Every dog has his day, but the day of the dog is now under question in the U.S. In the past year there has been rising public concern over the proliferation of dogs and their place in American society. The American Kennel Club is registering more than a million dogs a year. Shoddy puppy mills produce dogs by the thousands for the often-criticized pet-shop trade and, worse than that, many supposedly reputable breeders are more interested in breeding for form rather than function. The fact is that a dog's temperament is more significant than its appearance; almost all AKC dogs are cold as pets rather than for showing.
Fortunately, thoughtful dog people are now speaking out. For years the AKC, breed clubs, breeders and most of dogdom lived in an outwardly lovey-dovey world where all breeds were wonderful and Lassie-smart. Now even the august AKC is being questioned. One result is that the AKC has finally permitted women to become delegates, 54 years after they got the vote, but the critics remain impatient. Under new ownership, Popular Dogs, a monthly magazine for fanciers, has begun to print strong editorials on the AKC ("The incident at the December meeting clearly proves that the present system lends itself to abuse and conspiracy"), and in a column, Publication Director Matt Stander voiced the hope that the AKC would set up an effective system to license—and unlicense—judges.
For better or worse, the show ring is at the heart of purebred dogdom, and the most prestigious event is the Westminster Kennel Club show. The 99th annual Westminster was held last week at Madison Square Garden and one of the more outspoken experts present was Captain Arthur J. Haggerty, a man who had no qualms about calling his own shots from the start to best-in-show. At 6'3" and 335 pounds, Haggerty, 43, is probably the biggest man in dogdom, physically anyway, and his knowledge is deep. (AKC rules bar him from judging shows because he makes his living training dogs.) Haggerty says of his qualifications, "As an entire package, there is no one better than me in dogs."
The captain's involvement began when he was a year old; his father registered a litter of Irish setters in his name. Haggerty worked bull terriers as a boy, and one of them won best-of-breed at Westminster. For the last 15 years he has been the proprietor of Captain Haggerty's School for Dogs (Captain comes from service in the Army K-9 Corps), with facilities in New York City and rural Wallkill, N.Y., where he trains dogs of all breeds—even some of no particular breed—to guard, attack, point, pull sleds, detect bombs or drugs, trail men, rabbits or varmints or do theatrical work, e.g., the miniature poodle in Midnight Cowboy. The biggest lessor of guard dogs in the U.S., the captain has trained the celebrated Long-Haired Duke ("No piece of copper plumbing disappeared when this German shepherd was on the job in Harlem") and the resolute Cromwell, another shepherd who has since passed on to what Haggerty calls "the land of the big rabbit." There, as the captain envisions it, Cromwell (what a name for a dog trained by an Irishman) is joyfully pursuing bunnies the size of Larry Csonka.
Haggerty, a former president of The Bronx County Kennel Club, is no provincial. He regularly flies to Europe to observe dogs at Crufts in London, the English equivalent of Westminster, and to Germany, West and East, to study the working dog trials and the Sieger, the national show championship for the German shepherd.
Haggerty esteems Westminster but he believes it is time for Americans to face up to hard truths about purebred dogs. "Ninety-nine per cent of the dogs in the U.S. never realize their potential," he says. "Too many people treat their dogs like children, a serious mistake because a dog's behavior pattern is not similar to a child's. Many people pick a dog for its appearance, when temperament is the important thing. For example, the Boston terrier is a great little house dog. The breed began dropping in popularity eight or 10 years ago, but it's an ideal dog for the widow who misses her husband. It snorts occasionally, but won't talk back.
"A lot of people are taken by the Old English sheepdog. It is obviously an attractive animal, but there is an aggressiveness problem here. Part of the problem is the tremendous amount of hair over the eyes. These dogs get startled when someone suddenly appears before them. No one should own this breed unless he is prepared to brush the coat out every day, because if you don't, the coat gets matted and then, when it is snarled and the coat eventually does get combed, the dog starts biting because the comb gets hung up and hurts.
