Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Thanksgiving Beagle

by: Richard Sandomir
New york Times

Nine months into his reign as the first beagle to win the Westminster Kennel Club Show, 3-year-old Uno is not fading away. He is the show's busiest best-in-show titlist ever.

He was the first to be celebrated as a champion at the White House in May and wears the red, white and blue collar that first lady Laura Bush gave him.

He has thrown out - O.K., he fetched - the first pitch before major league games at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Miller Park in Milwaukee.

His home state of Illinois declared a day in his honor.

He has met the family of Charles Schulz, the "Peanuts" comic strip creator who sired Snoopy, Uno's ink-on-paper beagle forebear.

Now, the dog-show ace is preparing for another first for a Westminster winner: on Thursday, he will be aboard the "Peanuts" float, a rendition of Snoopy's doghouse, at the Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. In March, he starred at the Macy's Petacular, a fashion show for animals, and signed his paw print to his official photograph.

"There was a huge line for him and he stayed so calm," said Orlando Veras, a spokesman for Macy's. "We knew he'd behave on the float."

Uno will be joined on the float by David Frei, the Westminster club's director of communications and analyst on its USA network broadcasts. But Frei plays a more important role for Uno as his squire to events in New York and nationwide and maître d'hôtel at his apartment in Manhattan.

"I'm his foster father," Frei said Tuesday night, in the one-bedroom apartment that he shares with his wife, Cherilyn, two Brittanys - Teigh and Belle - and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel - Angel. Uno's red crate sits in the living room, between the television and an oversized communal dog pillow.

Uno's fame was secured with five words by Dr. J. Donald Jones, the best-in-show judge at Westminster:
"May I have the beagle?"
But even before Jones's final judgment, Uno seemed to capture the crowd. They chanted his name as he trotted around ring, with his handler, Aaron Wilkerson, leading him. At strategic points, Uno bayed at Jones - "Ah-roo! Ah-roo!"- as if to declare that the green carpeted ring was all his.

Afterward, the cheers for Uno - formally named Ch. K-Run's Park Me in First - were louder, Frei said, than in the 19 years he has been the broadcast's expert commentator.

Uno's appeal seems to hinge on several factors.
He is a beagle, a perennially popular dog. The breed ranked fifth in registrations in 2007 in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club.

The beagle is an everyday pet - a sort of Joe the Dog - that many more people can relate to than, say, a Newfoundland or a standard poodle, with its intricate topiary coif. And no beagle has ever advanced at Westminster beyond a hound group winner - in 1939.

As the floppy-eared embodiment of popular culture icons like Snoopy and Underdog, Uno seems to possess charm, if not charisma, and patience with people who want to pet him, nuzzle him or take photos of him.

One man outside Busch Stadium erased the cellphone pictures of his children to make room for shots of Uno with his wife.

If winning — and winning big — conditions a dog to assume that all applause is for him, Uno has that reflex. Hours after fetching the first toss by Fredbird, the Cardinals’ mascot, he was dozing in a luxury box, his muzzle on Frei’s right thigh. But when he heard the standing ovation for the Cardinals when they loaded the bases, he leaped to his feet, fully alert.

“He thinks the applause is for him,” said Kathy Weichert, his co-breeder. Uno and his three siblings were born in the garage at her house in Belleville, Ill., the progeny of Parker and Secret.
When Uno flies, which is often, it is exclusively with Midwest Airlines. Its celebrity pet program lets him sit in coach, in a harness that connects to the seat belt and keeps him safe. He gets a ticket and a boarding pass in the name of Uno Frei. Once he got flagged for additional screening.
“He got wanded and they patted him down,” David Frei said.

Susan Kerwin, the marketing specialist who created the celebrity dog program for Midwest, has flown with Uno, had him to her house for overnights with her English setters and danced with him on a dugout after his first fetch at Miller Park. On flights, she said, “He draws crowds around him like Ashton Kutcher,” and dines on carob chip cookies.

Uno’s retirement has given him time to become a certified therapy dog — he has done work at Ronald McDonald Houses.

He has also become a celebrity invited to events to be himself. Last Saturday in Reading, Pa., he was in the Purina booth during the National Dog Show (which the pet food company sponsors).
“People just flocked to him like a rock star,” said Ann Viklund, a Purina spokeswoman.
Earlier this week, in a Manhattan TV studio, he helped publicize the National Dog Show — which will be carried Thursday on tape by NBC — with its voices, Frei and John O’Hurley, during a round of satellite interviews. Uno sat at Frei’s feet, never baying. With little but a Purina connection to the show he was promoting, Uno’s link to Westminster was cited in each interview.
Uno’s impact on Westminster may not endure. His successors might not be able to replicate the months worth of exposure he has provided the club if they are not as portable, popular, adorable or desired.

He could be the champion emeritus. “I’ve had calls from people who want Uno in March,” Frei said. “I said, ‘There’ll be a new winner in February,’ but they say, ‘No, we want Uno.’ He might be re-elected.”

1 comment:

faith said...

If I were a TSA employee, checking Uno through security, I'd pat him down too...
Wwho could resist a little extra time with such a handsome beagle boy?