TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — In the well-heeled, purebred world of the Westminster Dog Show Friday night, the best story under the big white tent was Plop, a $300 rescue dog from New York City.
He took a richly deserved star turn amid the exclusive company of various Papillons, Terriers and Shetland Sheepdogs, in all his pointy-eared glory.
Plop will wow you, charm you and probably kiss you, then go back to living his little, fast-twitch life, with the speed and skill that made him, undeniably, The Comeback Dog of the Year at the 145th edition of Westminster, but the first to be held outside of Madison Square Garden, home to the event since 1877.
A historic estate named Lyndhurst, twenty-five miles up the Hudson River, is home to the 2021 Westminster, a move necessitated by COVID-19 precautions. Plop probably wouldn’t have cared if it were contested in a junkyard. He is a taut 17-pounder with a grayish coat and a wide mouth that seems to be in a perpetual smile, 41% Australian Cattle Dog, 30% Rat Terrier, 12% Australian Shepherd, with a little American Bulldog, Collie and other breeds mixed in.
He and his far-flung gene pool seemed thrilled to be back out there – leaping, turning, careening – through a timed obstacle course, capturing his second top prize in the All-American (a euphemism for mixed breed) agility competition at Westminster, but his first since he had major surgery 13 months ago.
Plop had tears in his shoulder and both biceps, and his owner, Lisa Topol, chief creative officer at an advertising agency in her other life, was terribly worried.
“I didn’t know if he’d run again, I really didn’t,” Topol told USA TODAY Sports moments after Plop crossed the 20th and final obstacle in a time of 37.73. “He was a little rusty, but I have to tell you, he’s a rock star. I’m going to start crying. I would love this dog if he never did this again. He’s the coolest, funniest, most loving dog in the world.”
Topol, on cue, started crying.
“I told you,” she said, laughing.
Plop is about to turn eight years old. Topol, who had significant success in agility competitions with two previous mixed-breed dogs, had no intention of getting another when a friend sent her a picture of young Plop on Facebook. He was in an Alabama shelter as a puppy, then moved to a Florida shelter. He was rescued multiple times. Topol had a friend in Florida who checked out Plop in the shelter.
“I hate him but you will love him,” the friend texted.
Topol adopted the dog. He got his name “because he just plopped in my lap.” The bond was instantaneous. Affection pours out of Plop like water from a spigot. He loves to do tricks his being favorite a leaping, 360-degree spin when Topol holds her hand over his head.
Plop grew into an agility superstar, winning numerous competitions – including the 2019 All-American at Westminster – and even representing the U.S. internationally, often alongside Verb, a seven-year-old border collie who was the overall Masters Agility Champion at the 2021 Westminster, topping a field that had 350 entrants at the start of the day.
Plop finished fourth overall, flying over jumps, ripping through elbow-shaped tunnels and up and down see-saws, and slaloming through poles – feats of dexterity that Dr. Peter Lotsikas, the Maryland-based veterinary surgeon who operated on him in May 2020, thought were unimaginable.
“Plop had the worst shoulders I’ve ever seen in a dog his age,” said Lotsikas, who inserted three polymer anchors to put him back together, and whose wife, Faith, mapped out a long, grinding rehab regimen. “He’s a little pistol. He was one of the most difficult dogs to rehabilitate (because of his energy). To say they exceeded our expectations is an understatement.”
After scoring their latest Westminster agility victory, Topol and Plop received a purple-and-gold ribbon, a crystal trophy, a silver plate and a check for $1,000 to donate to the American Kennel Club of her choice. Topol will make her regular contribution to Ewenity Farms, the Florida shelter that Plop came from.
One of Topol’s favorite things about Friday night was that Plop knew that he won. He always does, she says, because he feels the energy surge and the pomp and celebration. Some dogs stay low-key after victories. Not Plop.
“It makes him even more wiggly,” she said.
Topol put Plop in his crash-tested dog crate and drove back to her apartment in Lower Manhattan. Along the way, Plop got his just reward: three McDonald’s burgers, minus the buns.
Back in the apartment, Plop ended his day with a flying leap onto Topol’s bed, before curling up next to his owner.
“I love this dog more than anything on Earth,” Topol said.