By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Norwegian elkhound, a pekingese, a miniature poodle and a German shepherd became the first four finalists at the 141st Westminster Kennel Club Dog show on Monday, the opening night of the two-day competition.
More than 2,800 dogs in 200 breeds were competing for the top prize in the New York City show, the second-oldest sporting event in the United States behind the Kentucky Derby horse race.
The final winner will be announced on Tuesday evening after three other finalists are named in the sporting, working and terrier groups.
Aftin, a miniature poodle from Chandler, Arizona, became the 19th mini poodle to win the non-sporting group, trailing only the 30 wins for the standard poodle.
“It’s still beyond words,” owner Daniel Chavez said after leaving the show floor with the black, curly-coated canine in his arms. He attributed Aftin’s success entirely to the dog. “It’s all her. I’m just at the end of the lead.”
The herding winner, Rumor, won the category for the second consecutive year. Kent Boyles, owner of the five-year-old German shepherd, said he felt “pretty awesome” about winning two years straight. Boyles, from Wisconsin, described his dog as “really affectionate.”
In the hound group, Duffy became the 12th elkhound to win, beating 32 other breeds in that group.
A one-year-old pekingese called Chuckie came out top of the toy dogs. Twenty-six pekingese have now won the category, more than any other breed.
Individual breeds are judged during the day, with the winners of each moving on to group competitions on Monday and Tuesday evenings. The winners of seven groups then compete for the final "Best in Show" award on Tuesday.
Dogs from 49 states and 16 foreign countries have entered this year's show, where they are judged on characteristics specific to their breeds.
Samantha Alaia, 24, a human resources worker from Staten Island, was hoping to see her favorite breed, the Miniature Pinscher, take home the top prize.
"I’m obsessed with dogs," said Alaia, attending her first Westminster. "It’s just been great being able to see them."
This year's hound group featured the first-ever appearance of the sloughi, a North African sighthound. The breed winner was a five-year-old named Toby, who enjoys soft beds and coffee, according to his owner-handler, Erika Wyatt.
"He's a terribly spoiled dog; a terrible mama's boy," said Wyatt.
Sporting dogs, working dogs and terriers will be judged on Tuesday. The sporting group, representing hunting and retrieving dogs, has the largest number of entries at more than 500.
In addition to the sloughi, there were two other new breeds in this year's competition: the American hairless terrier, which was bred in the 1970s to hunt rats and other vermin; and the pumi, an ancient Hungarian herding breed.
While New York is used to seeing thousands of dogs at the show, this year the Westminster Kennel Club also welcomed back the International Cat Association for its "Meet the Breeds" day which took place on Saturday. This was the fourth time the cat association took part in those events.
An additional 330 dogs competed in an agility competition on Saturday, a separate event from this week's judged show. The overall championship was won by Trick, a 6-year-old border collie.
"It's a dream come true," said Trick's owner, Rhode Island-based dog owner John Nys, of being at the show. The collie will accept a ribbon on Monday.
(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Sandra Maler and Michael Perry)