Daniel didn’t win at West­min­ster, but he’s still golden

The Kansas City Star - - Uplift - BY LINDA FUOCO

In a big yard where 17 beau­ti­ful golden re­triev­ers re­laxed and sun-bathed in spring­like tem­per­a­tures, one stood out. When his name was called, Daniel gal­loped into the house and hopped up onto the groom­ing ta­ble, which put him at eye level with vis­i­tors.

Grand Cham­pion Hil­lock’s Jack Daniels pro­ceeded to charm a re­porter and photograph­er who vis­ited ear­lier this year. He made eye con­tact. He wagged his tail. We pet­ted him and rubbed the thick fur on his chest. He gave me his paw when I asked him to shake. When I took my hand away to take notes, Daniel leaned in and put his paw on my arm in a clear re­quest for more hands-on at­ten­tion.

Yes, the golden boy can work a room, even if it’s just a small one at his home in Li­gioner, near

Pittsburgh. He was equally adept at work­ing the crowd at one of the dog world’s big­gest stages, the West­min­ster Ken­nel Club dog show in Madi­son Square Gar­den in New York City. On Feb. 11, he beat 32 dogs to win the sport­ing group and com­peted for best in show. Daniel was clearly the crowd fa­vorite, but the top prize went to a black poo­dle from eastern Penn­syl­va­nia.

Daniel has largely re­tired from shows, though he’ll com­pete a few times this year.

Owner/breeder Tammy Tom­lin­son of Hil­lock Golden Re­triev­ers would like to add to his record, which cur­rently stands at 19 best in show awards and 51 first places in the sport­ing group. You can also see Daniel at Fort Li­gion­ier Days in Oc­to­ber.

He’ll ride in a con­vert­ible as grand marshall in the pa­rade.

The county com­mis­sion­ers on March 5 gave a procla­ma­tion hon­or­ing him for shin­ing a na­tional spot­light on West­more­land County. Tom­lin­son handed the procla­ma­tion to Daniel, who held it gen­tly in his mouth and ran out of the room, much to the de­light of spec­ta­tors.

Any­one who watched the West­min­ster show on TV knows Daniel’s ap­peal. Af­ter he won the sport­ing group, he stood on his hind legs, put his paws on the shoul­ders of his pro­fes­sional han­dler, Karen Mam­mano of Web­ster, N.Y., and gave her kisses. Then he pranced around the ring with the big blue rosette rib­bon in his mouth. The crowd went nuts, in­clud­ing the tele­vi­sion an­nounc­ers.

Tom­lin­son watched it all from “the nose­bleed sec­tion” of Madi­son Square Gar­den. She went down to the show floor to hug her dog and con­grat­u­late the han­dler. She re­turned to her seat car­ry­ing the big blue rosette.

“The peo­ple sitting around me said, ‘That’s your dog? What are you do­ing sitting up here?’ I told them I didn’t buy $500 seats” at ring­side.

Shortly af­ter 10 p.m., Daniel en­tered the best in show ring with six other dogs. You could say he was an un­der­dog, for no golden re­triever has ever won best in show in West­min­is­ter’s 143 years of com­pe­ti­tion. Ev­ery dog at the show is a cham­pion or grand cham­pion. But in New York, the arena is big­ger, the lights are brighter and the spec­ta­tors are louder than what the dogs are used to. Daniel han­dled all of that with aplomb.

Then the crowd started chant­ing Daniel! Daniel! Daniel! Daniel! “That mo­men­tar­ily freaked him out a lit­tle bit,” Tom­lin­son said.

The dog looked around, try­ing to fig­ure out who was call­ing him. He quickly re­cov­ered and put on a per­for­mance that was close to flaw­less, ac­cord­ing to many long­time ex­hibitors. Alas, the ti­tle went to Siba, a stan­dard poo­dle. Stan­dard, miniature and toy poo­dles have won best in show 10 times at Wesmin­ster. The win­ningest breed is the wire fox ter­rier, which has won 14 times, in­clud­ing in 2019.

Tom­lin­son drove Daniel home that night. Sev­eral days later, staff from the “To­day” show wanted him to ap­pear on TV.

“That never hap­pens to the dog that does not win West­min­ster,” Tom­lin­son said. “I told them I would not drive to New York City again. I drove to New Jer­sey and they sent a limo to pick us up and take Daniel to the show.”

Daniel, who just turned 6, is happy wher­ever he is. He is now a much-loved pet who plays with the other dogs, in­clud­ing his own pup­pies.

A na­tional net­work news crew wants to come to Li­gion­ier “to spend a day fol­low­ing Daniel around. I haven’t called them back yet,” Tom­lin­son said.

His ser­vices are very much in de­mand for breed­ing, but his owner is very picky about which fe­males will carry his pup­pies. She spends thou­sands of dol­lars on ge­netic test­ing to make sure her dogs don’t have hip, el­bow, eye or heart prob­lems that could be passed on to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Tem­per­ment and per­son­al­ity are just as im­por­tant as beauty, she said.

Tom­lin­son has bred hun­dreds of pup­pies since 1971, and most went to what she calls “pet homes.” There are other ac­com­plished Hil­lock alumni. Daniel is the un­cle of Zane, the com­fort dog who works with Pittsburgh po­lice. Po­lice in Wheel­ing, W.Va., are get­ting one of 13 pup­pies born March 5.

JOHN MINCHILLO AP

Daniel, the golden re­triever, com­petes for Best in Show at the 144th West­min­ster Ken­nel Club dog show Feb. 11 in New York.

JOHN MINCHILLO AP

Daniel, who had won the Sport­ing Dog com­pe­ti­tion, put on a per­for­mance that was close to flaw­less for Best of Show, ac­cord­ing to many long­time ex­hibitors.

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