If it's true that every dog has his day, then yesterday was it for 1,650 pooches at the finale of the Maryland Kennel Club's 79th All-Breed Dog Show in a crowded Fifth Regiment Armory.
Dog owners, judges and canine aficionados came from as far as California and Florida to take part in the nation's fourth oldest dog show.
More than 5,000 humans were on hand for the two-day affair, petting, prodding and admiring the four-legged contenders representing 126 different breeds -- from Afghans and Alaskan malamutes to Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
Whisperwind on a Carousel, the champion white standard poodle from Potomac named supreme winner in the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show last week in New York, won again yesterday as best-in-show.
Owners Joan and Frederick Hartsock, whose victory in the New York show had been broadcast to a national television audience on the USA cable network, walked away from the Baltimore event with the $500 top prize and a crystal bucket to add to the trophy collection.
The dogs were tame, but the competition was fierce as champions and underdogs alike were put to the test in 11 show rings. Breeding and poise -- not barking or biting -- separated winners from losers.
"It's fun," said Iva Fisher, of McLean, Va., who entered her two Viszlas or Hungarian hunting dogs, Sir Barton and Margaret, in the competition. "I thoroughly enjoy it -- win, lose or draw," Mrs. Fisher said. "We've lost a little bit, but you have to lose a little when you start out. It makes you appreciate winning."
Mrs. Fisher and her husband, Jerry, bought their first golden-rust colored Viszlas two years ago and started entering the bird dogs in shows soon afterward.
Almost immediately, their efforts began to pay dividends as Sir Barton -- "Bart" for short -- won a blue ribbon. And yesterday, 1-year-old Margaret was judged best female in her breed.
The Fishers and other dog owners are intensely competitive about the performances of their high-priced pets in vying for the ribbons, trophies and prize money. Large or small, each entrant seemed to bear out that it wasn't so much the size of the dog in the show, but the size of the show in the dog.
"I get a rush from the winning," said Paula Murphy, of Richmond, Va., who has been raising and training her own show dogs for 15 years. "To me, it's the competition. It's like an athlete, going out and doing the best he can do for that day. Once you get that first blue ribbon, you're hooked."
Winning isn't the only thing that canine connoisseurs get from this multi-million dollar, time-consuming trade. The circuit has spawned a number of long and deep friendships among rival owners, who take advantages of the shows to visit, renew ties, and keep up on the latest news.
The atmosphere at the Baltimore show was comfortable, almost cozy. Owners petted and played with each others' dogs and frequently exchanged hugs and handshakes.
"The people at the show ring are like a family," said Carol Dickerson, of Fredericksburg, Va., who drove up with Mrs. Murphy from her home to attend the event. Her own three champion dogs were absent, having missed the entry deadline.
"These people are my support group, my family," Ms. Dickerson added. "These are friendships that last for life. No matter where you move to in this country, if you make the shows, you'll run into friends.