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German shorthaired pointer top dog at Westminster

NEW YORK -- Posing like the very symbol of the Westminster
Kennel Club, a German shorthaired pointer called Carlee became
America's top dog Tuesday night.

The 5-year-old female with the soft eyes and gliding gait won
best in show, beating out a popular Norfolk terrier, a champion
bloodhound and a wobbling Pekingese.

All seven finalists gave fine performances on the green carpet
of Madison Square Garden. But the sellout crowd and judge Lynette
Saltzman were clearly won over by Carlee's "free stack," the time
when the dog stands alone and shows its stuff.

Paying rapt attention to star handler Michelle Ostermiller,
Carlee pointed with perfection as the cheers grew louder and
louder.

"She was spectacular," Ostermiller said.

Last year, Ostermiller neatly guided a big Newfoundland named
Josh to this best in show title. This time, she came back to be the
tops among the 2,581 entries in 165 breeds and varieties.

"I'm stunned," she said.

Carlee, with a brown face and white-and-liver spotting, now will
retire to Castle Rock, Colo., with her ninth best in show title
overall. Officially named Ch. Kan-Point's VJK Autumn Roses, the
sporting group winner wound up a champion in the nation's most
prestigious canine event.

Carlee became the second German shorthaired pointer to win at
Westminster, and was a direct descendant of the other winner in
1974.

"She just did everything right," Saltzman said.

Just like Josh last February. The barking, slobbering Newfie was
back in the ring, too.

Josh got a nice round of applause when he bounded out during
Westminster's tribute to its Angel on a Leash program, where
therapy dogs help the healing process for pediatric patients. He
retired after his big win _ it's rare for Westminster champions to
try for a repeat.

A sprightly Norfolk terrier named Coco represented the terriers.
She was the favorite at Westminster last year, and came back this
time at 6{ years old after taking off six months to deliver three
puppies _ Tom, Dick and Harry.

Fans called out Coco's name when she showed for the last time,
her tongue hanging out and her ears flopping. She might've been No.
2 overall, but there's no way to know _ only a winner is picked.

Knotty, a bloodhound that won the AKC/Eukanuba show last month,
was trying to become the first hound in 22 years to take best in
show at Westminster. Instead, he could not top Carlee.

A Pekingese called Jeffrey was the toy winner. His father won
the largest show in the world _ Crufts in England, with 25,000 or
so dogs _ in 2003.

An elegant Great Pyrenees, the first of its breed to take the
working group, was fondly described as an animated snowdrift. Named
Fame, he was a surprise winner a day before, leaving breeder Karen
Justin without tickets for the final night.

A silky Tibetan terrier _ not really a terrier, despite its name
_ also was the first of its breed to take the non-sporting group.
Named Baloo, for the "Jungle Book" character, he spent his down
time snacking on his favorite dog biscuits.

Merlin, a border collie, represented the herding group.

Asleep in her crate much earlier Tuesday, Morgan hardly had a
care in the world. Let the other dogs get cramped by the backstage
crowds, this otterhound was taking a nap.

And certainly unaware of the pressure she faced.

A win could've brought much-needed attention to one of America's
rarest breeds. Instead, she lost out to Knotty in the hound group _
too bad for a breed that keeps moving closer to extinction.

Yes, extinction.

Believe it or not, there were only 23 purebred otterhounds
registered in the United States last year. That's 23, compared to
the 146,692 Labrador retrievers, the most popular dog.

"We don't get a lot of exposure," offered Morgan's co-owner
and breeder, Betsy Conway.

Conway described Morgan as a bloodhound with a black-and-tan,
woolly coat. Think of the shaggy dog in the Disney film "The
Absent-Minded Professor" and that's close, but bigger.

"There's no such thing as an otterhound," kidded Lab breeder
Christine Tye. "I've never heard of them."

Most people haven't. There are fewer than 1,000 in the world,
perhaps 350 scattered around America. The population steadily
declined in the 20th century when otter hunting was outlawed in
many places.

Also, Conway admitted, they're not for everyone. Otterhounds
have oily coats that can rub off on clothes and furniture, need
room to roam and have a deep bay voice. At home in Sherman, Conn.,
Morgan loves to dig for moles and look for cats.

"But if you want a dog that will love you, they're perfect,"
she said.

Conway currently owns or co-owns 10 of the 23 registered
otterhounds. A career insurance saleswoman, she intends to ensure
the breed sticks around.

"They will not become extinct in my lifetime," she said,
"because I won't let it."