Welcome to the Westminster Dog Show, where the size of the dog in the fight has nothing on the level of confidence, preparation and genetic perfection of the dog.
This week, a small but mighty canine named Bono took charge of the AstroTurf, handily walking away with a win in the toy group against his fellow diminutive dogs, sending the floppy-haired, inquisitive little Havanese to the final Best in Show round against six fierce — yet furry — competitors: Bourbon the Whippet, Siba the McDonald’s fuel-ed Standard Poodle, Conrad the Shetland Sheepdog, Daniel the golden retriever, Wilma the boxer and Vinny the wire fox terrier. (Siba would ultimately win the Best in Show title.)
But Bono, who is all of two years old, wasn’t pressed by the excitement. In fact, just a few hours before taking to the Madison Square Garden’s grand stage, he could be found on a tucked-away perch in the crowded hallway next to his fellow group winners and human team. Around him, eager fans and spectators shuffled by shoulder-to-shoulder as though queuing up for a celebrity sighting, camera phones outstretched, cooing over the collective din.
But like his veteran rock star namesake of the band U2, Bono was lounging calmly under his long hair, oblivious to the chaos and reserving his energy, it seemed, for the big show to come. It didn’t hurt that he’d just received a special canine massage from an animal chiropractor earlier that afternoon, as his handler Taffe McFadden told TIME. “A little spa treatment. I would have liked to have one!”
He has earned the treat: Bono (named because his littermates were each given the moniker of a rock star musician, like his sister Adele) is the most winning Havanese in the breed’s history, racking up 90 Best in Show titles in his short career so far — although not the prestigious Westminster one.
“When you get to this level, it’s like an athlete. They kind of go inside of themselves, and somehow just process this,” McFadden explains. McFadden, who was at 220 dog shows last year, was equally calm. “This is the most important dog show of our year,” she admits, “but I’m very relaxed. I have a great product, and I believe in him. I just hope everybody else does.” They’re gunning for a clean 100 wins before Bono retires, although nabbing a Westminster title would have been the final cherry on top of an already quite illustrious career.
But why this dog? “The most beguiling thing about him is he looks into your soul when he looks at you,” McFadden says of her charge. She chose him out of a litter at just eight weeks. “He had the It factor,” she says. “He’d stop, and I’d talk to him, and he’d cock his head and he’d stand in a perfect pose. I could never take my eyes off him.” Judges have been on the same page: “When I put him on the table and the judge approaches, he never takes his eyes off them. He turns to look at them, and he commands their respect.” That said, McFadden isn’t keen on his tendency to sneeze when they’re in the ring, messing up his hair. But “other than that,” she concedes, “he’s usually pretty good.”
“Pretty good” was not quite enough to make the final judge select him as Best in Show. But no matter his small stature, Bono still elicited some of the crowd’s loudest cheers of the night from the nosebleeds to the floor seats, crowning himself one of the fan favorites.