"The whole business of shows misses the main point of dogs. The show bench wants a dog that is esthetically pleasing, but any dog that becomes a champion in the show ring should be able to pass working tests. You watch an old-time terrier judge. He will start 'sparking' the dogs, putting a couple of terriers nose to nose in the ring. If one terrier backs down, get him out of the ring."
Making the rounds at Westminster, Haggerty despaired over the Alaskan malamutes and Siberian huskies in the working group, not because the breeds were without merit, but because the wrong people owned them. "People buy them because they look like wolves," the captain said, "and they think that they are going to get protection. They come to me because they want the malamute or the husky attack-trained. I tell them it's difficult. They figure a wolf is a great protector. Well, a wolf in the wild runs away from man, that's why the wolf survives. You also have a biting problem and a fighting problem in the malamute and to a lesser extent in the husky. Either breed, husky or malamute, it's hard to get them to bark. They are not good watchdogs if you want a watchdog to bark. In fact, I tell clients it's easier to get them to bite someone than to bark. And then you have to teach the dogs how to bite. Ahhh!" The captain clamped his hand to his enormous furrowed forehead.
That evening Haggerty disagreed quite strongly with the working-group selections of Mrs. Francis V. Crane. She picked Ch. Sir Lancelot of Barvan, an Old English sheepdog, as first in the group and Lancelot thus became a finalist in the best-in-show the next night. The captain favored the giant schnauzer, Ch. Quay's Antonio of Tanglewood, "a really good dog." Haggerty was upset by the look of a German shepherd, Ch. Breauhausen's Mavrick. "Spooky devil. The last thing you want in a shepherd."
When the terrier group was judged, a big upset occurred. Ch. Sunnybrook Spot On, a wire fox terrier, did not win but placed third under Judge Peter Thomson. Thomson selected as the winner an English import, a West Highland white, Ch. Ardenrun Andsome of Purston, and a Lakeland, Ch. Jo-Ni's Red Baron of Crofton, as second. Haggerty thought that was fine. "The Lakeland was shown with absolute artistry," the captain said. "His feet were too big, but then he was so well groomed a judge might have missed that. A Lakeland's feet should be well-knuckled so his legs look like they grow right out of the ground."
In the nonsporting group, the captain favored an English bulldog bitch, Ch. Westfield Conomorus Stone, owned by Haggerty's old friend Charlie Westfield Jr. However, a chow chow, Ch. Mi Tu's Han Su Shang, placed first, while the bulldog finished second. In Haggerty's opinion English bulldogs are a disaster. "The bitch had a great head," he said, "but the breed is so different from the original bulldog of 100 years ago that the pups usually have to be delivered by Caesarean section because the head has grown so much in relation to the pelvis."
Three toy breeds, Haggerty said, were also in deplorable shape: Yorkshire terriers, Chihuahuas and Brussels griffons. The trouble with the first two is that the bones in the skull often do not close. "Want to kill a Yorkie?" the captain asked. "Tap it on the head with a pencil." All three breeds suffer from "fading puppy syndrome. The dogs just die, just die." To save the breeds, he suggested they each be locked in a room for three generations and use the stock that survives.
On the last day of Westminster, Haggerty was at the sporting dog rings. Viewing the Vizslas, he said, "If you're going to get a European combination of hunting dog and house pet, this is the one. The Weimaraner is not nearly so good as a pet, although in the field it is better." (Sour looks from those around the ring.) "The Vizsla needs to put its head in someone's lap."
The captain examined the Labs and was not impressed. As other retriever breeds were shown, the captain felt the temptation to fire a gun in the Garden. "Gundogs should be excused from the ring if they're gun-shy," he said.
Moving over to the hounds, Captain Haggerty looked warily at the basenjis. "A nice dog if you don't want a dog for a pet. They are catlike in their behavior patterns: independent, aloof. Training them is difficult. They are farther away from domestication than any AKC breed. For better results in training, food rewards should be used. A food reward is not going to work with a terrier—you have to 'machine gun' a terrier on a leash to get results. A terrier requires a firm hand. Neither is affection going to work with a terrier or a basenji. The saluki—now there is a breed that will go for dates and oranges."
