Daniel didn’t win at Westminster, but he’s still golden
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.
Daniel, the golden retriever, competes for Best in Show at the 144th Westminster Kennel Club dog show Feb. 11 in New York.
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.