Saturday, February 26, 2011


I have watched the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show ever since it was first televised in 1948. The 2011 version (their 135th) allowed me to continue my appreciation of the American Kennel Club (AKC) while taking me back to my early youth and the Texas Kennel Club (AKC) Championships then held at the Texas State Fair in Dallas. I am the eldest son of Coburn Allen Buxton and Elisabeth Alden Littlefield Buxton who ran Brunonia Kennels in Dallas. Mom and Dad raised championship German Shepherd Dogs (GSD) with Brunonia famous for their dedication to the Flowdale line. Dad was one of the founders and first President of the German Shepherd Dog Club of Dallas. Since we spent so much time with the dogs Brother John and I used to be known in some circles as Romulus and Remus. Champion Susan of Flowdale saved my life at least once so this piece is dedicated to her.

Yes, I am the son of dog breeders, a play on a line I heard used at Westminster this year to describe the, daughter of dog breeders, Angela Lloyd, the very competent and successful handler to the Westminster 2011 Best in Show – 85 pound, five year old, female Scottish Deerhound GCH Foxcliffe Hickory Wind ("GCH" stands for Grand Champion).

This year’s Westminster Show was a big hit and not just because of the superb participants [2500 entries featuring all 179 breeds and varieties recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC)] but also because of superior management and the return (Thank Goodness and Hurrah!) of multitalented announcer Michael J. Lafave with his distinctive, smooth as silk deep voice which is one of the exclamation marks of this show. Would that we could bottle Lafave’s persona and voice and keep him around forever. By the way Lafave is a Human Resources (HR) guy no doubt explaining his erudite and professional demeanor, no doubt

The Westminster show this year coincided with the rebroadcast on America’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) of the 2008 BBC investigative and very disturbing documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which scrutinized many of the health and welfare issues facing pedigree dogs in the United Kingdom. It was a bomb of cataclysmic proportions dropped onto The Kennel Club and resulted in many of their perennial sponsors withdrawing support to the organization. Those withdrawing their support included the BBC, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Pedigree and others. The Kennel Club’s initial reaction was belligerent and defensive - not very diplomatic or productive though they now appear to be trying to right themselves. Failing that, they would have been forever tainted and lose whatever credibility they ever had. Bottom line: We need them though they need to be more responsible and not allow the tail to wag the dog – so to speak.

The tail in this case are some breeders (and we suspect very few) who have capriciously and arbitrarily changed the standards of their breed(s) to satisfy their own personal whims and standards to the detriment of the health of many pedigree dogs - and all for a ribbon. The documentary reflects that while the breed standards are set by The Kennel Club, they have been open to interpretation and so as the fashion of the day has changed, so have the dogs.

Proof? Well, I’m not a geneticist or Veterinarian and have absolutely no professional credentials. I was, however, raised in a working kennel and can comment on what a German Shepherd Dog was then and is now. They are not the same. Now that may please some current breeders who are fixated on their own subjective aesthetics, but it hasn’t been good for the breed. It has, indeed, been injurious and German Shepherd Dogs have suffered ever more mightily from Hip Dysplasia, a degenerative hip disorder that is now a common problem with show dogs of the breed. Just look at the roached backs of show GSDs and the straight backs of their working counterparts and there’s your proof. The GSD was bred as a working sheep dog, not a show dog and for some idiot to say that the working dog is “incorrect” is asinine. I guess that if I lived and hobnobbed in the court of Louis XIV and didn’t wear heavy white pancake makeup consisting of lead, mercury and vinegar then I would be, “incorrect” as well. Again, it’s all about fashion.

Our proof is as simple as photos that featured Kennel Club breed champions from 50, 80 and even 100 years ago. Compared with the current standard it becomes painfully clear that the breeds have been genetically manipulated to please the whimsy of a few.

Closer to home, I compared a 1953 photo of Brunonia’s Texas and AKC Champion Ch Susan of Flowdale (1946/47 - five Best of Breeds handled by Peter Patterson, Ch. Judge Anton Korbel) with some of the Best in Breed from recent years and the difference is startling and even appalling. Current “correct” show GSDs have that aforementioned bowed (roached) and dramatically sloping back while Ch. Susan of Flowdale had an almost straight back. Bottom line: The contemporary show GSD is different from the standard of the breed even fifty years ago. To their great credit The Kennel Club is now retraining their judges to penalize GSDs who manifest this deformity.

In their Pedigree Dogs Exposed the BBC compared old photographs of GSDs and other breeds including the Dachshund, Basset Hound, Bull Terrier, Bulldog and Pug. The differences in the photos were startling and validated (as with Ch. Susan of Flowdale) that the standards of many breeds have changed substantially over the past century. Some blinded and incredibly, blissfully arrogant breeders still continue to try and “educate” us Neanderthals and even criticize the AKC breed standard because it does not completely conform with their personal interpretations.

My take on all this is that the farther that we get from the “working” or original standard of the dog, a greater disservice we do the breed and ourselves. I believe that there can be moral and ethical issues with regard to genetic manipulation of canines just as there are with humans. Those who would genetically manipulate the conformation of an animal, essentially breeding for a deformity (an exaggerated or spectacular “aesthetic” feature), will continue to suffer the slings and arrows of public indignation. We also need to get over the hysteria (both sides) that is gripping much of the canine world because of the revelations made in Pedigree Dogs Exposed. Only a relatively few breeds were featured and within them perhaps only a few irresponsible breeders. Let’s put everything in perspective and like The Kennel Club put sanctions in place that will discourage and stop irresponsible breeding practices.

We took great interest in (and strength from) the comments of respected Judge Paolo Dondina of Monterchi, Italy after he presented Hickory with her Best in Show ribbon, “This animal is like in the heavens. It’s not of this world.” Dondina then commented further that the breed was very old and had changed little over the years. This was a significant public statement as Paolo will be judging Best in Show at The Kennel Club’s Crufts Dog Show in 2011. This could be interesting

When we made our comparisons of the Scottish Deerhound, then and now, we noted a photo from 1910 demonstrating little, if any, changes. Many historians note that this is an ancient breed that has existed before recorded history, indeed, with the archeological evidence supporting that its ancestors were kept by the Scots and Picts.

The Scottish Deerhound is known as the Royal Dog of Scotland and was romanticized by Sir Walter Scott who as a lifelong owner (Maida) and breeder of these dogs called them “the most beautiful creatures of heaven.” Until the 1800s, no one ranking below an Earl was even allowed to own the breed in Scotland.

The photograph in this post is dated 1890 and is one proudly posing Scot, Ronald MacColl, Deerstalker, from Black Mount, Rannoch Moor, Argyll, Scotland with his Scottish Deerhound companion and insinuated work mate. We knew you would want to know.

So, we have history on our side and, no, we don’t paint all breeders with the same brush. We well congratulate and applaud those overwhelming numbers of reputable breeders who support the humane treatment of all animals with an eye on conservation and perpetuation of all breeds, research and treatments for canine health issues and not engaging irresponsible genetic manipulation. Those that do otherwise are encouraged to join the Flat Earth Society if indeed they don’t already belong…

So, now that’s two in a row for the Scots who won the 2010 Westminster Show via Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot aka Sadie, a black Scottish Terrier. Perhaps a Cairn, Westie or even a Border Collie can pull off the hat trick in 2012?

Well done AKC.


Ned Buxton

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