NEW YORK, N.Y. – Whatever got a piece of gentle Titus in the North Carolina brush, it was trouble.
Co-owner Cassandra Carpenter reckons it was a pygmy rattlesnake. Veterinarian Jess Hunter figures it could've been a copperhead.
No matter, when Titus' back left leg turned red, purple and black and suddenly blew up like a tennis ball last March, nobody was dwelling on whether this 3-year-old bullmastiff would someday walk in the Westminster Kennel Club dog ring.
"I thought he was going to lose a leg, or maybe even worse," Carpenter said. "His show career didn't mean anything at that point."
Thanks to some fast, fine care on and off the vet's table, the future for Titus wasn't totally snakebit.
Nearly each of the 2,630 entries at America's most prestigious pooch pageant is in flawless condition. There's self-assured Thor the bulldog and fluffy Bono the Havanese, plus a bevy of fancy-cut poodles, perfectly primped Pekingese and elegant borzoi.
They'll come from 204 breeds and varieties, aiming to succeed King the wire fox terrier as the nation's top dog when the winner is picked Tuesday night at packed Madison Square Garden.
Competition begins Saturday with the agility event that's open to mutts and everyone else. Breed judging for beagles, whippets and the newly welcomed Azawakh in the purebred portion of the show starts Sunday.