Westminster is a magnet. As much as one might deplore the antic behavior or second-guess the judges, be obliged to sidestep the droppings or shove through the crowd, Westminster is as indispensable to dog people as oil to an Arab. Last week more than 3,000 dogs representing 132 breeds and varieties from 45 states were in New York's Madison Square Garden for Westminster's 98th annual show, one of the oldest sporting events in the U.S. And despite all the grousing, it was perfectly clear that nothing in dogdom can match a win in the Garden, especially best-in-show. As Len Carey of Fallbrook, Calif., the best-in-show judge, said of Ch. Gretchenhof Columbia River, the German shorthaired pointer he put up, the dog should now be retired because "he's reached the top."
It was certainly the top for Ch. Gretchenhof etc., who is called Traveler at home. His best-in-show was the first ever at Westminster for a German shorthaired pointer. A vivacious animal with a good deal of drive and spirit, Traveler comes out of dual-purpose show and field stock. He was handled by Jo Shellenbarger of Costa Mesa, Calif., who bred him and was his original owner. But two years ago, when Traveler was two, she sold him to Dr. Richard P. Smith, a show fancier and anesthesiologist from Hayward, Calif. Actually, she had very little selling to do; Dr. Smith craved the dog. Interestingly, the doctor also shows Irish setters, but despite his fondness for gundogs, he has never fired a round in his life.
"He was the first one who caught my eye," Carey said later. "You can't fault the dog. He's as fine an example of a sporting dog as I've ever laid my hands on. I'd say he's a great dog. I was looking for type first, and he has a beautiful German shorthaired pointer head. Then I moved the dogs up and down to see how they landed on their feet. That pointer came down four square, absolutely square. When I went over him his second thighs were as hard as a rock. You just couldn't get your thumbs into them. That dog was in absolute full bloom. I'd love to get my 12-gauge out of the closet and go out in the field with him tomorrow."
Besides the choice of best-in-show—that happens every year—what was of particular concern last week was the Garden debut of four breeds recently moved up from the miscellaneous class and accorded full recognition by the American Kennel Club. The miscellaneous class might be termed the canine Ellis Island. The AKC reserves this class for breeds new to the U.S., just off the boat, so to speak. Instead of getting instant citizenship, a breed, though considered pure, is placed in limbo until enthusiasts prove that it has created a certain amount of interest and support.
The evidence is produced, first, by the organization of a breed club, following the AKC bylaws. A stud book must be kept for at least three generations. On occasion, to ensure that there is no hanky-panky, the AKC has required that a photograph must be submitted of every dog entered in the stud book. The club is also required to run a certain number of AKC-sanctioned matches. Finally, the dogs must be placed with enough breeders throughout the country so that the breed is considered to have the necessary support. The rules are somewhat arbitrary since there is no magic number of dogs that assures full recognition. By some divine alchemy, the AKC decides when a breed can leave Ellis Island for the mainland and Westminster. At present, those in the miscellaneous class include the Tibetan spaniel, the Ibizan hound, the Pharaon hound and the Staffordshire Bull terrier. Curiously, this last one is accorded full recognition in England, New Zealand and Australia, but not here. And to compound the confusion, full AKC status is granted to a breed known as the American Staffordshire terrier, which was originally registered with an obscure outfit known as the United Kennel Club.
To many members of the fancy the four new breeds introduced this year—the akita, the soft-coated wheaten terrier, the Tibetan terrier and the bichon frise—are not only interesting in their own right but also for the light they throw on the diversity of the domesticated dog, Canis familiaris, and its amazingly plastic gene pool. It has been altered and shaped by man in astonishing ways in his quest for an animal that will hunt in Japan, or guard the family larder in Ireland or serve as an amusing, spirited and loyal companion in Tibet or the Canary Islands.
The biggest of the four is the akita, and it is a formidable-looking beast, weighing up to 120 pounds. For all of this the akita is not likely to achieve vast popularity. It lingered in the miscellaneous class for 17 years, which indicates that not many people were tempted to push the breed. In fact, akita owners believe that popularity would diminish quality. "Akitas are aggressive toward other dogs," warns Sharon Hansen of Ann Arbor, Mich., who handled her dog, Ch. Akita Tani's Yorokobi no Moto CDX (Companion Dog Excellent) to best-of-breed in the Garden. "They were first bred for hunting bears." Barbara Miller of Upper Marlboro, Md. adds, "They're not the dog for everyone."
The akitas, which are said to have Tibetan mastiff and chow blood, originated in Japan, and like the Japanese, they have a reputation for being inscrutable. Anyone interested in owning an akita should make certain that the puppy has a stable temperament. Without stability, the akita is a furred bomb ready to explode at any moment. One aggressive dog in the benching area even threatened passersby, much to the dismay of akita fanciers.
Sharon Hansen's best-of-breed, which answers to the name of Kobi, was the only akita present to have earned a CDX in obedience trials, and although Kobi is the soul of stability, he inspires great respect, as his owner discovered one night on a trip to the post office in downtown Detroit. "I was apprehensive about going there after dark," she says, "but people just moved right out of the way when they saw Kobi." It is often said that dog people resemble their animals. In this regard it may be worth noting that akita owners include Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, TV commentator Howard K. Smith and the daughter of columnist Jack Anderson.
