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Looking Back With Lee – Remembering Ruth Tongren

From the archives of The Canine Chronicle, April 2010 

By Lee Canalizo

The sport of purebred dogs is constantly moving forward and sometimes we forget to look back. Our past has a marvelous and colorful history forged by pioneers of the sport who span many sectors as breeders, handlers and judges. These are the people that have become legendary by assorted means; sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much….but my plan is to chronicle their positive contributions to our sport.

I often think back with great reverence to those who made a lasting impression on me, my breed, and the sport overall. The only thing that makes me nervous writing about these wonderful people is that it makes me realize that while I am not in the first articles of my meanderings…I could wind up in one of the last chapters!

If I may, I’d like to preface this article with the fact that these mini profiles might not fully capture every dimension of the person as it is my intention to give the reader just a glimpse into their persona. Keep in mind that how I saw the subject might correctly have been perceived in a totally different way to another. That underscores how enigmatic they might have been, especially in the world of dogs; no one would be surprised by that possibility.

My first look back will be to Mrs. Ruth Tongren…”Babbie” to those who thought they were close enough to call her that…”Babs” to those she felt close enough to allow them use of that designation.  Babs was a competitive swimmer in her youth. She had a distinctive look about her that came from her shapely form which had a decided sturdiness to it. It was her attitude and style that pulled you in. She had a unique posture that went from provocative to protective in a split second.

To explain: Babs knew the dog game from the fifties onward. She knew when to be charming and she knew when she had to defend what she believed in. She was the founder of the BenGhazi Afghan Hounds in the early fifties. She was the consummate Breeder/Owner/Handler. She didn’t have millions to spend; she carted the kids and dogs to the shows, and she hung in there and never really left. She would have been ninety something now and it still feels like I’m chatting with her regularly. She had moderate success in the show ring but huge success in the development of the Afghan Hound through her breeding program. She was a voice to be reckoned with in my breed. She was the cleverest of writers in dogs. Her “It’s Better than the Book” column ran in many important publications for years. Her power of the pen was priceless. (Hint: take the time to secure some of them…it was required reading to many in the day). She was loved, respected and sometimes hated and she never cared how she was taken…at least not in public.

In private, Babs was as good a friend as one could be blessed with and that meant sometimes she had to share with you things that only a dear friend could. To those whom Babs had that bond with, you know of what I speak. While that might not have been the plan, it was part of the package. It also came with her generosity in sharing her thoughts and experiences about dogs and breeding when needed, and later in my years, an insight to judging.

Her courage of her convictions was often her best friend and equally her worst enemy. In our breed she was revered by many and feared by more. The problem was most didn’t realize how right she was with the battles she took on. Those who saw the wisdom in her rants went on to find success in the breed in various ways. A perfect example of this is while she was in Australia to do an Afghan Hound specialty. She had every top breeder and exhibitor waiting literally years for her to evaluate their stock and Babs started to toss every trimmed dog right out of the ring until there was barely an entry left to judge! She might have been thousands of miles away in an isolated land but the shock waves were heard around the world. And you know what? The Tongren influence is needed there again! Trimming has risen its ugly head in the breed and there are few bold enough to take appropriate action against it.

I for one carry the mantle on temperament and trimming thanks to her preaching in regard to the Afghan Hound. I try to keep the problem in check and most respect my disdain for trimming but Babbie was much more vocal about it. As a breeder, Babs made sure her followers never lost sight of the fundamentals that influenced almost any breed. Her opinion was sought by many top breeders who knew and re-spected her for her insight to their breed. Her judging rewarded type above all…sometimes to a fault in some respects. But trust me, she didn’t care if you agreed or not. Ask the poor new judge of Afghan Hounds that eagerly sought her opinion on the results of her first assignment in the breed. The newbie called Mrs. Tongren to discuss her placements and after Babs heard the results, she promptly told the new judge that she didn’t care if the specials bitch she beat was “on her back with all four legs up in the air, being dragged around the ring, it should have beat the one she selected”! I was rolling when Babs called with that one!

As a footnote… that devastated provisional judge has gone on to be a very capable judge of the breed and, admittedly or not, I’m sure Babs’ delivery made a lasting impression.

The fact she shared most of her adult life with the equally colorful Bob Tongren (more on Mr. T in a later column) made for an interesting perspective on the sport. Between the two of them many a colorful quote could be attributed. It was Babs who once told me how she thought most judges performed when judging groups: They gave first to the big winner, second to the dog they liked best, third to a rare breed or a specialty entry, and fourth to a friend!  Shocking you say? Hopefully this doesn’t happen (too often today).

If I had to choose how best to sum up Babs, it would be that she was a beauty with brains, a breeders breeder, brave beyond borders, and a bitch…all of which she wore as a badge of honor.

My selection of Babbie was not by chance. She wasn’t a perfect person; sometimes she wasn’t even a nice person; but she was her own person and the sport needs more of them right about now.

Lee Canalizo is an AKC judge licensed in five groups. She is also a very talented designer of jewelry. Her gallery can be viewed online at

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  • January 2021