Best in show: How the Pekingese breed earned 'Lion Dog' nickname

Malachy wins best in show

Best in show honors at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night went to Malachy, a Pekingese who did proud a truly ancient breed. Dating back to the 8th century and the Tang Dynasty, the breed once held court as the lapdog companion of emperors.

Do not be fooled by the teeny tiny dog that rarely hits 15 pounds. The Pekingese breed is actually quite muscular, and its regal bearing and fierce loyalty helped earn it the nickname Lion Dog.

Legend has it that a long, long time ago in "the mists of time," a lion fell in love with a tiny marmoset monkey. But such a love was impossible. The lion begged the deity that ruled the animal kingdom to shrink him down to size so he could marry his true love. But his heart remained its original size, according to Asian, and it is from this union that the Pekingese, or Fu Lin -- Lion Dog -- was born.

PHOTOS: Westminster Kennel Club dog show

In reality, the site says, DNA studies show that the Pekingese breed closely mimics the genetic composition of wolves and is among the purest breeds of dogs on Earth, making it a very ancient  breed indeed.

The dogs' appearance is marked by a long-haired coat and ears that lend a heart-shaped look to their  otherwise wide, flat head. They may look dainty and delicate, but they're surprisingly muscular and stocky, according to the American Kennel Club.

"Pekingese possess a regal dignity, intelligence and self-importance, making them good-natured, opinionated and affectionate family companions," according to the American Kennel Club.

Some other facts about Lion Dogs: They are front heavy. They can be any color. They are difficult to housebreak. They are relatively "inactive," which makes them ideal for indoor or apartment living. They're also prone to developing Small Dog Syndrome, that human-induced disorder that allows small dogs to think they run the joint. And those coats, as you might imagine, need plenty of brushing.

Pekingese get their name from the ancient Chinese city of Peking, now known as Beijing. Chinese art through the centuries -- ink drawings, bronze figures, clay sculptures and the like -- often celebrated the Pekingese. At one point in history, Lion Dogs could be owned only by royalty and were rarely seen outside the emperor's palace. (Stealing such a dog resulted in death.)

That changed when the British invaded in 1860, according to Pedigree UK. Upon entering the Forbidden City, troops found Empress Tzu'Hai dead on the floor after committing suicide rather than submit to invasion of the West. Guarding her body were five Pekingese dogs. When the British returned home, they took the breed with them.


Opinion: My furry Valentine

A little dog wins big at Westminster

Best in show at Westminster dog show: A pipsqueak, Malachy

-- Rene Lynch

Photo: Yep, I'm top dog: Malachy poses for photos moments after winning best in show at the Westminster Kennel Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Credit: Michael Nagle / Getty Images

Best in show at Westminster dog show: A pipsqueak, Malachy

Best in show, that most coveted of all honors at the famed Westminster dog show, went to ... how should we describe it? A fallen cloud? A hair ball? A pug stuck inside a pom pom? Let's just call it what it is: a Pekingese named Malachy.

The 4-year-old champion at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show seemed to realize his coronation as the crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York City shouted out his name. The Associated Press noted Malachy was reveling in all the attention as his handler held him up while his pink tongue expressed itself amid all that fur, his "eyes sparkling like black diamonds."

It's worth noting that Malachy doesn't really win much -- he gets a silver bowl. There is no prize money. But the allure of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show transcends the notion of ribbons and bows and baubles. Malachy's title puts him into the history books, and perhaps his name will forever be uttered in show dog circles with awe and reverence. And wealth will come in time for Malachy's owners, with all the breeding opportunities afforded the winner.

PHOTOS: Westminster Kennel Club dog show

Malachy beat out dogs big and small Tuesday night to capture the throne, including a Dalmatian, a German shepherd, a Doberman pinscher, an Irish setter, a Kerry blue terrier and a wire-haired dachshund.

