Photos: Cruz, show dog who died in Denver, poisoned at Westminster Kennel Club?

At least initially, the biggest local story to come out of this year's Westminster Kennel Club seemed to be the near-victory of Swagger, an Old English Sheepdog bred in Colorado Springs who become the annual extravaganza's Cinderella. But now, there's another, and far weirder, Colorado link to what's viewed as the Super Bowl of dog shows.

A top breeder is floating the possibility that Cruz, a prize Samoyed who died in Denver, was poisoned a few days earlier at the WKC. Photos and videos below.

The controversy has been reported by no less a journalism icon than the New York Times, which notes that Cruz seemed to be in perfect health during the Westminster event, even though he failed to score a ribbon.

After the WKC, which concluded on February 12, Cruz and his handler, Robert Chaffin, headed to the Denver area to compete in another dog show. But on February 16, Cruz began vomiting blood, prompting a trip to Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services in Lakewood. But nothing could be done to save him. He died within hours.

A necropsy wasn't done on Cruz because his owner, Lynette Blue, is certain that he was poisoned, the Times maintains -- and given that rat poison, the likeliest killer, tends to take effect several days after ingestion, the act would have been committed in NYC.

There's no proof of that, of course, and a slew of possibilities remain. Cruz could have stumbled on rat poison or the like accidentally (although nothing suspicious was found in the room where he stayed in New York), or he might have suffered from an undiagnosed ailment like hemophilia, which could have triggered similar symptoms.

Still, Chaffin sees possible poisoning suspects among the throngs at Westminster, including a "stranger" who seemed displeased that Cruz had his vocal cords removed in a debarking procedure, and animal rights activists of the sort that despise dog shows. His assertions inspired Gawker to create the following graphic....

...and come up with its own list of possible dog slayers.

Continue for more about the mystery surrounding Cruz the Samoyed's death, including more photos and videos. Gawker offers pros and cons about a slew of possible killers, including Chaffin (his "role as Cruz's guardian makes him the most obvious suspect and, therefore, the most easily framed"), Blue ("Was it time for the owners [to cut] their losses and start over?"), PETA types (the organization's head, Ingrid Newkirk, scoffs at any involvement), plus the vet, the hotel manager and more. However, each profile of possibilities ends with the same line: "Also, how could you kill a dog?"

It's been done before. The Times points out that in 1895, eight dogs at Westminster were poisoned, with "jealousy" said to be the motive.

As the controversy heated up, the club issued a statement about Cruz's death. It reads in part, "After conversation with the co-owner of the dog in question, it was established that the dog left Georgia on Monday and flew to New York, he was exhibited at our show on Tuesday, and flew to Denver on Wednesday morning where he subsequently became ill on Saturday. Unfortunately, no autopsy was performed, so there are a lot of unanswered questions."

Indeed. At this point, it seems unlikely that this case will be solved shy of a confession. But at least Cruz's legacy lives on. Included below are three videos: a 9News report, a video of Cruz in his prime shared on Blue's YouTube channel, and a more recent clip showing an incredibly adorable pup he sired.

More from our News archive: "Video: Swagger, Colorado Springs sheep dog, is Westminster Kennel Club's Cinderella story."

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