Years later, Uno still ranks No. 1 at Westminster

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NEW YORK (AP) - More than 2,800 dogs are in the Big Apple this week, all competing to be chosen Westminster Kennel Club’s best in show. Yet no matter who wins Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, chances are they’ll never make as much noise as Uno.

Now home on the range in Texas, far from the rings that made him famous, that precious little beagle is still living up to his name as No. 1.

“Uno is easily the most popular Westminster winner in my 25 years,” television host David Frei said.

Those in the dog world and beyond cheered out loud when ol’ Snoopy broke through in 2008. Baying up a storm and wagging his white-tipped tail, the tri-colored package of personality with the official name of K-Run’s Park Me in First became the first beagle to win the top prize at America’s biggest dog show.

These days, Uno puts on a daily show for Caroline Dowell. She’s his owner, on a 200-acre ranch just outside Austin.

Uno will be 9 in May, and his face has turned from mostly brown to white. His side black patches have faded.

But Dowell says Uno is as spry as ever, romping each day with a family of potbellied pigs. Then he comes inside, “sits down, throws his head back and that wonderful bark comes out,” Dowell said.

“He’s beginning to get gray, but he’s not an old, sit-around beagle,” Dowell said. “He stays in really good shape.”

Somedays, he goes riding around in an SUV driven by Dan Huebner, who helps Dowell run things on the ranch. At night, Uno and two female beagles share a double-bed futon with “nice, comfy quilts,” Dowell said.

As for puppies, there aren’t any. Uno is sterile, meaning there was no money to be made with breeding rights.

“It has never bothered me a bit,” Dowell said. “To tell you the truth, it was a blessing in disguise. I just wanted him as a pet.”

A pet who’s had a pretty neat life since retiring less than a month after his big win.

Uno retrieved the ceremonial first ball before a St. Louis Cardinals game. He rode a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He enjoyed celebrity status with a seat up front on Midwest Airlines - even so, he once was selected for additional screening, and security agents waved a wand over him.

Often recognized and petted by total strangers, Uno also became a certified therapy dog and visited hospital patients.

He also got to visit the White House, where President George W. Bush and wife Laura met Uno in the Rose Garden and presented him with a red, white and blue collar.

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