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Gene Blake – Standards Matter

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202 – July, 2018

by Joan Harrigan

The progression is familiar—it has been repeated over and over in the purebred dog fancy. A child grows up loving dogs, learns to groom and show, becomes a professional handler, then retires from handling to become a judge. However, Gene Blake’s career path in dogs isn’t typical by any means. He didn’t come from a family able to buy a purebred for him to show in juniors. He didn’t start off working at a neighbor’s kennel after school and then launch a career after college. As an African American in the South before the civil rights era, he faced obstacles that he talks about matter-of-factly, when he mentions them at all.

Eugene Blake was born in Plain Dealing, Louisiana, a small town north of Shreveport, almost on the Arkansas border. He was one of 12 surviving children, and his father, a sharecropper, “did a bit of everything” to help the family survive during the Depression. Ultimately, the family moved to Texas, where prospects were better. They kept dogs, but not as pets. Gene Blake’s father trained hunting dogs—English and Gordon Setters, as well as Pointers, for wealthy men who hunted on horseback. The family’s own dogs ran loose, bred when they wanted, and it wasn’t uncommon for a litter of 8 or 10 puppies to come tumbling out from under the house.

When Gene Blake was 18, he took a part-time job driving a deliv- ery truck for the Avalon Drug Store in Houston, owned by a Mr. Northrup. He worked nights, which left days free. A friend told him that if he pretended to like dogs, he could likely get a second job bathing dogs for a local groomer. “I didn’t have to pretend—I iked dogs,” Blake recalls. He stopped by the “French Poodle Shop,” and in- troduced himself to the owner, Hazel Hamm. She hired him, and he worked from 8 to 12 for her, and from 2 to 10 at the pharmacy.

Click here to read the complete article
202 – July, 2018

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