DOGS: THE ROAD TO RUIN
I am a longtime subscriber to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. It is clearly the best magazine in its field—competent, useful, often amusing and commendably responsible in its postures with respect to boxing chicanery and allied derelictions in the whole area of sports activity. It was with considerable dismay, therefore, that I read the piece treating the breeding and showing of dogs (The Westminster: Road to Ruin, SI, Feb. 8). This article, it seems to me as a breeder, is intemperate and incongruous with your customary objectivity.
This is an article from the Feb. 22, 1960 issue
"Cocker spaniels won three times and were ruined." This assertion will not bear examination. Ch. My Own Brucie won in 1940 and 1941. Ch. Carmor's Rise and Shine won in 1954. When did the ruination take place? If cockers were "ruined" in the years subsequent to 1941, how could an individual of the breed have taken top honors at the Westminster show 13 years later? How could the dog have maintained its unparalleled popularity from 1938 through 1952 if its representatives were "neurotic" and "ill-tempered"? How is it that the cocker remained the nation's most popular clog without benefit of a single Westminster win in the years between 1941 and 1952? Furthermore, the cocker was the No. 1 dog in AKC registrations for two years prior to the advent of Ch. My Own Brucie. The breed's acceptance was surely not entirely dependent upon Westminster publicity. Finally, if best-in-show at Westminster is the key to popularity with dog owners, how do you account for the decline in cocker registrations since the 1954 win of Ch. Carmor's Rise and Shine?
Here again, "in 1947 a new favorite emerged" replacing the "ill-tempered cocker spaniel." It took five years—until 1952—to replace the "ill-tempered cocker spaniel" as No. 1 dog in AKC registrations. Obviously, this was a rather coolly received "new favorite."
You say "the premium placed upon conformation [is] at the expense of performance characteristics...." These are not, as you imply, mutually exclusive attributes. There is a clear relationship between a dog's gait and his usefulness in the field; his skull and jaws are relevant to his ability to carry a bird properly. It is absurd for you to assume that the contemporary show cocker is not also a competent field dog. It so happens that the cocker is still a sporting dog, and the criteria of the show ring do not ignore this.
It is your persuasion that the best dog in the Westminster Kennel Club show insures the immediate deterioration of his kind. You cite a smattering of winners, and as "proof" dogmatically assert that the mentioned breeds became canine maniacs. Then in a final frenzy of casuistry yelp that something must be done about "this shameful cycle." Is there really a "shameful cycle" or only an occasional and inevitable opportunism?
It is perfectly true that there are cynical breeders whose concern is not the improvement of the breed but the aggrandizement of their pocketbooks. They pervert the Westminster show and its attendant publicity to the basest uses of commerce. They should be exposed. None deplores their existence more than the breeder who is attempting, at inevitably greater expense, to evolve the best dog possible. Isn't it "breaking a fly on a wheel," however, to work up a lather of righteous indignation over a state of things in the business of breeding dogs that is far more egregiously conspicuous at most other levels of our society? Fraud is practiced on a really grand scale in America. I'm sure we all deprecate the old principle of caveat emptor in buyer-seller relations, but let's be fair, if a man buys a lousy dog for an outrageous price because he's a wise guy and refuses to seek or listen to competent counsel, I cannot feel sorry for him. It shouldn't happen, but it does. For you to publish angry sentiments bemoaning it is not without value, but you also tend to tar all breeders with the same brush, tag-line disclaimers to the contrary notwithstanding. The public, as Miss Kraft points out, is "impressionable and ill-informed." They could easily infer that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has imputed dishonesty to the entire dog-breeding industry.
Why did you find it necessary to so castigate the cocker? It is true that a few profit-hungry kennels took advantage of the "cocker boom," mated injudiciously and produced some snappish dogs, but it is equally true—dog generations coming as frequently as they do—that these characteristics were soon recognized and have long since been bred out of the dog.
C. KENNETH CHATFIELD III
Just why should you make such a savage attack on the Westminster show? It is the most important dog show in America, but I doubt whether a half a dozen people scattered among our 50 states purchase a dog of a particular breed simply because that breed happened to go best-in-show at Westminster. That's nonsense. Fox terriers, cocker spaniels, boxers and poodles are not ruined. It is childish to make such a statement. It is perfectly true that many breeds that have won popularity at various times in the past have lost that popularity, and in some cases deteriorated in type, but that has nothing to do with dog shows. Indiscriminate, careless breeding is always the reason.
