Uno wins: Honk if you love beagles

A story in celebration of the breed, which won 'Best in Show' Tuesday at Westminster.

When I walked my dogs this morning people cheered, waved, and honked their horns. One woman in a station wagon full of kids rolled down her window and said, excitedly, "Did they see it? A beagle won 'Best in Show' at Westminster!"

My dogs are beagles, too, you see, and when people honk at them it is usually not a good thing. It is because they have wandered into a driveway where they found a chicken bone two years ago – and still hope to find another. It is because they are baying so loudly that the people at the stoplight can't talk on their cellphones.

But now Uno has struck a blow for beagles everywhere. He did indeed win the top prize at the Westminster Dog Show in New York on Tuesday, the first time the popular Everydog breed has managed that feat. And a handsome beagle he is, with a merry tail and an "aroo" you could hear over the roar of the crowd when the judge picked him over the other finalists, which included a toy poodle that frankly looked like a cross between a monkey and a hairbrush.

In celebration, the Monitor is reprinting a 2006 story about my dogs that is one of the most popular I've ever written.

And if you see someone walking a beagle today, honk and wave. The beagle will probably bay back.

A flock of Beagles

Originally published March 16, 2006

I see that the prize for "worst dog in the world" has been awarded. His name was Marley - he's the subject of a current bestseller, if you didn't know. And I'm sure his behavior was appalling, but there is at least one category of dysfunction in which I believe he can be surpassed. Here's my claim: My family beagles, Annabelle and Peanut, are the strangest sounding dogs of all time.

True story: I was walking them some weeks ago. We ran into a new neighbor, and the dogs got up on their back legs and laid on the pipes in greeting.

The woman's hands flew to her face, as if to protect it; then her fingers parted, and she looked down, astonished.

"Why, they're dogs!" she said.

"What did you think they were?" I asked.

"Well, I've been hearing that sound," she said. "My husband and I, we didn't know what it was. We thought it might be ... geese!"

There's a vision - a flock of hounds flying south in a "V."

Annabelle is 14, a purebred beagle, with a bray that's been a bit rough since that time she ate a nail. (Her X-ray, framed, decorates the vet's waiting room.) The antique chess piece didn't help, either. And that was my fault, as I left the set on the stairs; in my defense, I didn't think she'd do it. Most species consider ivory to be inedible.

Peanut is 11, a mix of beagle and some less stoic breed, such as dachsund, or hamster. She's peevish, like an aging princess who suspects she might never become queen. Lately she's lost some teeth and the result is a whistling overtone in her howl, and increased volume to the side.

Individually, they're mildly amusing. Put them together and it's entertainment magic, like Fred and Ginger, or Starsky and Hutch.

Peanut's the lookout - she sleeps on top of the living room radiator, I'm ashamed to admit - and lights up at the first sign of danger. Or the first sign of anything, really. She starts with a piercing yowl, chuffs a bit while she gets her breathing in line, and follows with high-volume "arfs."

Annabelle then arises, flaps her ears, and emits a screech like a rusty door being yanked open. This is followed by seal-like "orcs," and then, once the turbocharger reaches speed, she tilts her head and throttles up to full military power, producing a hunting-dog howl capable of waking babies a zip code away.

The good news is, no burglar is ever getting in my house with eardrums intact. The bad new is, neither am I. I can't even retrieve the paper without being greeted by the King's Own Black Watch upon my return.

They scare kids. And parents. Playdate pickups go like this: "Hi. I'm here for ... MOTHER OF MERCY WHAT'S THAT? ARE THEY OK? DO THEY ALWAYS DO THIS? GET YOUR SHOES ON, HONEY. HURRY. BYE. SEE YOU MAYBE SOME TIME...."

And the worst part is, there's no recognition. The Westminster Kennel Club doesn't honor Best Imitation of a Fluegelhorn in Show.

That's why I decided to just appopriate the "Strangest Sounding" title. It worked for the "Worst Dog" author; maybe it will work for me. I probably won't score the No. 1 nonfiction book in the country, as he did, but maybe the beagles will land an endorsement deal.

I think they'd be great in an ad for noise-suppression headphones.

Peter Grier is a Monitor staff writer.

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