Champion beagle retires

March 7, 2008 8:28:13 PM PST
He was one of the greats in his sport, an underdog from a small Southern town who became a most popular champion. He thrilled fans by running around like a playful pup, until there was nothing left to prove. This week, he bowed out. So long, Uno the beagle.

Less than a month after winning best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club, his team made it official: America's top dog has retired.

"If anyone could bark out signals like Brett Favre, it's Uno," David Frei, host of the Westminster television coverage, said Friday. "Like Brett, he did it all."

Someday, Uno will lead a pet's life and maybe breed future champs. In the meantime, he'll be a pretty hectic hound.

The White House wants him to visit the Oval Office next month. The St. Louis Cardinals would like him to run out a first ball. Oprah's people called, hoping to schedule an appearance. He's set to ride a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

The only beagle to win at Westminster, Uno turns 3 in May and many dog fanciers hoped they'd see him baying inside show rings for at least another year. This li'l Snoopy certainly was on track to become the top winning beagle ever - he owns 33 best in show ribbons, about a dozen short of the record for his breed.

Yet his four owners and handler Aaron Wilkerson decided it was time to call it career, albeit earlier than most dogs retire. There has not been a repeat champion at Westminster since an English springer spaniel called DJ won in 1971-72. The last to try, a wire fox terrier called Lacey, did not make it out of the terrier group in 1993.

"There's nothing else to top," Wilkerson, who lives with Uno in Lugoff, S.C., told The State newspaper of Columbia.

There was no thought, either, of taking him to England for the world's largest dog show. The Crufts event started this week with about 23,000 dogs - Westminster draws around 2,600.

"Let his legacy be running around the Garden with the crowd giving a deafening roar," Frei said. "It was louder than anything I've heard in 19 years of doing the show. Let people remember Uno that way."

Uno's retirement was expected since the night he bayed up a storm at Westminster. The sold-out crowd gave a standing ovation when judge J. Donald Jones surveyed the seven finalists, made his choice and announced, "Let me have the beagle."

The Westminster winner receives no prize money. The victory is worth a silver bowl, and Uno promptly put his paws inside the prize.

With personality-plus, Uno created quite a stir the rest of the week in Manhattan. He made the rounds on the network TV shows and rang the opening bell at the Nasdaq stock exchange.

A state representative in Illinois declared the month in his honor. Governors in Texas and Missouri still want to pet Uno.

This week, Uno will be the featured guest at a dog event in Hilton Head, S.C. Later, he'll make appearances in New York and California. Eventually, he'll wind up in Texas with co-owner Caroline Dowell.

While his show days are over, he isn't done showing off.

"His tail hasn't stopped wagging," Frei said.


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