No fear for the underdog Banana Joe takes Best of Show with local handler Ernesto Lara

By on February 20, 2013

By: LUCY RICCOMINI Review Staff, Staff Writer

Affenpinscher Banana Joe poses proudly with his handler, Ernesto Lara. (Photo by Lisa Croft-Elliott)

Banana Joe, an Affenpinscher from The Netherlands, gallivanted through Madison Square Gardens with his head held high for the judges at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog show on Feb. 12. It was his final chance at winning Best of Show before retirement.

And dog gone it — he did it.

His handler, Ernesto Lara, who lives in Bowmansville and works for Peter Green at Greenfield-Yarrow Kennels, couldn’t be more proud.

"That’s the most important dog show in the world and one of the most prestigious," said Lara. "And you see the best of the best. Everybody wants to win that show."

Originally from Mexico City, Lara moved to the United States to pursue his dream of becoming a dog handler. It began as a hobby and then in 1994 he had an opportunity to work for Green.

"He’s the most famous dog houser in the world. He’s won four times best of show at Westminster," said Lara.

Lara has been working with Banana Joe, a 5-year-old Affenpinscher, for some time now. Joe’s already maintained an impressive list of accolades including top dog in the country last year.

"His father was bred right here in Bowmansville and the dog was sold to The Netherlands," explained Lara. "We heard about this dog that broke records throughout Europe and he became very famous there. And so we wanted to have a chance to show him here for a period of time. And I was in charge of getting him ready and prepared to show here in this country."

Banana Joe got his name because his breed has a similar facial structure to a monkey — an extremely cute monkey. He’s a toy-sized dog with wiry tufts of black hair and a personality big enough to win over some of the toughest of judges.

"This is a very peculiar breed because they are very very intelligent. They have a human-like temperament about them so they really understand friendships and a different level than just being obedient. He’s more than a pet, he’s a companion," explained Lara.

Lara was responsible for Joe while he was in the states. The two were virtually inseparable while Lara cared for Joe, feeding him, training him and traveling along with him. As a dog lover and handler, Lara understands the show dogs are advocates for their species.

"We all do this to show the public the importance of these dogs," added Lara. "Affenpinschers breed was almost extinct from the second World War. Those are the ones that need to be protected because there’s not that many. [We] show the audience how well they will adapt to a lifestyle and how to care for them."

Banana Joe and Lara worked diligently to get to where they are — and at the same time, the two became close buddies while they trained for the biggest show in the country. What happened after the win was a pile of interviews, appearances on talk shows, cameos, a spot on a Broadway show, and finally a steak dinner at Sardi’s Steak House in New York City.

But at the ripe old age of 5, Joe has decided to call it quits.

"Basically now he’s going to rest and going to be a normal dog, which he is anyway. In between shows, he’s just a regular dog."

As Joe takes the long trek back home, Lara will move on to handling another dog, a Fox Terrier who is from Sweden. But forgetting about Joe will not be easy. In fact, Lara will miss him incredibly.

"It’s very very difficult," admitted Lara. "I just have to understand that because that was the deal. The owners allowed us to have him for a while and we understand how hard it was for them to part. It is just very difficult. I wish it was something I could change, but he has to go back where he belongs."

Though Joe’s career is ending, Lara’s is not. As a child, dog handling was his dream and he will continue to love what he does – even 35 years later.

"It’s truly a dream come true," added Lara. More BANANA JOE, page A11

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