Since then, the court of public opinion has weighed in on Malachy, not all of it nice. But because Malachy can't read, we'll tell you: "Cute little dustmop/ Looks very huggable," said one comment on Twitter. "I'm sorry, but the thing that won Westminster is NOT a dog. It's more like an animatronic troll doll with extra hair," said another Twitter comment.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was not without criticism and controversy.

Advocates for mutts and strays and rescue dogs have long decried the focus on pedigrees. They fear it encourages puppy mills when there are already so many dogs in need of a home. "They kill shelter dogs' chances," says PETA, which this year launched several protests surrounding the event. Some members even tried to infiltrate the show itself before they were halted.

Another protest took aim at the man who could be our next president: Mitt Romney. The Republican candidate has riled dog lovers everywhere with his story about traveling with his Irish setter, Seamus, back in 1983 and strapping the dog's crate to the roof rack for a 12-hour drive.

When Romney told the story, many people found it amusing. But animal rights activists didn't laugh about what they say must have been a harrowing, wind-whipped ride for the canine. On Tuesday, they held signs saying "Dogs Aren’t Luggage" and "I Ride Inside."

It's a good bet that Malachy never gets strapped to a roof rack.


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A little dog wins big at Westminster

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Malachy sits in his trophy after being named best in show at the 136th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York. Credit: Seth Wenig / Associated Press

Westminster dog show 2012: Six surefire -- but cool -- losers

Xoloitzcuintli, one of the new breeds in the 2012 Westminster dog show
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show features six new breeds this year, among them a hair-free pooch, a puffin hunter and a reindeer herder. What these very different breeds share is their underdog status. Each has about as much chance of winning best in show as the proverbial snowball does of not melting.

Sorry, Xoloitzcuintli fans.

"The fastest a new breed has gone from first appearance to best in show is 27 years," said longtime Westminster dog show spokesman David Frei in an interview Tuesday with the Los Angeles Times. 

PHOTOS: Westminster dog show contestants

The results of the competition so far bear him out.

Familiar breeds were winning the day, as Bloomberg reported Tuesday morning.  The four winning the group competitions so far: a German shepherd, a Dalmatian, a wirehaired dachshund and a Pekingese.  Three more groups will be judged Tuesday night, Frei told The Times.

Frei said part of the fun of debuting new breeds is that dog show fans get to learn the looks and history of the breeds.

"We would love for them ... to come here and be successful," he noted. But "in the early years, they find themselves the object almost of entertainment."

There was no small amount of finger pointing, for instance, at the Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced "show-low"), the national dog of Mexico.  The breed is descended from hairless dogs prized by the Aztecs and revered as guardians of the dead, according to the kennel club. They were shaped by living wild in the Mexican jungles -- "by environment rather than by man." 

The Norwegian lundehund -- or puffin dog -- has at least six toes on each foot, which in the old days gave it gripping ability for scaling rocky cliffs in Norway to ferret out puffins for the local farmers, the club says.  That activity is against the law these days, with the puffin's status as protected.

Both the lundehund and the Xoloitzcuintli were whupped in the non-sporting category by a Dalmatian known as Ian.

The American English coonhound is the third new breed, a speedy hunter that the club describes as a "strong and graceful athlete."  Another loser.  Winning in the hound group was wirehaired dachshund "Cinders."

Debuting in the herding group were the Entlebucher mountain dog, a sturdy-looking fellow in handsome black, tan and white, and the Finnish lapphund, a reindeer herding dog from northern Scandinavia that is a devoted and friendly breed.  Loser and loser. "Capi" the German shepherd  won in the herding category.

In the terrier category, the Cesky debuts this year.  Longer than it is tall, the club says, the Cesky has an enviable coat, long and silky "in shades of gray from charcoal to platinum."

On Tuesday night, the terriers -- as well as the sporting and working and terrier groups -- will be judged, followed by best in show.  And the recipient of the big prize will assuredly be a familiar -- not an exotic -- face.

Last year, the Scottish deerhound won best in show for the first time in the history of the show.  It took that breed 80 years to reach the top spot.

