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Breaking Barriers – The Future Of European Dogdom

by Gareth Morgan-Jones, From the archives of The Canine Chronicle, March, 1999

Lift the barrier of quarantine, risk being inflicted by the scourge of rabies, but truly join the European and, ultimately, the world dog community or remain more or less isolated. Such, as mentioned in my previous article, is the choice and attendant dilemma confronting those deciding the future of dogs in general, and the sport of breeding and exhibiting purebred dogs in particular, in the United Kingdom. This now looms very large in the minds of the fancy. With the ever-closer political ties between the countries of western Europe being brought about by the Treaty of Maasrich, economic and monetary union all but a reality, and the channel tunnel virtually completed, can the day be far behind when European dogdom succumbs to the forces of history? Or will the British remain steadfast as a bastion of separateness in the dog world? Perhaps a reflection not only of ongoing concern over rabies but of the ingrained pride and nationalism of the island race, as Winston Churchill once described the British people. Time will tell!

The Treaty of Maastrich, the result of progressive political integration of western Europe over the past three decades, with provisions for a common currency and defense, paradoxically, flies in the face of what has occurred to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and has or is about to happen to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. That is, fragmentation and dissolution of previously integrated political entities. What impact all this will have upon dogdom will be interesting to see. Without a doubt, it is likely to be substantial. In order to become reality, the treaty has to be ratified by its signatory countries and there are signs that all is not well. The people of Denmark, in a referendum conducted in May this year, rather decisively rejected it and there were some who doubted that it would meet approval in the Republic of Ireland in June, although a vote in its favor by a comfortable two-to-one margin was returned. The old, but all-important, question of sovereignty leers its head and is likely to do so repeatedly. In some of the smaller countries of western Europe there is apparently apprehension at the prospect of a resurgent Germany dominating the economic and political life of the continent. France will be only the third country to hold a plebiscite on the treaty when it does so in September. The remaining member countries are expected to endorse it in their respective parliaments. The fact that it is not being put to the vote of the people in all, or even a majority, of the countries, is a sure sign of doubts about its universal acceptability. A vote against it in France, considered at present unlikely, would effectively kill the treaty named after the Dutch city in which it was signed by the political leaders of western Europe. Among dog people, judging from what I’ve heard in person and read in the dog press, there are many in the United Kingdom who do not particularly relish the prospect of ever-closer ties with the continent. A sense of identity and pride is reasserting itself, expressed by ethnic nationalism in various countries. Because of this, it is hard to predict the shape of a future Europe, including dogdom when all of the political dust has settled.

On the European continent, in general, the pursuit of breeding pure-bred dogs for competitive exhibition continues to gain prominence with the result that fanciers in such countries as France, Germany, and elsewhere, particularly Scandinavia, now rival their counterparts in the British Isles. There are signs of this happening both in terms of quality and quantity of the dogs being bred and shown on the continent as well as in the ever-increasing appeal of the sport. Witness, among other things, the emergence of the Finns and Swedes as a force to be reckoned with in pure-bred dog circles. Several judges from those countries are now held in very high esteem internationally, including in England. Increasingly, dogs bred in Scandinavia are holding their own not only in European competition but in many other places throughout the world. The Stockholm International Dog Show is, for example, becoming an event of some significance well beyond the boundaries of Sweden and there was a record entry of well over six thousand dogs at the 1991 Turku International in Finland. That show, held in January, was followed by the European Winner Show in Helsinki in August last year which was also hailed as a great success, putting the country solidly at the forefront of continental European dogdom. Historically, the continental countries have not been regarded as being in the vanguard of the sport, but that may be in the process of changing. Although hundreds of show dogs continue to be exported from the United Kingdom to the continent every year, there is no doubt that the time is rapidly approaching when the majority of leading fanciers on the continent will feel confident enough of their bloodlines to breed their own. What has come to pass in other sports, such as golf, soccer, and tennis, to mention just three, is happening in dogs! The central Europeans are definitely catching up. Indications are that exports of dogs, of at least some breeds, if not many, from the United Kingdom are steadily on the decline, in some cases drastically, to both the rest of Europe as well as the U.S. This is variously interpreted as reflecting improvement in breed quality elsewhere in the world or, in some instances, a perceived worsening in Britain. One or both causes could be involved in individual breeds. It should not, of course, be forgotten that very many of the presently recognized breeds of dogs, including some of the more popular sporting and hunting breeds, originated in continental Europe; in Belgium, Germany, Hungary, etc. Among them, the always favored ‘French’ Poodle, a dog bred as a gundog with an acumen for retrieving from water, thought to have come from Germany, but adopted by France as its unofficial national dog! The dog breeding tradition, for particular practical purposes, whether it be guarding, herding or sporting, has, of course, been there on the continent for generations, in many instances in geographically isolated areas. There is the example of Louis Dobermann who set about creating a new breed at Apolda in Thuringia by cross-breeding the Thuringian shepherd dog, the old smooth-haired German Pinscher and the Rottweiler. To this mix was added the Greyhound and Manchester Terrier to produce the slender Doberman Pinscher of today, whose further development Otto Goeller, also at Apolda, played an important part.

