Beagles were in the United States by the 1840s at the latest, but the first dogs were imported strictly for hunting and were of variable quality. Since Honeywood had only started breeding in the 1830s, it is unlikely these dogs were representative of the modern breed and the description of them as looking like straight-legged Dachshunds with weak heads has little resemblance to the standard. Serious attempts at establishing a quality bloodline began in the early 1870s when General Richard Rowett from Illinois imported some dogs from England and began breeding. Rowett's Beagles are believed to have formed the models for the first American standard, drawn up by Rowett, L. H. Twadell, and Norman Ellmore in 1887. The Beagle was accepted as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1884.
What can you say about the first Beagle to win best in show, except, really, what a guy! This is a dog with attitude, a swagger of a walk and limpid brown eyes; all the girls must love him. When he won he let
out a bay not a bay of pursuit or the bay of a beagle on the trail, but a cosmopolitan bay, sort of like a movie star who had won an Oscar for best actor debonair, suave and more than slightly in love with himself. How could he not be? The red carpet, the paparazzi in hot pursuit, appearances on all the talk shows a dog so
cocky he also lifted his leg when he was picked as best in show, as if to say, I’m still the same loveable guy I’ve always been. This is no mincing Italian greyhound or nervous saluki. This is your George Clooney of the dog world.
The Beagle has been one of America’s most popular dogs for a hundred years (even before Snoopy), yet this breed has never before won best in show at Westminster. With his soulful eyes and his beagle bay of excitement at getting first place, Uno does seem to fit the iconic mold of apple pie, Elvis and the Fourth of July. Why did it take so long? Uno is probably not all that different from a great many other beagles entered in Westminster, which after all is a competition that only the most select and ideal examples of each breed can enter. However, it is no doubt impossible to judge which is the best dog entered in the show-of-shows unless one is, well, a judge.
Beagle is a “benched” show, where all dogs entered have to stay out on display for the entire day that their breed is being shown, even if their own event was early in the morning and they lost. Inside, Madison Square Garden is roasting hot, with hundreds of paying viewers milling around backstage, where the dogs are lying
on tables or in small cages or being groomed a process that, even for breeds with short hair and no fancy styling required, takes hours. Nails are filed, teeth scaled, eyes Beagle.
Each dog entered at Beagle is already a champion, and in many cases at this level of competition the dog’s owner pays a professional handler as much as $50,000 a year to “campaign” the dog. Dogs are divided by group toy breeds, working breeds, herding breeds and so on, seven altogether and, within each group, by individual breed. The dog cannot have been neutered or spayed, nor can you tattoo its nose if it isn’t the right color.
Nowadays your English beagle, if still working, is sent out on a trail of aniseed, a man-created licorice scent. In this country, while there may still be areas of southern swamp or Appalachian mountains where beagles are used to hunt, it is far more common to find your feist dog, your Catahoula leopard dog, your coonhound or bird dog brought out to serve a working purpose. The beagle now is mostly the beloved family pet and unlike, say, the poodle or the Pekinese, both of which have won Westminster a number of times, there is no cringe factor associated with the beagle. And while perhaps not a true American breed, it would be hard to think of one as representative of this country, or as beloved by it.