One dog the captain liked was a bloodhound, Ch. The Rectory's Limbo, an eager 16-month-old that took best-of-breed. (Haggerty is an admirer of good noses. In the Army he discovered that a scout dog could pick up the scent of a human from 150 yards to half a mile away, depending on wind and weather.)
As the sporting group was judged, Haggerty commented. The Lab: "No pizazz." English setter: "Not enough reach in the shoulder." Gordon setter: "Beautiful dog, but he has too much coat for the field. A beautiful coat, but like a cocker spaniel." Irish setter: "Too narrow behind." Brittany: "Nice dog, nothing great." Black cocker: "Look at the thick coat. Wouldn't be too bad if you hunted him in the desert or on an airport runway." English cocker: "Good dog, not a great dog. A little peaked, too." Sussex spaniel: "A poor mover." Welsh springer: "Not showing worth a damn." Vizsla: "A little loose in the front." Weimaraner: "He's out of it. "The judge, Joe Tacker, put up the Gordon, Ch. Afternod Yank of Rockaplenty.
The hounds were next. The basenji: "A little out at the elbows." Beagle, not exceeding 13 inches: "I like a little more length and neck." Ch. The Rectory's Limbo, the bloodhound, passed by: "Showing very well." American foxhound: "A very good dog. Probably the best one in there but it won't win. Why? American foxhounds never win. There are probably no more than six in the whole show." Harrier: "I know a gal who had her finger taken off by a harrier. Howling problem." Norwegian elkhound: "Nice-moving dog but maybe weak in the pasterns." Rhodesian ridge-back: "Fifteen to 20 years ago there was no uniformity of type, and they've carried that through. Good watchdog, fighting problem, hard to handle. Sound dog, this one." Irish wolfhound: "Looks better standing still than moving." Judge Tom Stevenson picked the Irish wolfhound, Ch. Breac O'Shawn McDown of Eagle. Haggerty shrugged. Then the toys. The Yorkshire, Ch. Carnaby Rock 'n' Roll: "An outstanding dog." Toy poodle: "Very nice." In fact, the captain liked a lot of the toys, but if he had to pick from his ringside seat he would go with the miniature pinscher or the toy poodle. Judge Edd Embry Bivin put up the pinscher, Ch. Jay Mac's Impossible Dream. The captain beamed.
Finally it was time for best-in-show. Enter the Old English sheepdog, the Irish wolfhound, the Gordon, chow chow, Westie and miniature pinscher. As Judge Harry T. Peters sent the dogs around the ring, Haggerty came to a tentative decision. The two best dogs in there were the Westie and the miniature pinscher. As the Old English sheepdog moved past the miniature pinscher, the little bitch reared up and barked as if ready to attack. The captain liked that. As the chow chow paraded by, the crowd applauded. "One of the marked characteristics of the breed is a stilted gait," said Haggerty. "This dog has too free-flowing a gait. These people don't know what they're clapping about." Judge Peters continued to look over the finalists. "Old line conservative," the captain said. "He won't do anything for a while because the show always ends between 11:20 and 11:25." The Old English sheepdog went by. "The guy's moving him too fast," said the captain. By now Haggerty had decided the miniature pinscher should win. At 11:22, the judge went over to mark his book. The winner was the Old English sheepdog. Haggerty was thunderstruck. As Joe Waterman, the handler of the miniature pinscher, brought the bitch upstairs to be photographed with Haggerty, several people remarked, "You got robbed." The miniature pinscher posed with Haggerty, then Lancelot came up to be photographed. After the dogs had gone, Haggerty exclaimed, "That Old English sheepdog had a dirty muzzle! A dog like that should not win Westminster! He was also poorly put down. The judge had the chance to go over these dogs in the ring. I didn't, but I'll stick with my opinion—the miniature pinscher is the better dog."
The feisty pinscher had seemed to like Arthur J. Haggerty, too.