perfect choices for the animal rights groups to attack.
And really, who could blame them?
I've been a lover of dog shows and showdogs since I was a kid. I've participated for more than 35 years---long enough to lose the rose-colored glasses about "improving the breed" and figure out that the race
to the Best in Show ring is sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a breed. But yet---I love the sport.
That's why I'm dismayed when things happen to give ammunition to those who hate it. Things that confirm what they've been saying: That we breeders and judges put exaggeration over health. So we started the
night with the Hound group winner, the Dachshund: poster breed for intervertebral disk disease. When Dachshunds first entered the show ring, they were shorter backed and longer bodied---and one would suspect, less plagued by back problems. To be fair, it's not simply length of back that causes the Doxie's disk problems; the gene that causes that breed's dwarfism also affects the nature of the cushions between the disks, making them more prone to rupture. But detractors of dog shows won't focus on the micro-causes of back problems: all they will see is a very long dog winning a very long ribbon.
Next up was the Toy group. Again, nobody could dispute
that Malachy is an incredibly typey Pekingese. But he is a Pekingese. Maybe---just maybe---the Cavalier could have given him a run (or waddle) for the money in the race for Toy Group poster dog of health issues. And I had to wonder what the Dowager Empress T'Zu Hsi would think. Malachy certainly conforms with
her description of the perfect lion dog---well, except, I hope, for the part about biting people (see below). But does he conform too much? The Empress' own lion dogs
looked more like today's Tibetan Spaniels in comparison---and almost certainly did not require ice packs to stay cool on warm days.
On to Non-sporting, where admittedly, it could have been worse. But only if the Bulldog won. Again, the winner was a fabulous representative of his breed. But one again, his breed was a poster dog for the effects of closed gene pools and the deleterious effects of breeding for points of type over health. No breed has a higher percentage of dogs with the gene causing high levels of uric acid in their urine---up until recently, that percentage in AKC registered Dals was 100%. That high uric acid causes Dals to have the highest rate f urinary stones of any breed. After a hotly contested battle, the stud book has been opened to allow in some Dals with the gene for low uric acid--a gene they acquire from a
cross to a Pointer many generations ago. But if the stones weren't enough, Dals are also the poster dogs for deafness. Their deafness is associated with their
extreme white color (the spots are a modified form of ticking, not patching). There's one easy way to decrease the high percentage of deaf Dals: allow patches. Dals with patches have a much lower percentage of deafness. And a really much lower percentage of show wins.
When people wish to lament the effect of dog shows on dog breeds, they inevitably bring up that dog show whipping boy, the German Shepherd Dog. So of course the judge pointed to the GSD for the Herding group.
No breed of dog can cover ground like a show-bred GSD; the breed was bred to be a sort of moving fence, trotting non-stop around vast herds in open areas all day. But at what point does wide-open side movement become detrimental? I disagree that the GSD's extreme rear angulation is correlated with hip dysplasia, as many detractors opine. The statistics don't support it. But it doesn't make it anatomically correct, especially when you see the big winners swaying back and forth on their rears when they come to halt. Can a rear like that hold up a dog in its old age? Maybe a moot point, since Shepherds don't seem to be living that long.
So much for Monday.
On to Tuesday. I thought the Working group winner was a breathtaking Dobe. And truly, from a PETA ammo point of view, the breed choice could have been worse. It could have been...gasp...a Neapolitan Mastiff! Even so, the Doberman Pinscher is the victim of perhaps the highest rate of dilated cardiomyopathy of any breed, believed to be the result of the popular sire syndrome and a closed gene pool. Breeders and researchers are doing what they can---but it's like closing the barn door once the good genes already burned up. Or something like that.
I confess I was rooting for the gorgeous Irish Setter in
the Sporting Group. And here's a breed that can boast of its efforts to combat hereditary disease. Once the poster dog for progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), it was one of the first breeds to tackle a hereditary disease head on. of course, the breed still has it hereditary headaches (figuratively, not literally), but considering its fad status in the 1970s when it was considered the ADDD (attention-deficit-disorder-dog) of the world, it's recovered and is doing pretty well. Well, sure, Emily did add a few barks to make sure nobody thought she was a pushover when it came to the self-stacking portion of the show, but she snapped back to work. And well, sure, I can't see that magnificent coat holding up too well in the field, and it is a breed in which the show and field types diverged long ago...
The news could have been worse in the Terrier Group. The Kerry Blue's cross to bear is progressive neuronal
abiotrophy, a progressive and fatal disorder appearing in puppies. Breeders have been working to eradicate it for decades, and are now pinning their hopes on a
It's true that no breed of dog is without its hereditary health burden. And I'm not accusing any of the group winners of having any of their breed's particular problems. Well, except maybe for the Peke, because a flat face is a flat face no matter what. So as the Best in Show judge began her Best in Show preamble, I had only one thought: "Please not the Peke!"
The Dowager Empress T'Zu Hsi's Lion Dog
Description (circa 1900):
Let the Lion Dog be small;
let it wear the swelling cape of dignity around its neck; let it display the billowing standard of pomp above its back.
Let its face be black; let its forefront be shaggy; let its forehead be straight and low.
Let its eyes be large and luminous; let its ears be set like the sails of war junk; let its nose be like
that of the monkey god of the Hindus.
Let its forelegs be bent; so that it shall not desire to wander far, or leave the Imperial
Let its body be shaped like that of a hunting lion spying for its prey.
Let its feet be tufted with plentiful hair that its footfall may be soundless and for its standard of pomp let it rival the whick of the Tibetans' yak, which is flourished to protect the imperial litter from flying insects.
Let it be lively that it may afford entertainment by its gambols; let it be timid that it may not involve
itself in danger; let it be domestic in its habits that it may live in amity with the other beasts, fishes or birds that find protection in the Imperial Palace.
And for its color, let it be that of the lion - a golden sable, to be carried in the sleeve of a yellow robe; or the colour of a red bear, or a black and white bear, or striped like a dragon, so that there may be dogs appropriate to every costume in the Imperial
Let it venerate its ancestors and deposit offerings in the canine cemetery of the Forbidden City on each new moon.
Let it comport itself with dignity; let it learn to bite the foreign devils instantly.
Let it be dainty in its food so that it shall be known as an Imperial dog by its fastidiousness; sharks
fins and curlew livers and the breasts of quails, on these may it be fed; and for drink give it the tea that is brewed from the spring buds of the shrub that groweth in the province of Hankow, or the milk of the antelopes that pasture in the Imperial parks.
Thus shall it preserve its integrity and self-respect; and for the day of sickness let it be anointed with the clarified fat of the legs of a sacred leopard, and give it to drink a throstle's eggshell full of the juice of the custard apple in which has been dissolved three pinches of shredded rhinoceros horn, and apply it to piebald
So shall it remain - but if it dies, remember thou too art