NEW YORK -- A Chinese shar-pei threw a wrinkle into Westminster.
With no clear-cut favorite to win at America's top dog show, Miss Jayne Hathaway seized her chance. She became the first of her breed to reach the final best-of-seven ring.
"I knew she was good enough, but I'm surprised," co-owner Jeff Mauk said Monday night.
Competing against bichon frises, bulldogs and standard poodles in the nonsporting group, Chinese shar-peis don't always stand out.
"They're great dogs, but they're not really a glamour dog," handler Clint Livingston said.
But their heavily wrinkled mug -- Livingston calls it a "hippopotamus face" -- sure gets attention. That's the key for them to look good when showing.
"You want it to be nice and full. If they get stressed, they lose a lot of water in their face and it gets thin," he said.
Miss Jayne Hathaway -- yes, she's named for the character in "The Beverly Hillbillies" -- will be up against a wide-open field. There's a bearded collie named Mister Baggins -- as in "Lord of the Rings" -- that won the herding group, a Pekingese that was the top toy in his Westminster debut and an 85-pound Scottish deerhound called Hickory that ruled the hounds.
Raised on a 50-acre farm in Warrenton, Va., Hickory seemed comfortable on the green carpet at Madison Square Garden. Then again, she finished third in the group last year.
"The breed is very sensitive to their surroundings. This is quite an experience for a dog who lives on a farm and chases deer," handler Angela Lloyd said.
The top sporting, working and terriers will be picked Tuesday, and judge Paolo Dondina of Italy will point to the best in show shortly before 11 p.m.
Dodger, a smooth fox terrier that finished 2010 as the top show dog in country, has retired and will not compete. Co-owner Phil Booth said that was the plan all along.
Nearly 2,600 dogs are competing in 179 breeds and varieties, and they all carry the abbreviation "Ch." before their names. It stands for champion, since every purebred dog at the 135th Westminster Kennel Club event has already been a winner somewhere.
Six breeds are newcomers, including Icelandic sheepdogs, redbone coonhounds, Leonbergers, Boykin spaniels, cane corsos and bluetick coonhounds.
All of the rookies got a warm welcome from the crowd. So did a pert Pomeranian that kept doing 360-degree spins while walking in the ring, drawing laughs from all over the arena. Alas, the group judge wasn't so enamored, and little Powerpom High Performance didn't make the toy cut.
Also making his first Westminster appearance: Lance Armstrong.
The cycling champion leaned forward in his seat, trying to get a better look at the competition. He was clearly focused at this Tour de French bulldogs, fox terriers and all other canine champions.
Flanked by his twin 9-year-old daughters, Isabelle and Grace, Armstrong sat virtually unnoticed in the stands Monday afternoon, several rows off the floor.
"It's a great treat for the three of us to be here," Armstrong said.
Moments later, a parade of long-haired dachshunds entered the show ring.
"These are her dogs," he said, grinning and glancing at Isabelle. "We better pay attention."
Drawing attention, too, in the dog show world was a piece in the most recent edition of the journal "Emerging Infectious Diseases" published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In it, a pair of experts in the field of diseases transmitted between animals and human say there are some but small risks for pet owners who let their dogs sleep in bed with them.
The risks, however, are not great when dealing with healthy pets, veterinarians Bruno Chomel and Ben Sun wrote.
Their conclusions were based on reports of such cases, going back to at least 1974, and the sample size was not a large one.
Yet anything that can even slightly rankle a dog lover, such as the suggestion that dogs shouldn't lick their owners -- on the kisser, on Valentine's Day! -- is bound to be barked down.
"I read it and I think that's insane," said Scott Sommer, who guided a prize bichon frise named J.R. to best in show at Westminster in 2001. "He sleeps with me every night, his head on the pillow. For 13 years, and I'm fine."
"I thought it was a joke," he said.
Others inside the Garden took the same view.
"There's risks sleeping with anyone," offered star handler Bill McFadden, who led a Kerry blue terrier named Mick to the top prize in 2003.
Aaron Wilkerson handled perhaps the most popular dog in recent Westminster history, a beagle called Uno that won in 2008. He let Uno sleep in his bed after he retired from competition.
"After he won, I figured he could have anything he wanted," Wilkerson said.
American Kennel Club spokeswoman Lisa Peterson said the piece reinforced good pet practices.
"They're telling you to take your dog to the vet once a year, to wash your hands," she said. "With these dogs, the risk is so remote vs. the benefits people get from sleeping with their pets."
Chomel said he and Sun didn't intend to alarm anyone, they merely wanted to raise awareness of what they thought was an increasing trend of owners sleeping with their pets.
"In the scientific community, it was very well received. In the dog and cat world, it was a little different," he said. "People went crazy, like if you let your dog sleep with you, you will die. That's not what we are saying."
"Basically, we didn't want to scare everybody. We just wanted to let people know that when you take that kind of risk, there are things that may happen," he said.
Chomel said he doesn't have any pets now. As a kid, he did. And those pets slept on the floor.
"Same room is OK, but having a pet sleep in its own bed is best," he said.