Baying and barking, beagle takes first step at Westminster

Mattias groomed Eric, a Beagle who is competing in the Houndog category, backstage Monday at the Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York. (Peter Kramer ~ Associated Press)

NEW YORK -- Uno barked at his handler, bayed at the crowd, tried to grab his leash and took a flying leap at a piece of pork loin. Oh, and he gnawed away at a newly printed sign.

Now that's one great beagle.

His white-tipped tail in perpetual motion, Uno turned the green carpet of Madison Square Garden into his own personal backyard Monday. He also took his first winning steps at the Westminster Kennel Club show, easily earning best of breed at America's No. 1 dog event.

"Snoopy would be proud," handler Aaron Wilkerson said. "He was being his merry little hound self."

While best in show will be presented tonight, the precocious package of personality certainly deserved one early title: noisiest in show.

In this photo released by the American Kennel Club, handler Aaron Wilkerson displayed beagle Uno on Dec. 2 at the AKC/Eukanuba national championship. (AKC)

"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!"

A perfectly trimmed toy poodle, a top Sealyham terrier and a prized Akita were among the 2,627 entries at this year's show. The dogs came in 169 breeds and varieties, and there were four newly sanctioned types -- the Tibetan mastiff, Beauceron, Swedish vallhund and Plott.

Also roaming around the rings: a niece of Vivi, the award-winning whippet who ran away at John F. Kennedy International Airport two years ago, and the daughter of Rufus, the colored bull terrier that won the 2006 Westminster with a football-sized noggin.

While the movie "Underdog" was a big winner last year, a beagle is always a long shot at the Garden.

Westminster has presented best in show 100 times and a beagle has never won. In fact, no beagle has even won the hound group since 1939 -- that drought is 483 years, in dog years.

With pleading, golden-brown eyes and a most playful nature, Uno could 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 category.

Not that he lorded it over his fellow pooches, the way a Lhasa Apsos or Saluki might. Instead, Uno tried to join in when the other beagles were excused from the ring. Wilkerson held him still on the trophy stand and it worked, for about 10 seconds.

Beagles also come in the 13-inch variety, though both types can come from the same litter. In show terms, Uno is a "big beagle."

"He did great out there," co-owner Eddie Dziuk said. "Right before we went out, the Petits Bassets Griffons Vendeens that won the group last year lost. It's a dog show, you never know."

Uno already has won 32 best in show titles and finished 2007 as the sixth-ranked show dog in the nation.