Behind the hoopla of this 136th annual show was a mini-controversy over the WKC dropping longtime show sponsor Pedigree dog food. Pedigree's ads feature forlorn shelter dogs waiting to be adopted.

Frei was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the dog show is a celebration of "all dogs," but sad-eyed dogs -- "puppies behind bars" -- "it's not our message."

Frei told The Times that he had no comment about the matter, dismissing it "old news. ... We made  the change last spring."


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-- Amy Hubbard

Photo: Alma Dulce, a 2-year-old female hairless Xoloitzcuintli, one of the six new breeds featured in this year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, arrives in New York in January for a news conference about the show. Credit: Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images

In Atlanta, a legal sideshow over training of circus elephants

In Atlanta, the storied Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is coming to town  this week. At the same time, a legal sideshow has sprouted up over the question of how to handle elephants humanely.

At issue is the use of an ancient, and some say cruel, tool used in the training and control of elephants. Known as a bullhook, or ankus, it is typically a long shaft with a metal hook at the end that is used to prod, and sometimes punish the animals. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals alleges that in the Ringling Bros. circus, "elephants are beaten, hit, poked, prodded and jabbed with sharp hooks, sometimes until bloody."

Concern about the use of bullhooks prompted commissioners in Fulton County, Ga., which includes much of Atlanta, to ban the use of the instruments in June, following the lead of municipalities in Florida, New York, and other states, according to Johnny Edwards of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At the time, an official with Feld Entertainment, the owner of Ringling Bros., said that if bullhooks were banned, it would be impossible to have elephants at the circus.

This week, a county judge issued a temporary restraining order that prevents the county from enforcing animal control laws in the city, according to the paper.

Fulton County Commissioner Rob Pitts, who voted for the ban last year, said that the legal question revolves around the lack of a specific intergovernmental agreement between Atlanta and the county, which provides animal control for the city for a fee.

It is unclear what any of this means for Ringling Bros., which plans to roll into downtown Atlanta's Philips Arena on Wednesday for a six-day engagement. But presumably it means that the show will go on.


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-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta

Photo: Elephants are a draw for circus-goers; their treatment is an issue in several cities, including Atlanta. Here, young children line the sidewalk to watch elephants from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus parade by in Washington in 2009. Credit: Shawn Thew/EPA

N.C. trooper who kicked his dog should get job back, court says
Dog lovers everywhere were outraged when a video hit the Internet in 2007 showing Ricoh, a drug-sniffing police dog, being kicked and yanked by his trainer, North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper Charles L. Jones.

The public uproar triggered by the video helped lead to Jones’ firing in September 2007, a month after the training incident. Now, more than four years later, a state appeals court has ruled that Jones should get his job back and receive back pay totaling more than $200,000.

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that Jones should be reinstated, the News and Observer of Raleigh reported. The panel upheld earlier decisions by a state Superior Court judge, an administrative law judge and a state personnel commission that supported Jones’ attempt to recover his job.

The state could ask the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the panel’s decision. Jones was ordered fired by the governor at the time, Mike Easley.

Jones has said he was acting within patrol policy when he was videotaped kicking Ricoh, a Belgian Malinois, while disciplining the dog during a training session in August 2007. The video appeared on the Internet at the same time as the dog-fighting and abuse scandal involving NFL quarterback Michael Vick.

The video shows Jones wrapping Ricoh’s leash over a railing, then yanking and raising the dog by its neck so that only its back feet touched the ground. Jones then kicked Ricoh five times, causing the dog’s legs to swing out from under it. Jones was disciplining the dog after it refused to release a piece of fire hose given as a reward for alerting officers to the presence of narcotics.

At a hearing on a lawsuit by Jones suing the state for firing him, a fellow trooper testified that the patrol’s dog handlers were taught to "use any means necessary to discipline" a dog in order to control the animal.

"If he’s not in control, let’s be honest -- the dog turns into a four-wheel-drive stabbing machine," the trooper testified.

