Best in Show: ‘Badger’ nets national prize in Best Friends Pet Hotel contest

Badger, Brian Hetzel’s five-year-old Airedale Terrier, won the national prize in Best Friends Pet Hotel’s “Diamond in the Fluff” before-and-after photo grooming contest. (Photo provided)

Like most people, Brian Hetzel will look at his phone when it’s a number he doesn’t recognize, ignore it, and then go about the rest of his day.

But late one night a few weeks ago, Hetzel was sitting in his Northeast Philadelphia home when the missed call he ignored was followed by a text message.

“It was from an unknown number in Massachusetts,” Hetzel said. “It said, ‘Sorry to bother you so late but I’m just letting you know that Badger won the Diamond in the Fluff grand prize.’ I was like, ‘Really?’”

Hetzel has been a regular at Best Friends Pet Hotel in Cinnaminson. Or, more accurately, Badger has.

But during the last seven months, when the pandemic has kept people home and delayed regular trips to the barber and salon for two-legged and four-legged animals alike, Hetzel and Badger were overdue for a grooming trip for the 5-year-old Airedale Terrier when an email arrived in his inbox from Best Friends about the contest. It was pretty simple, really: all he had to do was submit before and after photos.

“It was a little bit before Christmas the last time he had been groomed, so he was already due for a haircut,” Wetzel said. “So it was the perfect time to capture him with long hair.”

Wetzel figured why not snap a photo and see where it goes?

A few weeks later, he learned that Badger was one of a couple dozen finalists. He thought it was funny but didn’t make a big deal out of it, other than to send a few texts to friends and family.

But then the call came from a Best Friends Pet Hotel representative. Among the entrants from the 31 Best Friends locations across nine states in the country, Badger was victorious.

“He’s got a strut now, right?” Hetzel said with a laugh. “I really didn’t think much of it (when I entered). I thought he would win, but I’m also his owner so of course I think he’s the cutest dog in it.”

The “before” and “after” photos that netted Badger his national championship win. (Photos provided)

For his efforts, from overdue-for-a-cut to trim to debonair, Badger was awarded a basket of toys and treats, bones, a $100 gift card and camp credit at Best Friends Pet Hotel. And his groomer, Tori Levari, received a $25 gift card to Amazon.

“It’s definitely pretty cool, it’s cool to be acknowledged for the work that you put in,” said Levari, who has been at Best Friends Pet Hotel in Cinnaminson for the last 2 ½ years. “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Unlike Badger, Levari wasn’t a first-time winner. A few years ago, while working at Petsmart, Levari was entered into a similar, before-and-after contest by her manager and “won the regionals of the entire Petsmarts.”

“It definitely boosts my confidence,” Levari said of winning another competition.

While Levari has put in the work – she’s been grooming dogs for the last seven years – all Badger did was sit nicely during his most recent cut. But credit where credit is due: not every dog is as easy when the scissors and clippers come out.

“Oh, he’s great. He’s so good,” Levari said. “He literally sits there, no fighting, nothing. He’s just chilling. I think he actually enjoys being groomed and that helps a lot with the cuts.”

Hetzel isn’t surprised at Badger’s calm disposition. Named after a “Breaking Bad” character (more because he likes the show and not the specific character), Badger has been with Hetzel since he was eight or nine weeks old and has always been easy going.

“He was from a big littler, about 10 puppies and he was the runt so he was the smallest,” Hetzel said. “He’s just super friendly. I had a terrier when I was younger and she was not as friendly with other dogs. (Badger) loves dogs, loves people, loves everything, even other animals – he loves cats. He’s just a fun-loving dog. Loves to go for walks, loves to go to the dog park. Loves camp.”

And loves to win championships, too.