All hail the Pekingese, dogs formerly the companion of Chinese royalty who have a title of their own.
One particular Pekingese, fluffy, mushed-face Malachy, took top honors at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night, returning the ancient breed to the national spotlight.
"It was, of course, thrilling" to watch, said breeder and Pekingese enthusiast Patricia Metzger, a former Chicago-area dog lover who now makes her home in Wentzville, Mo. "One of ours is the way you feel, both about Malachy and [handler] David [Fitzpatrick]."
Those who love the Pekingese, or "Pekes," as they're sometimes called, are passionate about the personality and general adorableness of the tiny dogs. With a reputation for being poised on the laps of rich ladies in films like 1939's "The Women," could the breed get a popularity boost from the win?
"They're a well-kept secret," said Jerelyn Atwell-Paul of Edison Park, a Peke fan, dog judge and the owner of one of the great granddaughters of the last Pekingese to win the Westminster dog show. "It would be nice to see a few more people able to enjoy them."
Hugh Hefner's former flame, Bridget Marquardt, a star of "The Girls Next Door," owns a black Pekingese named Wednesday. But Corinne Niessner of Avondale said she's got a picture of a member of the breed posing with a star from an entirely different era -- Shirley Temple.
"I think they're retro cool, I do," said Niessner, who found her Peke companions through rescue organizations or shelters. She's now living with Piccolo, who's about 12 or 13 years old. "I love their little aloof personalities."
The breed does well in the city, said Henry Birdseye of Old Town, who owns a Pekingese named Barney and runs a blog, Duke's Dog Blog, about his Peke Duke, who recently died. Birdseye says in his experience, Pekingese don't mind the Chicago weather and do well in small spaces.
"They're apartment dogs," said Birdseye, who's not ashamed to be a Peke fan. "I've somehow made it very open that I'm grown man who likes little [Pekingese]."
Those inspired to Pekingese ownership by Malachy's big win at Westminster have plenty of options. On petfinder.com, a recent search turned up more than 800 Pekingese or Pekingese mix dogs available for adoption in the Chicago area.
Potential owners who prefer a more established bloodline can find reputable breeders through the American Kennel Club's web site. Metzger said a would-be owner could expect to pay about $1,000 for a good Pekingese puppy. And novices are welcome.
Their health is generally good, owners and breeders said, though some Pekes have eye problems. Grooming can be easy (just have the coat trimmed regularly) or more intensive for show dogs. When it comes down to it, though, breed lovers say it's all about whether you love the dog as much as the judges in New York did Tuesday night.
"They just have wonderful, wonderful personalities," said Atwell-Paul. "They're a lot a lot of fun."
If you've been bitten by the dog show bug and want to see the action in person, the International Kennel Club Dog Show will be this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at McCormick Place.
ggarvey@Tribune.com | @gcgarvey