Millions of viewers were riveted to their TVs Tuesday night as Ms. P, the beagle from BC (British Columbia) took home the coveted "Best in Show" trophy at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
After making the talk show tour, she will begin her career as a breeder of future champions. so said her owner shortly after the victory.
But there is a dark side behind the fanfare.
Animal shelter operators are bracing for the influx of beagles, who are now the "breed of moment."
With good reason, they fear the winning breed at Westminster will become this year's "must have" accessory and lead to many more beagles flooding shelters. In the South shelter kennels are filled with hounds- the unwanted or failed hunting dogs among them - just as movie star dogs create a sudden surge in business for breeders f the big screen's latest cute pooch.
Think 101 Dalmatians, Beethoven or in my case, the Charlie Brown TV specials. When I was eight or nine I just had to have a "Snoopy" dog and my parents found me a beagle. It was a disaster.
Indeed, CNN Money ran a story Thursday night about "Beaglemania" taking hold and highlighted several breeders whose phones were suddenly ringing off the hook.
Libby Williams, a former cruelty investigator in western Pennsylvania who now runs Pet Watch New Jersey describes beagles as one of the most abused breeds in the pet trade.
"Hunters keep them in cages during the off-season and then abandon them by the thousands when hunting season is over or when they don’t 'perform' in the field," said Williams. "They are bred for laboratory experiments and are the scientists’ 'preferred model' for invasive, painful experiments, from drug addiction and heart disease studies, and cosmetic testing."
The show also throws a global spotlight on the American Kennel Club, the oldest and largest breed registry, which in recent years has fought for the "rights" of dog owners over the welfare of dogs in countless legislative battles across the country, including in the fight for Pennsylvania's puppy mill law. More recently the AKC worked on the same side as the National Rifle Association to defeat a bill to ban live pigeon shoots and bar the consumption of dogs and cats in the state.
Shortly before Westminster opened, the Humane Society of the United States released its updated 2012 report which identified AKC breeders - most with them with clean inspections from the AKC and some of them top show breeders - as the subjects of animal cruelty raids and poor inspections by federal, state and local authorities.
An email request for comment from the AKC was not returned.
Among them was Blue Moon Cattle Dogs of Pearl River Miss., breeder of the champion show dog Wild Bill and awarded the status of "Breeder of Distinction" by the AKC. The kennel, owned by Lin Duhe Allen, was raided by local authorities late last year who found Wild Bill in a rusted cage, starving, along with 60 other mistreated dogs. Allen pleaded guilty to animal cruelty. The raid that saved the dogs came days after an AKC inspector had toured the property and given the kennel a positive review.
Another pair of AKC breeders cited in the report were James Deppen and Mimi Winkler, highly-regarded AKC breeders and judges, who together ran Judges Choice of Ironwood kennel in Lehigh County, Pa. In 2010, the two were charged with of dozens of counts of animal cruelty. The Humane Society report cited a news account of the case against them.
A district judge found Deppen and Winkler guilty of four counts of animal cruelty and a count of running an unlicensed kennel, and acquitted them of the rest. The pair appealed the verdicts to Common Pleas Court, and were allowed to enter Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition, a program for first-time offenders that includes expunging any criminal record. According to Deppen, the outcome only required him to admit running an unlicensed kennel and pay a fine. Court documents on the case have since been destroyed.
Deppen, who has since moved to New Jersey, was back in the show ring at the Westminster show Tuesday night, trotting under the spotlight in the working group finals, his best of breed Neapolitan mastiff, GCH Ironwood's Papparazi, in tow.
Editor’s note: This posting has been revised. An earlier version mischaracterized the allegations and the outcome of the case against Deppen and Winkler and failed to seek comment from them.