NYC Health Department tightens -- then loosens -- leash on Westminster winners

Malachy, winner of the Best-in-Show at the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, eats chicken and rice at Sardi's Restaurant.

Every year, upon winning Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the top dog is treated to a victory meal at Sardi's, a restaurant in New York City’s Theater District. That tradition, which has lived on for three decades, almost came to an abrupt end this year when New York City’s Health Department decided to crack down on its rules against animals in restaurants.

On Wednesday, just hours after this year’s winner, Malachy the Pekingese, enjoyed a chicken and rice lunch at the historic eatery, the health department announced that Malachy would be the last dog to dine at the restaurant. 

"We can't be expected to just roll over for the champ. Our primary concern is making sure people and pets follow the doggone rules — ideally without whining or begging," Health Department spokesman John Kelly told the New York Post.

Owner Max Klimavicius said he was sorry to see the tradition end.

But by Thursday morning, the Health Department had loosened its leash. A spokesperson told NBC New York that, starting next year, the commissioner would give special permission to the dog show winner to dine at Sardi’s.

According to the Health Department, “Every Westminster-winning dog should have his day and his meal.”

Michelle Leifer is a contributor who would happily dine alongside dogs and cats, too.