NEW YORK --- The life of a Westminster winner is a good one. Just ask Rufus, who was best-in-show at Madison Square Garden in 2006.
"He wakes up around 11, gets a couple of cookies and goes with me to the grocery store," owner Barbara Bishop said of Rufus. "Everywhere we go, people want to pet him."
Nearly 8-years-old now, Rufus is long retired from the show ring. Starting today, 2,627 dogs will try to follow Rufus' path.
Among the leading candidates -- for once -- is a beagle.
The best-in-show award has been presented 100 times at Westminster, and a beagle has never won. One reason is the breed's playful, friendly nature.
"Great show dogs often have an air about them. It's like this is their world, and we're just living in it," Westminster TV host David Frei said. "But beagles want to be in our world."
Uno, almost 3-years-old, with pleading eyes and plenty of personality, could break out of the Westminster doghouse when the champion is announced just before 11 p.m. Tuesday. No beagle has reached the seven-dog, best-in-show ring since 1939.
"To have the general public see an average dog going and competing and actually winning would send a signal that everyone can do it," said Eddie Dziuk, one of Uno's co-owners.
Uno already has earned 32 best-in-show titles, and he finished 2007 as the sixth-ranked show dog in the country.
Charmin, a Sealyham terrier with a gray splotch over his left eye, won the AKC/Eukanuba show in Long Beach, Calif., in December and will be on the green carpet of the Garden.
Also in contention will be a perfectly primped white toy poodle born in Japan. Vikki has won 83 best-in-show ribbons and enters as the nation's top dog.
There will be 169 breeds and varieties of dogs at the 132nd Westminster Kennel Club event.
USA Network and CNBC will split the coverage the first night, with USA doing the second night alone. Westminster TV host David Frei offered a prediction.
"A beagle winning would bring down the house."