," Kevin said -- and has fun playing ball.

"She's as cocky as they come when she comes out for a show, but she's cuddly when she's home," he said.

At Westminster, Fifi's crate was topped by a homemade sign with photographs and the words "happy" and "smile" and "princess." In the ring, she drew the loudest cheers from spectators standing five-deep.

Dobermans have won best in show four times at Westminster, mostly recently in 1989.

A win by Fifi could help promote the breed, similar to what happened after Rufus the colored bull terrier took the Westminster silver bowl in 2006. Even so, some communities in the country still have laws banning ownership of the so-called "bully breeds" -- it's known as BSL, or breed-specific legislation.

Kevin Mullins recalled that when he first met his wife about 20 years ago, she had a rescue Doberman.

"I was a little intimidated at first," he said. "That only lasted a couple of hours."

Jocelyn Mullins said it's not fair to pin labels on dogs, be it Dobermans or rottweilers or anything else.

"It's not just this breed. Dogs should be judged like people, as individuals," she said.

Among the 2,721 entries was a Labrador retriever co-owned by New York Yankees President Randy Levine. Mitch showed well in his Westminster debut, but didn't bring home a ribbon.

"He was great," Levine said. "Your first game at Yankee Stadium, you're a little nervous. He was poised. He'll be back next year."

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