Still barking, Uno remains most popular Westminster dog

Ben Walker
Associated Press

New York — After all these years, Uno is still No. 1.

More than 2,700 dogs are entered in the Westminster Kennel Club show starting Monday, with a couple of clear favorites. Charlie the Skye terrier and Rumor the German shepherd head the pack, and could be picked as the nation’s top pooch.

The owners can only hope their champions become another Uno.

Uno barked and bayed his way to best in show at Madison Square Garden in 2008. To this day, the beagle remains the most popular dog in Westminster history.

“Like they said, he’s America’s dog,” handler Tristan Huebner said. “Everyone loves him.”

“He’s an international celebrity. Everywhere we go, he’s recognized,” he said.

Uno is almost 11, and the brown on his face has turned mostly white, his black side panels have faded. But he’s in great health and still barks up a storm, as he did over the weekend during a trip to Rockefeller Center.

“I never get tired of his famous howl. It was the howl heard around the world,” Huebner said.

Uno was in town to film an ad for the summer movie “The Secret Life of Pets,” an animated comedy featuring the voices of Kevin Hart, Lake Bell and Dana Carvey. Wagging his tail a mile a minute, Uno came with the red, white and blue leash that President George W. Bush gave him as the first Westminster winner to visit the White House.

No beagle had won the Westminster show until Uno, and he drew a standing ovation from a packed Garden crowd the night he was chosen.

“He was an everyday dog that people could relate to,” longtime Westminster television host David Frei said.

Uno lives on a 275-acre ranch with owner Caroline Dowell in San Leanna, Texas, near Austin. He plays outdoors with a neighboring potbellied pig and romps around the house with other beagles.

“He’s a perfect lap dog,” Huebner said.

Uno got a ride to New York with Dan Huebner, Tristan’s dad and the manager of Dowell’s ranch — “1,754 miles, about that,” he said. Uno originally was going to fly aboard Purina’s plane and when that didn’t quite work out, Ann Viklund of Nestle Purina PetCare helped arrange his stay.

Last year, Miss P became the second beagle to win Westminster.

The hound, toy, nonsporting and herding groups were to be judged Monday night. The top sporting, working and terriers get chosen Tuesday night, followed by the best in show pick shortly before 11 p.m.

Also part of America’s prestigious dog show:

Bedtime for a borzoi ... and basenji: Be it a fluffy pillow, a jogging path in Central Park or a late-night snack, Jerry Grymek is the go-to guy this week — for dogs, that is.

His nametag says it all: Doggie Concierge.

Grymek is in his 14th year — “two dog years,” he points out — helping make dogs and their owners feel comfortable at the Hotel Pennsylvania, right across the street from Madison Square Garden.

There are 600 dogs staying at the hotel and they’re the true VIPs, or as Grymek calls them, the “Very Important Pooches.” They have their own spa with grooming tables, treadmills and even an exercise area full of toy fire hydrants.

Special requests? No problem. He once arranged for an opera singer to serenade a spinoni Italiano to soothe its nerves. The dog “barked for an encore,” Grymek said.

Grymek also has come to expect special arrangements in the room, especially when someone asks for an additional cot.

“That’s for the owner,” he said. “The dog sleeps on the bed because it’s got to get the real sleep.”

Bark-ology: Doberman pinscher or Rottweiler in the working group? Australian shepherd or bearded collie in the herding?

Now, there are a million more reasons to root for your favorites at the dog show. Welcome to Westminster, bracket style.

Purina Pro Plan is offering a $1 million prize to the person who correctly picks the winners of all seven groups, plus the best in show champ. The online competition is getting a boost from Joe Lunardi, the ESPN wizard of bracketology for the NCAA basketball tournament.

Westminster president Sean McCarthy likes the new idea, figuring it might draw even more people in the sport of dogs.

“I think of it as something like March Madness,” he said.

For the record, Lunardi picks the Skye terrier to win it all.

Way to obey: What does it take to be Westminster’s obedience champ? It’s no puppy-class sit and stay. The 34 dogs in the show’s first-ever obedience competition Monday are more like dog-deportment Ph.D.s.

First, they’ll all do such exercises as leaping a jump to retrieve a dumbbell, selecting an object their handlers touched from a pile of articles and sitting in the middle of the ring while their handlers leave them and walk around. The 10 highest-scoring dogs will go on to a final round with required exercises and optional elements: They can feature props, tricks, even dog-style dance moves.

“Creativity is a factor” in judging, says Paul Campanella, a Westminster official who helped plan the competition.