NEW YORK (AP) — For years, the champion at the Westminster dog show was treated to quite a victory lap: Visit the morning TV shows. Up the Empire State Building. Lunch at Sardi’s. Bark on a Broadway stage.
Oh, plus another perk — a meet-and-greet with Donald Trump.
It’s true. America’s top pooch and the man who would become president, together five times at Trump Tower.
Puckering with Miss P the beagle. Petting little Banana Joe the affenpinscher. Posing on his knees with Hickory the Scottish deerhound.
“Who’s got better hair, him or me?” dog expert David Frei remembers Trump asking while admiring Malachy, a prize Pekingese.
The trips began in 2010 with Sadie the Scottish terrier. Trump once attended the show at Madison Square Garden to see a pal present her poodle, and the friend later helped arrange the merger between Westminster winners and the business giant.
The next champ will be picked Tuesday night, with Preston the mop-like puli a huge favorite among the 2,800 dogs vying for best in show. So, will the custom carry over with President Donald Trump in his new office?
Put that on paws, for now.
“He’s a New York City institution and has always been a wonderful supporter of the show,” Westminster Kennel Club President Sean McCarthy said. “We hope Donald continues the tradition and invites the best in show and the agility champion to the White House.”
The White House didn’t respond to questions about whether Trump would invite the winner to Washington. And there are signs the tradition is ending as Trump transitions to politics: CJ the German shorthaired pointer took the top award last February, but didn’t see Trump during election season.
People in the room for Trump’s visits, in those pre-presidential days, describe him as friendly and relaxed, smiling broadly while spending up to a half-hour with the victors.
A self-confessed “germaphobe,” Trump didn’t seem bothered a bit by the close brushes with the dogs, either.
“President Trump was very welcoming to both me and Miss P,” handler Will Alexander recalled of his 2015 meeting. “We spoke of mostly sports and dogs.”
“The whole time he was holding her in his arms. She even left beagle hair on his black suit and it didn’t faze him,” he said.
Trump often brought his children in to see the dogs, too.
“He could not have been more engaging,” said Frei, host of Westminster telecasts for 27 years. “He did not have any qualms.”
“He wasn’t like a wealthy businessman … ‘It’s 12:07, time for me to make phone calls,'” Frei said.
Every president since Harry S. Truman has owned a pooch while in office. Which leads to the big question: Is there a dog in the White House future?
No definitive answer from Trump yet.
In 2008, President George W. Bush and wife Laura met adorable Westminster winner Uno the beagle in the Rose Garden and gave him a red, white and blue collar.
Bush had his own beloved dog, Barney, who freely wandered the West Wing. President Barack Obama and his family had a pair of Portuguese water dogs, Bo and Sunny — in 2015, a prime Westminster contender named Matisse was Sunny’s cousin.
Several blocks from the White House, on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Newseum features the popular display “First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets.”
“Pets are part of the presidential experience,” said Patty Rhule, director of exhibit development at the museum.
“Presidents have used their pets to connect with their public,” she said, adding that during turbulent times, it can be convenient to go, “Don’t look at these negative things, look at our dogs.”
President John F. Kennedy, she said, was allergic to dogs. No matter, JFK gladly let puppy Pushinka and her playmates romp around, helping craft his image as “a man of the people,” Rhule said.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, meanwhile, once created a furor by picking up his beagle, called Him, by the ears.
Over the years, Lucky and Rex became regulars around President Ronald Reagan, and Buddy the chocolate Labrador retriever roamed with President Bill Clinton.
“Our pets humanize us,” Rhule said. “You go to the dog park, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican, it’s ‘let’s talk about our dogs.'”