The exotic animal on the cover that somehow combines the look of a platinum baboon, the arrogance of an eagle and the languor of a cat—is a dog. But Taejon of Crown Crest, in the opinion of Kay Finch, his owner, cannot be called just a dog, any more than the Taj Mahal can be called a building, the Queen Mary a boat or Marilyn Monroe a woman. Actually, she feels, Taejon is a sports personality in the tradition of Man o' War or, for that matter, John B. Kelly Sr.—a champion and a sire of champions. Taejon has sired 12 champions, and this year's Westminster breed winner, Ch. Crown Crest Rubi, is his grandson.
Like all Afghan hounds, Taejon is a stranger—albeit a well-adjusted one—in a world he never made. For more than 5,000 years the Afghan doubled as a companion and a killer in the remote Asiatic country that supplied its name. No one knows exactly how the breed came to Afghanistan (some think from Egypt), but once there the hounds were used to course the gazelle and jack rabbit and even to hunt and kill snow leopards. Then, as now, they were not scent but gaze hounds of such exceptional eyesight that they could spot their prey at a great distance.
Transplanting the breed to the new world has not weakened this inherent ruggedness. Some years ago a pet Afghan was lost in the Sierra Nevada, and by necessity reverted to a wild state. Nearly two years later he had some 15 cougars to his credit and a reputation among the mountain dwellers comparable to that of the Abominable Snowman. When finally captured, he was caged as a wild beast, but his owner recognized him from a radio description and hurried to the scene. Over the alarmed protests of the Afghan's captors, she walked into the enclosure, snapped a leash around his neck and took him home. During the trip the dog reverted right back, and on arrival he climbed onto his favorite couch, gazed sphinx-like around the room and settled down to sleep, sure of his rights as a family member.
The Afghan's adoption by European families dates back to the end of the First World War, although as early as 1907 a dog named Zardin was shown in England in the foreign dog class and created such stir that his presence was commanded at the palace by Queen Alexandra. Zardin became the model for the standard of the Afghan breed and after his death he was embalmed and placed in the British Museum for ready reference in case another hound from Afghanistan turned up. A few did, but the breed did not become established in England until the 1920s when many hounds were imported by Major and Mrs. G. Bell Murray and their friend Miss Jean Manson, and Mrs. Mary Amps. His acceptance in the United States is due in large part to the brilliance of Rudiki of Prides Hill (1937-471), the great American sire whose blood is present in practically every Afghan bred in this country and whose record of 13 best-in-shows remained unsurpassed until the advent of Taejon of Crown Crest.
Taejon is called Johnny by Owner Finch. At Corona Del Mar, where the Finches operate a ceramics shop and factory, Johnny sleeps on his mistress's boudoir dressing table and has the run of the house. In their native Afghanistan, Afghans like to perch above the ground (usually on rocks) with one clear eye on danger, and in a concession to the persistence of this instinct the Finches have surrounded Taejon's dressing table with a picture window. They often find him staring skyward at a drifting sea gull or even an airplane with the peculiar alert, predatory look that has so impressed judges.
The Finches, now grandparents, took up dog-breeding after their family of three had grown up and married. Their theory of dog-raising is that the animal must be treated as a precocious child, given happy surroundings and constant injections of confidence.
Taejon, it so happens, has the confidence of a river boat gambler with a stacked deck. "It's funny at shows," says Kay Finch, "but when Johnny comes in, the other dogs just wilt."
Because of the Afghan's eastern origin, many of them today bear names which suggest the villains in Kipling novels. For most of her Afghan litters, Breeder Finch has puckishly combined occidental themes with tongue-in-cheek Kiplingese. For example, her "Wild West" litter, sired by Taejon, includes Devi Kkrokit and Jezi Jaimz. Her "birthstone" group (so-called because there happened to be an even year's worth—12—in the litter) include Dhiamon, Kristal and Rubi. Taejon himself is an exception to this method of nomenclature. Whelped in 1950, he was named for the Battle of Taejon in Korea.
