Just before Uno the beagle chomped down on his historic Westminster victory on Tuesday, New York had a reporter backstage at Madison Square Garden watching his tense last few minutes.
While stylists primp a nearby Sealyham terrier and its owner before Westminster’s Best in Show contest, Uno sleeps. It’s barely an hour until he makes history as the first beagle to take top honors, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he’s splayed out in his crate. Nor are his owners worried. Whether they spend 45 minutes brushing and combing his hair or not, Uno’s coat will look the same. “It’s a low-maintenance breed,” says co-owner Jon Woodring. Still, Uno stands at attention as handler Aaron Wilkerson snips and cuts the dog’s hindquarters and runs clippers over the beagle’s sensitive bits.
Suddenly, among the nervous quiet of the other dogs, Uno shows his age. The two-year-old pup jumps up to place his paws on Woodring’s shoulders and lick his face. The hound’s nose never stops working. Pointing his snout straight up in the air, Uno inhales. He wants to get into his neighbor’s cage, but is flouted. Some girls stop by to say hello, granting his wish to play for a moment. He poses for a picture. Nearby, the Sealyham and its owner are still under a blow-dryer.
Wilkerson feeds him fatless filet mignon. Normally it’s cooked on a George Foreman grill to remove that fat, but no time today. Pork loin, cooked the same way, is also a favorite.
A blue leash holds Uno in place on his grooming table.
Aaron Wilkerson is a 29-year-old Columbia, South Carolina, trainer. He’s about five-foot-nine with slicked-back black hair with wisps of gray and a widow’s peak. He’s wearing a black suit, white shirt, and glossy silver tie and carries a yellow-furred squeaky toy in his pocket that’s been with him since he first started showing Uno. Passersby offer good wishes, and he thanks them kindly in his southern twang.
It’s a faux pas for a dog to relieve himself in the ring, so the last thing Woodring does is take Uno to a saw-dust-covered exercise pen before the show starts. “He’s good about going before a competition,” the trainer explains.
Finally, Uno bounces toward the ring. Jealous dogs bark after him, but the happy beagle doesn’t notice. The final round has only just begun, but the audience is already cheering. For Uno. —Tom Brennan