Henry T. Beagle

I don’t even know why we cared. But we did. Oh my gosh, we surely did.

“And the winner is ... the beagle!”

When it comes to dog ownership, I don’t know of any family that does it like us. While I’m sure every family’s relationship with their dog is unique, ours — it seems to me — veers well beyond the norm. We’ve created a vast mythology about him, which includes royalty, MIT math degrees and virtuosic percussion skills — one we discuss and build on daily. The kids get into fights, almost coming to blows, over who gets the privilege of having him sleep with them at night. (Although they rarely fight over who gets to clean up after him. No, that job falls almost exclusively to me.)

In short, we’re in love with a beagle. Henry T. Beagle. The naughtiest beagle on Lakeview Avenue. Maybe the naughtiest beagle in North Mankato. Crazy in love. 

Which is why the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show was kind of a big deal for us this year. Is it obnoxious? Sure. It’s hard not to laugh when dogs that look like floor mops are pranced around in circles and prodded and poked like pork chops at the supermarket, or when announcers proclaim, “Look at him,” referring to a Pekingese or West Highland terrier, “he knows he has the spotlight right now, doesn’t he? He’s just a magnificent specimen. It’s his show to win or lose tonight.”

We watched, anyway, Tuesday night as this display of canine perfection played out. Some might say canine perfection really has less to do with meticulous breeding and the rigorous pursuit of a set of standards, and more to do with personality, huggability, cute factor, chemistry, etc. I tend to stand with the latter. I’m far less interested in coat texture, skull shape and arguing the finer points of forequarters and hindquarters than I am about wrestling a little with a good four-legged friend.

But I get it. The breed standards exist for a reason. Standards in any situation exist for a reason. They ensure a certain level of quality, or at least inspire aspiration to a certain level of quality. It also makes for good sport, not to mention TV. So it’s always fun to tune in on Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show night. Heck, if you can devote an hour a week to “Scandal” or “The Real Housewives of (insert upscale city name here),” you can give a couple of hours one night a year to man’s best friend, right?

The beagle, of course, won the tension-filled, end-of-the-night “Best in Show” award which, of course, is the highly coveted granddaddy of them all. It was something of an upset, too. The Portuguese water dog or sheep dog, I think, were the favorites. But like it’s done all its life, the scrappy beagle fought her way into contention and, of course, into everyone’s hearts.

This inspired me to think of other famous beagles that you’ve loved over the years.

n Snoopy — One of the stars of the Peanuts comic strip and subsequent cartoons, and the most famous beagle ever. For years I actually thought all beagles were black and white only, that’s how embedded in my brain the combined ideas of Snoopy and beagle were (it’s actually a rare color combination for a beagle). His exploits were legendary, and Charles Schultz crafted that character about as accurately as could be done. Snoopy’s agenda was the only one that mattered most of the time, but when it counted, he was usually there for Charlie Brown.

■ Underdog — There’s no need to fear, Underdog was a beagle. If you’re scratching your head saying, “Who the heck is Underdog?”, here’s a super-quick primer: mid-1960s to early-1970s morning cartoon world included “Underdog,” which featured a polite, somewhat shy shoe-shining beagle who transformed into a crime-fighting beagle whenever his crush, Sweet Polly Purebred was in trouble, which was, like, all the time. Great show.

■ Uno — The only other beagle to win at Westminster. Uno was a baying, howling mess of a dog who made a million fans that year because of his non-dog-show-like demeanor. He was lively and spry and made people smile. And he was loud. And he was the first beagle to ever win Best in Show at the country’s premiere hoity-toity dog event.

■ Him and Her — The presidential beagles. President Lyndon Johnson was a famous beagle lover. He named them Him and Her and was often photographed with them. He got himself in some hot water when he was photographed picking one of them up by the ears. (C’mon, who hasn’t tried that with a beagle?) Her died after swallowing a stone (because a beagle will eat ANYTHING.) And Him died a year later, struck by a car after chasing a squirrel across the White House lawn.

Our own Henry T. Beagle will never be famous, and he’ll never compete for a dog show title. But it was nice to see his brethren snag the top prize. He wasn’t even in the room when my son and I erupted in cheers (a sentiment I quickly threw up on Twitter, by the way.) He was asleep, with my daughter, not a care in the world that his breed was the talk of the dog world.

And that’s OK. He’s special in his own way. All beagles are. All dogs are. So if you’ve got one, any breed, give them a high five and an extra milk bone just because they’re awesome, and because you know they’d do it for you.

Unless it was a beagle, who wouldn’t think twice about taking your food and running with it. When he does that, he actually knows the spotlight is on him.

Robb Murray can be reached at 344-6386 or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com