A litter of 12 is in no way surprising for Afghans—the appearance of the puppies is. In most breeds the puppy bears some resemblance to the adult, but not so with the Afghan who resembles nothing more than an unhappy cross between a cocker and a mongrel. Having been impressed by mature dogs at show, prospective buyers have often left kennels in a fury, certain that an unscrupulous owner was attempting to foist off a mistake at a profit (the average price for a puppy of show calibre is $250).
But as the puppy develops, his shagginess takes shape. The "monkey whiskers" disappear, leaving a smooth face surmounted by a silky topknot. The hair along the back, called the saddle, becomes short and smooth, and a luxuriant coat springs out from the sides.
The true look of an Afghan, according to the standard approved by the American Kennel Club, should be that of "an aristocrat, his whole appearance one of dignity and aloofness with no trace of plainness or coarseness. He has a straight front, proudly carried head, eyes gazing into the distance as if in memory of ages past. The striking characteristics of the breed—the exotic or eastern expression, long silky topknot, peculiar coat pattern, very prominent hip bones, large feet and the impression of a somewhat exaggerated bend in the stifle due to profuse trouserings—stand out clearly, giving the Afghan hound the appearance of what he is, a King of Dogs that has held true to tradition throughout the ages."
Novice spectators at a dog show often find this bend in the stifle intriguing (see chart), and thenceforth think of the Afghan as the dog that walks like a man. (The stifle is a joint in the rear leg that corresponds roughly to a human knee.) The characteristic swivel hip enabled the hound to negotiate with speed and handiness the difficult terrain of the Hindu Kush range, and although the greyhound may be swifter, none can match the Afghan at broken field running or over the high hurdles.
Mrs. Robert Tongren, owner of this year's Westminster winner, recalls a dinner party at which two of her dogs were present. The table was set, the candles ablaze and the guests were seated. As the dinner got under way the dogs began a game of canine tag. Suddenly the dog who was "it," seeing an advantageous short cut, leaped up and over the table, the assembled guests and the flickering candles, without so much as extinguishing a flame or touching a hair.
Normally, however, the Afghan is a dog of exquisite manners and passive charm about the house. Usually he has one spot he claims as his own where he will stretch out with languid grace, rarely demanding affection but tolerantly accepting attention. "The trouble with my dog," one owner confessed, "is that he thinks he is Madame Récamier." For indoor exercise, "Madame Récamier" occasionally strolls about the owner's home delicately sniffing the cut flowers. Although a large dog (27 inches at the shoulder for the male), the Afghan moves with feline grace and is noted for a low breakage rate of bric-a-brac. One of the very few annoyances connected with ownership of an Afghan is the problem of keeping his ears out of his food. This dilemma is successfully resolved by slipping a footless stocking over the dog's head. It is efficient, but at meals the dog has the peeled look of a Bourbon king without his wig.
Despite his luxurious coat, the Afghan has no odor and sheds only slightly. The silky hair comes out in brushing. Some owners collect this hair and turn it into a material that has much the texture of cashmere but is also much more expensive. A few owners who have combed assiduously are able to have and wear the same Afghan.
Part of the secret of the Afghan's successful adjustment to city life is his disdainful ability to go absolutely limp if there is nothing better to do. At a cocktail party in New York given by John Bowman, the host's Afghan, Cleopatra, not particularly caring for groups, settled down for a peaceful nap on a bed covered by the visitors' coats and furs. When the party broke up, a high-spirited guest substituted the sleeping Cleo for her stole. She was just stepping into the elevator when Bowman rescued his unprotesting Afghan.
This same agreeable dog occasionally is left with the hat check girl at fashionable restaurants. So far, the owner has had only one complaint. "Your dog somehow makes me feel very inferior," one girl told him. "She seems so above it all."
THE BENDING "KNEE" of an Afghan, which to novices appears almost human, actually is an illusion created by a long, relatively straight leg and a heavy draping of hair (trouserings), as shown in drawing at right which identifies points of anatomy.