12 February 2008

Beagle is Top Hound at Westminster

Uno the beagle turned Madison Square Garden into his own big, green backyard. He barked and bayed. He nipped at a newly printed sign. He tried to grab his leash. He took a flying leap at a piece of filet mignon. "Snoopy would be proud," handler Aaron Wilkerson said Monday. "He was being his merry little hound self."

He also did something out of character: He became the first beagle to win the hound group at the Westminster Kennel Club show since 1939 — that's 483 years, in dog years. America's top dog competition has presented best in show 100 times and a beagle has never won. Uno's victory assured him a place in the final seven Tuesday night. Beagles are always among the most popular dogs in the country, yet Wilkerson was at a loss to explain why they've never done better here.

While Uno aimed at best in show, the precocious package of personality certainly deserved one title: noisiest in show. "Ah-rooo!" his howls echoed all over the arena. It didn't take much to get Uno going, either. A click of a spectator's pen, a wave of the judge's hand, any effort by Wilkerson to hush him. "Ah-rooo!"

Though the Disney movie "Underdog" was a big winner last year, a beagle is forever a long shot at the Garden. Tri-colored and nearly 3, with pleading, golden-brown eyes and a most playful nature, Uno wanted to break out of the Westminster doghouse. His official name is K-Run's Park Me in First, and he topped 12 other entries in the 15-inch beagle category.

Uno already has won 32 best in show titles and finished 2007 as the sixth-ranked show dog in the nation. He retreated to the safety of his crate after winning best of breed, complete with his favorite stuffed frog toy and a fluffy pillow sporting a Hollywood star.

Judge Ralph Lemcke picked Uno over 25 others in the hound group, praising his "soft expression" and the neat "brush on his tail."

[Source: Associated Press]