Tomi the Shiba Inu is a family's hero, and now in Westminster Dog Show

Julia Haight with Tomi, her Shiba Inu. Tomi alerted the family to a fire in their home.
Julia Haight with Tomi, her Shiba Inu. Tomi alerted the family to a fire in their home.
Published Feb. 15, 2016

As Julia Haight leads her prize entry into the 140th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show ring in New York City during this week's competition, she'll see a Shiba Inu who's athletic, alert and pert.

Oh, and this: Tomi helped save her life.

Haight can't be certain what would've happened that day last October. How could she? Five people were in the house on Long Island, sound asleep when the fire started.

What she knows for sure is that Tomi (pronounced TAH-mee) smelled the smoke enveloping her second-floor bedroom. He jumped hard onto the bed, pounced on Haight from head to toe and then kept slamming his 25-pound body into her face.

"He's normally catlike, very graceful. But he was violently shaking. It wasn't like him at all," Haight said.

Awakened by this real-life alarm, everyone escaped. The home, not so lucky.

"It could've been so, so different," she said.

More than 2,700 dogs are at America's most prestigious pooch event at Madison Square Garden, and all of them are special.

Charlie the Skye terrier was second to retired Miss P the beagle for best in show last year. Rumor the German shepherd is now ranked as the nation's No. 1 show dog.

There's a berger Picard who detects when the owner's son has low blood-sugar levels. There's a pharaoh hound who needed medical and emotional aid after neglect.

"These are real dogs and real people," longtime Westminster television host David Frei said. "They're not dogs that just sit around all day on doggie cushions eating doggie bonbons."

Shortly before 11 tonight on the green carpet at Madison Square Garden, Richard Meen of Canada will choose America's top dog.

With some DVR-ing, you can watch tonight's live finale from 8 to 11 p.m. today on USA — after you catch up on Monday's competition, which is being rebroadcast from 8 to 11 a.m. this morning

There are seven new types of dogs this year, boosting the total to 199 breeds and varieties. That includes 51 Labrador retrievers, one Neapolitan mastiff, but not a single Norwegian lundehund.

Every state is represented, along with entries from Thailand, Brazil and Slovenia.

Tomi is among the 14 shibas entered. Spirited and on the smallish side, they're the pride of Japan, come in shades of red, white, sesame, black and tan, and are highly focused on keeping their coats clean.

Back for his third Westminster, Tomi's greatest feat came at dawn on Oct. 19 in Hicksville, N.Y. That's where Haight was asleep, along with her husband, her brother, his girlfriend and a family friend.

That is, until Tomi jumped on her.

"He was telling me something was wrong. Somehow, he knew," Haight said.

An electrical fire had broken out, and the smoke was starting to pour through the hallways.

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Haight and everyone else scrambled outside to safety. Over the past four months, the Haights have lived in a pet-friendly hotel and a rental home. Later this month, the whole family is set to move back into their rebuilt home.

"I know he misses his yard," Haight said. "And thanks to him, we all get to go back and enjoy it."