Meet the dogs of Westminster: Rufus the Sussex spaniel

Holly Bailey
National Correspondent
The Lookout

One in a series on show dogs and their owners.

NEW YORK—Mary Jo Marsh remembers the first time Rufus, her mahogany-colored, silky Sussex Spaniel, performed what she affectionately called his “hula dance.”

“I was making dinner, and I turned around and he was standing on his hind legs, his paws in the air,” Marsh said. “I had never seen anything like it—”

As she spoke, Rufus, who'd been sitting on his hind legs on the cold concrete floor at Pier 92—home of the day judging for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show—began the actual dance. His chest went in the air, and he began moving his front legs up and down in a swimming motion that looked like a cross between a doggy hula girl and a canine take on Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance. As people stopped to ooh and ahh over Rufus’s talent, Marsh grinned.

“If only hula dancing could win shows,” she said with a laugh.

This was Marsh’s first year at Westminster as an owner/handler. While she had been coming to watch the dog show for years—and her parents had shown German shepherds—she didn’t commit to doing it herself until almost two years ago. Her heart became set on showing a Sussex spaniel after she had petted Stump, the spaniel who won Westminster in 2009.

“They are just so soft and silky,” said Marsh, who is from Ann Arbor, Mich. “I just love them.”

Marsh said some had suggested that she hire a more experienced handler in hopes that Rufus would do better at the show. On Tuesday morning, Rufus won a select breed recognition, but didn’t move to the finals.

“It was my dream to be here,” Marsh said. “I didn’t want anybody living out my dream. I wanted to show my own dog at Westminster. I didn’t want that taken away from me.”