Is it your serious recommendation that the Westminster show should be abolished? Do you deny that the dogs of 1960 are better than the dogs of 1900 or any other date that you care to pick in the past?
Do you blame Westminster for various shady practices that go on in the dog business? What in the world has the Westminster Kennel Club to do with the dishonesty of individuals? Do you blame Westminster because some American cocker spaniels are neurotic? Parenthetically, when I was a boy between 1900 and 1910, I owned several American cockers. They were nervous and inclined to bite even then. Are you aware of the origins of the Doberman? Did you know that he was the result of a cross between a Rottweiler and a greyhound, and that his color and eventual standardization was caused by the standard Manchester? Did you know that before the mixing of these breeds was the subject of experiments the object was to produce the best watchdog in the world? How can the bloodhound's powers of scent be evaluated in the show ring? In what way can a dog judge eliminate dual breeding? Why is a "beauty contest" incompatible with judging how a dog can do its particular job? Why does Dr. Whitney or Miss Kraft think that what you call the American farm shepherd is purebred? Old Shep, as far as I have been able to find out, is a different-looking animal in practically every state of the Union.
•We do not feel that we have made a savage attack on the Westminster, nor do we think it should be abolished. Indeed, we said three groups share the blame: 1) the judges, 2) the public, 3) the breeder. Dr. Whitney, who has made it his business to study the American farm shepherd all over the country, believes it to be a true breed.—ED.
I have been active in purebred dogs all my life and have been a judge at AKC shows for more than 20 years.
I have owned and bred Dobermans since 1935 and I could not disagree more thoroughly with Virginia Kraft.
First, she says that Dobermans suddenly became fashionable after Storm's first Westminster best-in-show in 1952. They certainly did! From 1952 to 1953 a grand total of 31 more Dobermans were registered with the AKC (and this is a breed of which I am certain that almost all offspring become registered). After Storm's second Westminster best, there was a tremendous amount of publicity, and registrations increased almost 3% to a total of 3,968. However, in the following year, 1954-55, registrations declined to 3,721.
In terms of popularity the Doberman didn't fare that well because registrations of all breeds increased at a much faster clip. For example, in 1952 Dobermans ranked 14th in number of registrations for all breeds; in 1953 they ranked 17th, in 1954 and 1955 they ranked 16th.
I do maintain that almost every Doberman breeder whom I have met, and I have met many of them from coast to coast, is a pretty dedicated person who has striven through careful breeding to eliminate the less desirable traits which were inherent in the German dogs of 20 years or so ago. It is still essential that for a family to really enjoy owning a Doberman at least one member has to be smarter than the dog.
As you know, the Doberman is a man-made dog. He was created for the specific purpose of protecting his master's property.
I can't tell you how vastly the breed has improved in temperament and in appearance in the past 20 years, and a great deal of the credit for this improvement must be given to the many able and competent men who have given of their time to officiate at such shows as Westminster and Westchester and others from coast to coast. It is they who have penalized the shy and the vicious. It is they, through their placements, who have urged breeders to plan and work for sounder and more elegant dogs. Do not misunderstand "elegant." A sound animal is always more pleasing to the eye of a student of dogs.
New York City
•All praise to the owner of famed Ch. Rancho Dobe's Storm and to the "many able and competent men" who have improved the breed "in temperament and in appearance in the past 20 years."—ED.
I am sure you will have received an avalanche of protests from defenders of the various breeds. Nonetheless, in the light of fairness and fact, we must add our bit. Anyone who has owned or known boxers will concur that this breed is especially reflective of the atmosphere in which it is reared, so it is a most delicate matter to characterize it as a "vicious attack dog." The picture of women being dragged along the streets behind 50-pound brutes simply means that the dogs' households encourage and display indecorous conduct and woefully undernourish these dogs, since average boxers usually weigh between 65 and 70 pounds. Perhaps these dogs are frantic in their search for food.
It should be stated that the standard of the breed specifically faults such characteristics as viciousness, treachery, unreliability, lack of temperament and cowardice. That these faults have been successfully controlled may be established by a visit to any boxer judging at any show, or to any household where a boxer resides in a nonaggressive atmosphere.
We boxer owners would like to see an answer of this type printed.
KENNETH P. BUTTON
Let me state categorically that best-in-show is a phony award. It has nothing to do with the bettering of any of our dog breeds and, furthermore, it is a huge joke among breeders, because it is meaningless.