Jones’ lawyer, Jack O’Hale, said in 2010 that Jones’ actions were consistent with accepted training methods. "We’re not dealing with household pets. These are weapons. We’ve got to train accordingly."

O’Hale told the News and Observer that the state should not challenge the appeals court’s ruling. "Everybody tells me the state is broke, and yet they keep spending taxpayers’ money to fight this," O’Hale said.

Jones, who now works as a police officer in Apex, N.C., had worked with Ricoh for six years before the training incident.

Tamara Zmuda, a lawyer representing the state during a hearing on Jones’ appeal, said Jones was fired for violating the patrol’s "unbecoming conduct" policy and bringing the K-9 unit "into disrepute."

"No reasonable person would do what he did that day," Zmuda said.


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-- David Zucchino in Durham, N.C.

Photo: Former North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper Charles L. Jones, shown in this screen grab, was videotaped kicking and yanking his dog. Warning: The video, available on YouTube, contains graphic content. Credit: YouTube

Toto as state dog of Kansas? Bad idea, PETA says

PETA opposes plan to make Toto, the "Wizard of Oz" cairn terrier, the state dog of Kansas

Toto the dog survived flying inside a Kansas tornado, being abducted by flying monkeys and, of course, bouncing around in Dorothy's bicycle basket, but the little cairn terrier from "The Wizard of Oz" now faces another challenge: He's in the middle of a war between politicians and PETA over whether to make him the state dog of Kansas.

Animal-rights activists from PETA say the proposal by state Rep. Ed Trimmer, who has put a bill before lawmakers, would lead to more puppy mills churning out little cairn terriers for customers eager to have their own official state dog.

"As you know, dogs in puppy mills are typically kept in tiny, feces-caked cages and are never given any love, attention or opportunity to do anything that is natural or important to them -- not even to roll in the grass," PETA wrote to Trimmer this week in hopes of getting him to withdraw House Bill 2513.

"Kansas' animal shelters are already overcrowded -- the last thing they need is a deluge of Totos," PETA vice president Daphna Nachminovitch said in a news release announcing the group's opposition to Trimmer's plan. "If Kansas is set on naming an official state dog, PETA suggests the humble, healthy, and 100 percent lovable all-American mutt."

But the Wichita Eagle reported that Trimmer says he has received plenty of positive response to his plan and doesn't see a causal relationship between it and a proliferation of puppy mills, a major issue for animal-advocacy groups.

In December 2010, 1,200 dogs at a large-scale breeding operation in Kansas were put to death after an outbreak of distemper. An internal government report that year said dogs were dying and living in poor conditions because of lax enforcement of puppy mills nationwide.

States vary in their laws governing puppy mills, and according to the Humane Society of the United States, Kansas requires them to be licensed and subject to inspections. But the state didn't fare well in the Humane Society's latest survey of states' treatment of animals, scoring 23 of 66 possible points and ranking 33 out of the 50 states. California topped the list; South Dakota was at the bottom.

According to the Wichita Eagle, 11 states have officially designated state dogs, so if the legislation, which has yet to come up for debate, were to pass, Toto wouldn't be alone. The newspaper quoted Brenda Moore of the South Central Kansas Kennel Club as among those in favor of elevating Toto's status.

"We've got to find little bits of happiness along the way," she said. "To me, the cairn terrier is as much of Kansas as sunflowers are.”


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-- Tina Susman

Photo: Judy Garland as Dorothy, with the dog playing Toto in "The Wizard of Oz." Credit: Turner Entertainment / Warner Bros.

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Groundhog Day 2012: How groundhogs stack up against Mother Nature

Groundhog Day 2012 hoopla is tickling the nation. Maybe it's a sign of too much technology in our lives or of boredom with the upcoming election, but Americans really seem to be getting a kick out of the quaint and quirky tradition of letting a groundhog predict the weather.

