It’s been a decade since Uno (Ch. K-Run’s Park Me in First) put his paw print on Westminster Kennel Club and American dog-show lore with a crowd-roaring triumph on the green carpet of Madison Square Garden.
The 15-inch Beagle, who bayed and barked his way into fame and died recently at age 13, will be remembered as the people’s dog with his can-do spirit, substance, and style. “He had a fan club like no other,” says David Frei, his travel partner, and former Westminster Kennel Club communications director. “But saying that I am not disrespecting the other great champions — his personality captured the whole country, even those who probably never set foot in a dog show.”
He was legitimately numero Uno and made his mark in venues and events such as the White House, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and first-pitch ceremonies at two Major League parks. He even had his own $20 bobblehead.
Uno was a “hands-on champion” from airports to arenas and from hospitals to television studios. “His comfort zone was everywhere,” adds Frei, who schlepped him nationwide.
While he was front and center for several years following his 2008 Garden party, Uno was a busy guy out of the limelight, too, visiting children and veterans in hospitals across the country.
“He opened a lot of doors for therapy dogs,” says Frei, “more than the general public will ever know. He broke down barriers while becoming the second most famous Beagle behind Snoopy.” Uno was a registered therapy dog, with Frei as his handler.
Frei is quick to point out that a lot of the credit goes to owner Caroline Dowell, an octogenarian living on a 200-acre in Austin, Texas. “She allowed him to become the people’s dog,” he emphasizes.
Whenever a request came in for him to make a public appearance, the transport fell on Dan Huebner, ranch manager who often assumed the unofficial title of Uno’s road manager, along with Frei.
No matter the environment, Uno was right at home from the Manhattan high-rise apartment owned by Frei and his wife, Cherilyn, to his rural Texas digs.
While his celebrity and cuteness are widely known, the tricolor Beagle was at his best-eliciting laughs and smiles from ailing patients of all ages.
At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for instance, Uno formed a special bond with Lance Corp. Joshua Bleill, a Marine who lost both of his legs in military action in Iraq. “Josh jumped out of his wheelchair to show us how he could use his Bluetooth-controlled prosthetic legs,” Frei recalls, of the poignant moment. Josh and Uno were later to be pictured on the cover of Frei’s book, “Angel On A Leash,” and Josh accepted Frei’s invitation to join the board of directors of Angel On A Leash, a New York-based organization that championed the use of registered therapy dogs in health care facilities, schools, extended-care facilities, and prisons.
Bleill attended the 2009 Westminster show as a guest of the club. The day before he and Uno went to the Ronald McDonald House New York and visited with pediatric oncology patients, some, like Josh, had amputated limbs. The next night at the show, Josh and Uno, along with Ronald McDonald House New York and Angel On A Leash officials were introduced on the floor of the Garden to a standing ovation by a sellout crowd.
“Uno came out first, followed by Josh wearing short pants so the crowd could see his prosthetic limbs. The audience responded on its feet for Josh, with extended cheering and shedding of tears for the wounded warrior and military hero. It was the only time Uno was second to anyone on the floor of the Garden,” Frei smiles.
It was like a homecoming for the Beagle, who had won Best in Show there a year earlier and been in the limelight ever since.
In addition to his many visits to Ronald McDonald House New York, Frei’s perky partner checked in on children and seniors at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, home of an Angel On A Leash program. He also interacted with patients at Ronald McDonald Houses in St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee.
And Frei adds, “What a life Uno had. I was blessed to have been the guy on the other end of the leash for much of it.”
For Huebner, “the yard is empty” these days without his Beagle buddy he often called Bubba. “He was loving, playful and a true gentleman until a male dog came around. He was fine with the females, however. He knew he had it made in the shade because of all the care we provided for him here. He had his own queen-size futon to sleep upon with bedding changed daily. Who wouldn’t like that?”
Uno was sterile, so breeding was never a concern. “Caroline (the owner) used to always say it was a blessing in disguise,” adds Huebner. “Uno was always traveling so there would not have been time to focus on that, anyway.
“Even though he won Westminster 10 years ago, his glory never faded,” concludes Huebner. “He was one of a kind and brightened lives everywhere he went. I can’t even begin to estimate how many photos he was in. Everywhere we went, people wanted to take his picture or be in one with him. That says it all, doesn’t it?”
A tearful Dowell adds, “It’s tough not seeing his cheerful little face every day. And, on top of that, his Beagle companion, Mattie (Ch. Full Moon Holiday at Onion Creek), who snuggled on pillows on the same futon with him every day for five or six years, died just a few days later of cancer, too.
“I have so many fun memories of Uno. Right after we retired him and brought him home to the ranch, he discovered a young potbellied pig along the fence line with a neighbor. The two would run up and down the fence, peering through the knotholes looking at each other and having a ball. That personified Uno, for life was a joy ride for him 24/7.”