An Investigation: Was A Show Dog Murdered At The 2013 Westminster Dog Show?

Death At The Dog Show

The annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York is no stranger to controversy. Between regular protests by animal rights activists and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s famous first appearance (and ejection) from the announcers booth, the lauded contest regularly draws attention for good, bad, and generally entertaining reasons. However, in a narrative ripped from the all-too-human (and all-too-fake) board game Clue, an alleged murder most foul struck the event in 2013.

A Samoyed named Cruz participated in the competition for the first time that year. His handler, Robert Chaffin, escorted the esteemed dog in and around Manhattan before, during, and after the show in early February. According to the New York Times, Cruz died under mysterious circumstances a few days later in Lakewood, Colorado:

On Feb. 16, after Cruz began vomiting blood, Chaffin took him to Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services in Lakewood, where he was hooked up to an intravenous drip and received oxygen.

Cruz, whose full show name was “GCH CH Polar Mist Cruz’N T’Party At Zamosky D” according to ABC News, died a few hours later. His symptoms included vomiting blood and internal hemorrhaging, which suggested hemophilia and other rare genetic disorders. Chaffin and co-owner Lynette Blue, however, believed Cruz was poisoned:

Poisoning, whether intentional or not, seemed the most likely explanation. Blue declined for Cruz to have a necropsy because she was confident that he swallowed poison, she said.

Veterinarians said his symptoms resembled those of dogs who had ingested mouse and rat poisons, which usually take three to five days to cause physical symptoms in a dog. That would mean Cruz would probably have ingested any poison while he was in New York. (Via NYT)

Due to the dog’s immediate cremation, neither Chaffin nor Blue had any physical evidence. Blue decided against any invasive postmortem procedures because, according to CNN, the veterinarian “told her a necropsy wouldn’t have shown anything if the dog had been poisoned days before.” That, and Blue couldn’t stomach the thought of it.

An Unofficial Investigation Leads To Implied Accusations

Once Chaffin and Blue realized rat poison’s delayed effects meant possible ingestion in New York, they retraced every single step Cruz made at Westminster to figure out whodunit:

“We have gone through all the steps of where he was, what was done, and he was always on a leash,” Blue, 67, who has co-owned Cruz since birth and has raised and shown the fluffy, snow-white breed of dogs since the 1960s, told ABC News today. “He was never outside. He was always with the handler.” (Via ABC News)

Neither Chaffin, who’d worked with Blue for years, nor any of the other Samoyed competitors were ever suspected. Instead, Cruz’s owners thought the alleged poisoning might have been the work of a third party. During the private investigation, the handler recalled an important encounter with a rather disagreeable individual:

Chaffin said he remembered a stranger at the Westminster show who glared at him and made a disapproving remark about Cruz’s vocal cords having been removed to quiet his bark, a process known as debarking.

“It would have been easy for someone to throw something in his cage,” Chaffin said. (Via NYT)

The “stranger” could have been associated with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) or another activist group, but he or she never revealed a particular affiliation — only an opinion about the dog’s muted bark. Chaffin couldn’t even recall whether this person was a man or a woman. That be said, he informed Blue of the incident, which increased their suspicions of foul play:

[Chaffin] wouldn’t go so far as to implicate activists — or the mysterious, angry stranger — in Cruz’s death.

“I don’t know who it was. I think it was done by someone who was sick,” he said. (Via CNN)

Going On The Defensive

In the end, neither Chaffin nor Blue named any individual suspects or organizations, but their implications were crystal clear. Someone with a “sick” temperament (a word Chaffin used often in press interviews) probably poisoned Cruz, and while PETA and the Westminster Kennel Club didn’t administer the killing blow, they might as well have.

That’s why both groups released statements defending themselves and casting doubt on Cruz’s alleged poisoning in the weeks that followed the dog’s death in Colorado. PETA’s founder and president Ingrid Newkirk told the New York Times the very suggestion the organization had anything to do with an animal’s death was “scurrilous” and “low.”

Meanwhile, Westminster officials told the press, “We have never, to our knowledge, had an incident at our show where a dog has become ill or was harmed as a result of being poisoned.” The statement goes on to applaud the club’s efforts to ensure the safety of all participants, and questioned Blue and Chaffin’s accusations despite having no physical evidence to back them up. Unfortunately for Westminster, Mary Pilon of the New York Times dug through the paper’s archives and discovered evidence to the contrary:

Poisoning allegations at Westminster date to 1895, when eight dogs were poisoned the morning before the competition. “Jealousy believed the motive,” a front-page headline in The New York Times read.

Of course, these were allegations of foul play that were never confirmed (according to the paper’s record). However, Pilon’s work deflated Westminster’s claims and suggested — whether or not Cruz was ever poisoned — such a heinous act was possible at the dog show.

To date, no follow-ups have determined whether or not an unidentified person or organization fed rat poison to the Samoyed Cruz at the 137th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2013. After a string of stories in the national press, neither Cruz, Chaffin, nor Blue were ever mentioned in conjunction with any new developments. The alleged poisoning, it seems, was forgotten.

This is depressing. So to make everyone feel better, here’s a photo of a dog waiting for scraps at the dinner table, drooling.

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My dog has a drool necklace.

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