How else to explain why thousands of people showed up on this cold and dark winter's morning at Gobblers Knob -- seriously, it's called Gobblers Knob -- in Punxsutawney, Pa., to see whether Punxsutawney Phil would catch a glimpse of his shadow? And why "Groundhog Day" stories are setting the Web on fire, with no less than six of the Top 10 most frequently searched terms on Google relating in some way shape or form to prognosticating groundhogs?

But, come on, people, it can't all be butterflies and rainbows and groundhogs. We have to ask: Can groundhogs really predict what Mother Nature has in store?

The U.S. National Climatic Data Center says that the answer is "no." 

"It really isn't a 'bright' idea to take a measure such as a groundhog's shadow and use it as a predictive meteorological tool for the entire United States," the center says on its website.

(Sounds like some folks are jealous that thousands of people aren't showing up outside their door each day to cheer them on while they're doing their jobs.)

The service went all the way back to 1988 and compared Punxsutawney Phil's predictions with actual weather temperatures. The folks there then put all the data into a nifty chart -- and found little to no correlation.

"The table shows no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of this analysis," according to the center.

(Sounds like some folks are awfully defensive, too).

Groundhog Day and its traditions are said to come from Europe, dating back to a time when people closely watched the comings and goings of animals for signs of the future. Groundhog legend has it that if a groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day -- Feb. 2 -- winter weather will drag on for another six weeks. If no shadow appears, an early spring is on the way.


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch 

Photo: Al Donst of Belvidere, N.J., stands in the crowd awaiting daybreak and the weather prediction of Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, Ps., on Thursday. Alas, Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. Credit: David Maxwell / EPA

Groundhog Day 2012: Why is Punxsutawney Phil top groundhog?

Groundhog Day 2012 news coverage proves it: That Punxsutawney Phil sure has a great P.R. agent.

There are literally dozens -- dozens! -- of prognosticating marmots pressed into duty Thursday on what is undoubtedly one of the world's wackiest holidays. There's Staten Island Chuck, famous for biting New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. There's Woodstock Willie in Woodstock, Ill. There's Georgia’s most famous groundhog, General Beauregard Lee. To the north, there's Alberta's Balzac Billy and Ontario's Wiarton Willie... We could go on, but you get the idea.

So why does that Punxsutawney Phil always seem to get top billing? After all, you don't see Sir Walter Wally of Raleigh, N.C., as the No. 1 single most searched for term on Google today, do you?

No, that remarkable perch is held by none other than Punxsutawney Phil.

That's because he's the first -- and he's got Hollywood cred.

The rest are just imitators.

Punxsutawney has been at this for 126 years, if the Inner Circle of Punxsutawey, Pa., is to be believed. And we'd just as well. The members, who are partial to top hats, snappy ties and long formal coats, proclaim themselves to be the official handlers and translaters for Puxsutawney Phil himself.

(One question they always get: How can Punxsutawney Phil live so long? Suffice it to say that the answer involves a magic potion. And try not to think about it too much.)

But there's more. Punxsutawney Phil also has the support of Hollywood.

He's the furry star of the beloved 1993 comedy classic "Groundhog Day," along with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Murray plays a full-of-himself journalist who is none-too-happy about an assignment covering Punxsutawney Phil weather prediction on Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil gets his revenge at the slight: Murray finds himself reliving Groundhog Day over and over again until he gets it right.

The film title has also become part of the national lexicon, a shorthand reference for drudgery that just won't quit.  

The movie is set in Punxsutawney, Pa., although the shoot actually took place in Woodstock, Ill., because filmmaker Harold Ramis was besotted with that community's town square. It serves as the centerpiece for all the action.

Come to think of it, Punxsutawney Phil must have a heck of a talent manager as well as a PR agent. 


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch 

Groundhog Day confusion: More winter, says Phil; nope, say rivals

Groundhog Day 2012: Punxsutawney Phil says six more weeks of winter; other groundhogs beg to differ

Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog famous for making midwinter weather forecasts, had his moment in the spotlight early Thursday and declared that winter is far from over. But the competition begs to differ.