It is patently impossible to select any dog as "best" at Westminster, where there are over 2,000 dogs entered (all of high quality), or any other show. How can a judge compare an Afghan hound and a Chihuahua?
The ultimate fault lies with the American Kennel Club. It is up to the AKC to see to it that litters are honestly registered and that shows are staffed with judges competent to judge the breeds assigned to them. Unfortunately, people regard dogs more as children than as animals, and take any rebuff to their dogs personally.
MALCOLM W. BOYD
Palo Alto, Calif.
There is no question but that undue popularity of any breed tends to stimulate production of inferior specimens. Inasmuch as the Westminster show has great prestige and publicity, wins there spur the sale of victorious breeds. However, serious breeders know that this is just another dog show, that top specimens of many breeds do not attend it, that the results are only one judge's opinion, that victors frequently are defeated in ensuing weeks at other shows.
Technically, a best-in-show win does not in any way indicate superiority of a breed, as theoretically the finalists are not competing against each other, but against an imaginary perfect specimen of their own breed. The dog that most nearly approximates perfection is the one supposed to go best-in-show. People being what they are, however, this tenet is overlooked in subsequent publicity.
I think it quite unfair to blame Westminster alone for so-called "ruin" of several breeds. If such breeds were "ruined" the Garden show was only one factor.
HENRY G. FRAMPTON
Being fond of all dogs, we have watched with alarm the ruin of so many fine breeds, especially the sporting varieties. I wonder if most of today's beagles would know what to do with a rabbit if it got up under their noses.
We made the mistake of showing our hunting dogs (Weimaraners). They are strong, sound dogs of excellent hunting conformation, yet they were beaten by the long-coupled, light-boned show types, with their whiskers and nails trimmed and their already fine coats stripped down to where they wouldn't dare go near a briar patch. In other words, they just didn't give the appearance of being able to do an honest day's hunting, and anyone who has done even a fair amount of work with Weimaraners will agree that an honest day's hunting is their raison d'√™tre.
If I may be allowed an opinion, dog shows should be declared illegal, for they are as cruel as the "pit" dogfights of old. However, I must challenge the author's statement concerning the vicious tendencies of the boxer.
The basic instinct of the boxer is to guard the home from strangers. Outright viciousness is either brought about through constant beatings or training.
Inbreeding by scab breeders and kennel owners has resulted in a deterioration of the line of many popular breeds such as poodles, Bedlingtons and boxers, sometimes creating a specific brain disorder, which means that the animal has to be destroyed.
The Canadian public as well as a large percentage of Americans have not been informed about this racket. The potential buyer is more interested in papers produced by the breeder than he is in the reputation of the breeder. If in doubt concerning a kennel's reputation a check should be made. The veterinarian in your neighborhood may be consulted and if the breeder has nothing to hide he will not object to the pup being checked over by a professional.
I have no defense for those dishonest breeders who do mass-produce puppies for quick profit, except that dishonesty will be found in all walks of life.
I believe most breeders genuinely do concentrate on improving their breed. Many of my acquaintances who are breeders do breed only for their own use, and never sell a "child." I feel a whole profession has been condemned for the faults of a few.
I would like to bring to your attention the fact that the Labrador Club of America does not allow any member to use the title "Champion" unless the individual dog has received at least a working certificate in the field.
To keep the breed as it should be, the records will show that our kennel has never been interested in winning a bench show championship with a dog until such time as that dog has completed his field championship. For example, Dual Ch. Shed of Arden, Dual Ch. Little Pierre of Deer Creek, Dual Ch. Matchmaker for Deer Creek, Dual Ch. Hello Joe of Rocheltree.
PAUL BAKEWELL III
Congratulations on the splendid article on dogs. It should do untold good to the dog breeds and awaken those who may be dog buyers as to what to look for in a prospective companion.
LEON F. WHITNEY, D.V.M.
Dr. Leon Whitney's campaign to place the American farm shepherd dog on the American Kennel Club's accepted list of breeds is commendable—but why does he have to disparage an established (though not too well-known) breed?
His reference to "a so-called sheep-herding dog named komondor from Hungary" indicates either envy or a superficial acquaintance with that ancient and magnificent animal that has served his masters with such fidelity, intelligence and courage for a thousand years.
The komondor much resembles the Old English sheep dog, stands about 26 inches at the shoulders, has a powerful frame and thick white coat that grows 10 inches in length.
Cleveland Heights, Ohio