The soft-coated wheaten terrier is an attractive Irish breed that has been around for several hundred years and is supposed to have figured in the development of the Kerry blue and the Irish terrier. The dog was late in winning recognition because it served without fanfare as a farm dog. During the famine of the 1840s it helped to guard stocks of potatoes, and since it was obedient to silent signals it was used by poachers to supplement the larder with game. On occasion it is called the poor man's Irish wolfhound.
A middle-sized dog of 35 to 40 pounds, the medium-long-coated wheaten requires constant grooming. "More than I ever anticipated!" said Marjorie C. Shoemaker of Hatfield, Pa., whose Ch. Abby's Postage Dhu O'Waterford was best-of-breed. In compensation, the dog does not shed and has next to no doggy odor. It is a breed that requires a firm hand, especially around other dogs. The wheaten will undoubtedly win adherents from Irish Americans who dearly love to dream up outlandish Gaelic names for their animals. Indeed, the most startling names at Westminster belonged to a couple of Irish terriers, Kel Terre's Up the IRA and Sinn Fein Future Shock.
The Tibetan terrier is the most ancient of the newly recognized breeds, going back perhaps 2,000 years. Historically, Tibet has been a rich source of dogs, both as a result of natural stock (the true mastiff, for instance, is believed to have stemmed from the woolly Tibetan wolf, Canis lupus chanco) and from the care and attention lavished on dogs in monasteries. Monks raised Tibetan terriers as companion dogs. They never sold them but gave them away as good-luck charms. Tibetans are easygoing and make good house dogs. Their coats, virtually hypoallergenic, have the texture of human hair and require one careful grooming session a week. Strands of hair cover the eyes, affording protection against snow glare in their native land. The claim is sometimes made that the Tibetan terrier was carried west by Mongol armies and then used to help create the puli, the Hungarian sheep dog.
The name Tibetan terrier is a partial misnomer applied by an Englishman in the 1920s who thought the dogs looked like terriers. They lack terrier-type teeth, however, and they do not dig as do terriers, whose name derives from the Latin terra, earth. Moreover, the Tibetan breed does not have the feisty terrier temperament. There is some sentiment, according to Eileen Wilk of Camp Springs, Md., whose Kontan's Adam Bu-Tsa Lhor went best-of-breed, to change the name to Tibetan holy dog, the term used in Tibet.
Robert E. Taylor, chairman of the Westminster show and himself the owner of two Tibetan terriers, says that it is "a very natural type of dog." It stands four square, legs in proportion to its body, and the head measures the same distance from the nose to the stop in front of the eyes as it does from the stop to the occipital bone in the back of the skull. Despite this 1-to-1 head ratio, the Tibetan is believed to be the progenitor of the Lhasa Apso (which has a 1-to-3 head ratio), the Shih Tzu (1-to-5) and even the Pekingese (1-to-13), all of which, Taylor points out, were the result of controlled programs that Orientals are fond of conducting, whether working with dogs, popeyed goldfish or bonsai trees.
The akita, wheaten and Tibetan are all unusually handsome animals, but the biggest hit at Westminster was almost certainly the tiny bichon frise. The name is pronounced bee-shown fre-zay, and it means, in rough translation from the French, cute and curly. This breed is destined for stardom; it was in the miscellaneous class only 18 months. At Westminster there were 35 entries, an extraordinarily high number for a newcomer. Best-of-breed, Ch. Rank's Eddie, owned by New York lawyer Robert A. Koeppel, came fourth in the nonsporting group, a surprisingly high placement. Moreover, veteran dog writer Herm David reports that the Greenwich Village set, an informal but reliable barometer of dog status, has given up poodles in favor of the bichon frise, which now joins Afghans, Irish setters, Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus as an "in" breed. On top of all this, the puppy mills, rightfully despised, have gotten hold of bichons frises, indicating their potential market. This is an ominous sign that prompts Barbara Stubbs of La Jolla, Calif., past president of the Bichon Frise Club of America, to caution, "Buy your dog from a reputable breeder, not a pet shop." She adds hopefully, "The one thing that is going to protect the breed from exploitation is that the dog is white and needs a good deal of grooming."
With its round imploring eyes and zestful spirit, the bichon frise is immensely appealing. It is the kind of dog Walt Disney might have designed; MGM would have used it in old Ann Rutherford movies. Says Barbara Swan, an 18-year-old from Greenwich, Conn. who has a pet bichon frise named Andy, "He bops around. He's very playful and energetic, but he has sense. He seems to know what you think. He's smart and he's quiet when he's supposed to be. A lot of little dogs are frou-frou, but Andy isn't. No doggy coats or painted nails." Tom Costello of Floral Park, N.Y., whose wife breeds bichons frises, says, "They have a big-dog temperament."
The bichon frise was first established in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. Sailors brought them to Spain and France, where King Henry III took a liking to the dogs. The ladies of his court used to carry them in baskets hung around their necks. The breed was first imported to the U.S. in 1959 by enthusiasts in Wisconsin who later moved to San Diego. Nowadays it is especially popular in California, Chicago, Virginia, New York and the New England states.
The pre-Westminster favorite for best-of-breed was Ch. Chaminades Syncopation, otherwise called Snidely Whiplash, owned by Mrs. William Tabler of Glen Head, N.Y. However, the judge, Melbourne T. L. Downing, known by some as Jack the Giant Killer, picked Ch. Rank's Eddie in an upset that caused a considerable stir. The decision did not in the least dismay Snidely Whiplash. Back in his crate on the bench, Snidely Whiplash remained perky, so much so that a proper matron who was passing by stopped to coo, "I'm a poodle person but I love you, love you, love you!"