From Canada to Staten Island to the tiny town of Dunkirk, N.Y., on the shores of Lake Erie, other groundhogs competing for the title of grand prognosticator offered differing opinions on this Groundhog Day, which marks the midway point of winter. Perhaps they were confused by the unseasonably warm weather across much of the eastern half of the country. The temperature Wednesday at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport hit a record for the day: 64 degrees. That's more than 20 degrees above normal for this time of year.

Bob Will, who cares for Dunkirk Dave -- a groundhog in upstate New York -- along with many other sick and wounded marmots that he nurses back to health, calls the rivalry among groundhogs "a friendly competition." But he also pointed out that while Phil, the most famous of the woodchucks, is actually pulled from his hole and paraded in front of a crowd, Dunkirk Dave is allowed to slowly emerge on his own from a hibernation spot under the ground in Will's yard.

"That's what they do -- they pick them up by the neck and hold them up," Will said of the event at Gobbler's Knob, Pa., which was unfolding as Dunkirk Dave poked his head above ground and apparently didn't spot a shadow, promising early spring weather. "But ours is in the ground. We always kid them and say ours is more accurate."

Still, Punxsutawney Phil remains the big star in this competition, and as the sun slowly began creeping above the hills and trees of rural Pennsylvania on Thursday, thousands crowded Gobbler's Knob to await his annual prediction. Legend has it that if a groundhog sees his shadow, winter weather will last another six weeks. If no shadow appears, an early spring is on the way. 

After Phil was held aloft by a member of the elite Inner Circle of groundhog protectors and handlers, he was placed on a podium. Members of the Inner Circle, dressed in top hats, tuxedos and bow ties, leaned in close and stared intently at Phil, who stared out at the anxious crowd.

Finally, the marmot made his decision.

A handler held him aloft and declared: "After casting an appreciative glance to the thousands of faithful followers in attendance, Phil proclaimed, 'As I look at the crowd on Gobbler's Knob, many shadows do I see. Six more weeks of winter it must be.'"

A few boos emerged from the spectators.

A similar event at the Staten Island Zoo in New York City yielded a far happier outcome. There, Staten Island Chuck did not see his shadow, and springtime weather was declared just around the corner. Perhaps best of all for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had the task of holding Chuck up for all to see, there was no repeat of the 2009 performance during which the animal bit the mayor's finger.

Still, Bloomberg wasn't taking any chances. He wore protective gloves.

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: Handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil during the 126th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Credit: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press

Groundhog Day 2012: Will N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg be bitten again?

Groundhog Day 2012 is upon us. (You can almost feel the excitement in the air.) In just a few more hours, the official Groundhog Day ceremonies will begin. Of course we all want to know whether we are in for six more weeks of winter, but the real question on everyone's mind is this: 

Will New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg get bitten again?

What? You've never heard about the infamous encounter between Hizzoner and Staten Island Chuck? We'll recap.

It's Groundhog Day: Pick your groundhog

Staten Island Chuck is a lesser-known groundhog counterpart to Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous groundhog prognosticator in all the land. Staten Island Chuck lives at the Staten Island Zoo, and each year the community rallies around to see its most famous resident throw down his weather prediction.

Bloomberg does the honors. But on Groundhog Day 2009, Staten Island Chuck turned on Bloomberg and nipped him good. It seems the critter did not appreciate the mayor sticking his gloved hand into Chuck's cabin in a bid to coax him out. Bloomberg later used a few choice words to describe the encounter, leading to a flurry of headlines about how he cussed out poor Chuck. (See video above.)

The two will face off again Thursday at 7:30 a.m., according to a Staten Island Live story. And since we're talking about New Yorkers, here's what one of the commentators had to say about the possibility of another nip: "Please do the 'Dracula' on him, Chuck, and go for his neck this year!!"

As Groundhog Day lore and legend has it, if a groundhog ventures from its den and sees a shadow on Feb. 2, that's a sign we're in for six more weeks of harsh winter weather. But if the critter emerges from its den and sees no shadow, that means we can look forward to a mercifully short winter.


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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