This has been the season of underdogs, of plot twists and reckonings, a Super Bowl for the ages that saw David smite Goliath, a presidential campaign in which humility has all the momentum, since so many have been so wrong about so much. So it was the natural time for the true under-dog to have his moment as well, at the 132nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, where tuxedoed judges bearing shiny trophies descended on Uno, the merry little beagle that became the first of his kind to win Best in Show, ever.
The sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden whooped and cheered from the moment Uno appeared with the other hounds on the night of Feb. 11, and he ahhrroooed right back, bouncing along, working the ring, his tail sending a draft through the hall. Judges, like all political professionals, are clear-eyed, hardheaded, immune to cute and charisma. Was there the curse of condescension toward a breed that has ranked among the top 10 most popular dogs in the U.S. for nearly a century? The saluki was elegant and urbane; the Plott hound tough and tireless. Dogs, however, are judged not against one another but against perfection, and here, in all its modesty, was magic: Uno became the first beagle to win the hound group since 1939.
Some years, size matters. Remember Josh, the Newfoundland the size of a minivan, which took the top prize four years ago? Some years are precious and prim, a papillon with attitude. But in this age of Authenticity, the beagle romped past the poodles, all fluffed and clipped, and the terrier, whose kin have taken Best in Show more than 40 times. Sometimes change beats experience. "I'm lucky to be at the end of his leash," said his trainer, Aaron Wilkerson, as Uno proceeded to chew on the microphones of reporters hoping for an interview.
This was, the fans declared, a victory for the People's Dog, the dog next door, albeit one bred for glory, since Uno is the great-granddoggy of a famous champion of the 1990s. With victory come the spoils, steak on a silver platter at Sardi's, a chance to ring the opening bell on Wall Street. Anticipating a rush to beagle breeders, veterans had one piece of advice for would-be parents: Be sure to get a fence first.