The sport of exhibiting pure-bred dogs in Europe has, until comparatively recently, been largely the purview of the British. That, as I say, is changing. But Crufts, after all, whatever one might think of the so-called world shows held under the auspices of the FCI (Federation Cynologique International), remains widely recognized as the show of shows in the canine world, and rightly so in my opinion. The legacy of generations of numerous, small, committed, dedicated, talented breeders, who form the backbone and strength of British dogdom, is there for all to see. FCI sanctioned shows are, however, gaining ever-increasing prominence. They are held in many European countries, including those formerly in the eastern block, and in Russia, even though there is no such organization as a Russian Kennel Club in existence but rather individual clubs in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Neither, interestingly, is there a national dog registry in that country. The World Show was held in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1989 and the year after that in Brno, Czechoslovakia. The latter show attracted exhibitors from such countries as Romania, the U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia (as they were then), as well as from western Europe. The venue for the 1991 event was Dortmund, Germany, where it had been held previously in 1988, and this year’s show was held this past May in Valencia, Spain. It goes to Argentina in 1993 and to Switzerland in 1984. An interesting feature of these shows is that many breeds are shown that are virtually unknown in this country; among them Dogues and Molossoids! At this year’s show, a number of native Spanish breeds were shown, some in the process of regeneration and not yet even fully recognized by the FCI. Increasing European cooperation is shown in the selection of judges. There were, for example, sixteen British judges officiating at the event in Valencia. The FCI, incidentally, was founded as long ago as 1911, and the original members were canine organizations from the following countries; Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Subsequently, many other countries have joined the federation, among them those of Scandinavia, eastern Europe (Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and others), Israel, Japan, Mexico and a number in South America, including Argentina and Brazil.

Evidence of progressive internationalization of the sport of pure-bred dogs is to be seen in many quarters. Take, for instance, the increasing interaction between Japanese fanciers and those in Europe and the United States. There was a time, in the not too-distant past, when exporting a dog to Japan was a no-no, frowned upon in the United Kingdom. Nowadays, some of the top-winning Japanese Chins in Britain are either recent imports or their immediate progeny. Witness also Japanese ownership, solely or in partnership, of some of the top show dogs in this country. Times are certainly changing. There may well be something to the notion that what the Germans and Japanese failed to do through war may, to some degree, be achieved in peacetime. It extends to dogdom. In my view, there is nothing particularly wrong with that; on the contrary, international cooperation and competition is good for the sport of pure-bred dogs, as it is in commerce, and is something to be welcomed. I realized, of course, that not all of my readers will necessarily agree with this. After all, not every American sport enthusiast is entirely thrilled with the fact that Pebble Beach and the Seattle Mariners are now in foreign ownership; be that as it may. The relationship between European and Japanese dogdoms is formalized through full membership of the Japan Kennel Club in the FCI. The recent inclusion of the JKC is the primary list of foreign dog registry organizations at the AKC is further indicative of the increasing ties between pure-bred dog organizations worldwide. The JLC, established several years after the termination of second world war hostilities is now an organization of over a hundred thousand members that has the second-largest, behind the AKC, dog registry in the world.

Back to Europe! The pressure is now certainly there, as I have mentioned before, to remove the six-month incarceration requirement for dogs entering the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. But how real is the threat of rabies; how imagined are the dangers? Scandinavia is often referred to as being rabid and, indeed, an outbreak of rabies in dogs occurred in Finland as recently as 1988. This was, perhaps, a warning of what could happen. Norway and Sweden reacted to the incidence of the disease in their neighboring country by effectively closing their borders, requiring dogs imported from not only Finland but also Denmark, to be quarantined for a period of four months. The rabies outbreak was, however, controlled and eradicated in Finland by an extensive vaccination program of both wild and domesticated animals, with the result that there has been no recurrence. This success of this containment is viewed as a good reason for advocating that rabies-free countries ease their restrictive quarantine entry requirements. Experiments have been conducted in Belgium to evaluate the efficacy of bait-impregnated oral rabies vaccine as a means of controlling the spread of the disease. Success was achieved in clearing a relatively small area of the country where the tests were conducted. It is now thought by some experts that the procedure might well offer a ready means of controlling rabies, should it ever enter the British Isles. There are, however, some drawbacks, one being the high cost of vaccine-containing bait, the other the likelihood that control may not be as easily achieved in an urban setting as compared to a rural situation. The fox is seen in Britain as a likely potential vector and since high populations of this animal exist in more or less suburban settings there is certainly cause for concern. Nevertheless, the existence of this effective rabies control option adds more strength to the argument in favor of quarantine discontinuance.

Continued progress toward integration of European dogdom, even if quarantine restrictions are lifted, is likely to be slow, particularly in so far as changes involving the United Kingdom are concerned. There seem to be almost insurmountable barriers resulting from how the sport is conducted. Shows are run very differently, awards are made differently, and so on. Many changes and compromises will have to be agreed upon before any measure of uniformity between Britain and the Continental countries can come about. At FCI shows, judging is, by and large, slow and cumbersome, sometimes seemingly lasting forever. All dogs in the competition are initially evaluated for quality and each individually awarded a grade of excellent, very good or good. Each judge has to justify the rating given a dog in the form of a written critique. These are usually dictated to a typist in the ring and often, because of language differences, through an interpreter. Only dogs obtaining higher grade are permitted to compete further for placement. In some instances, no dog may be given an excellent rating; end of the competition in that particular class! In the United Kingdom, by contrast, the judging procedures are essentially similar to those in this country except that judges do write critiques which are published in the weekly dog papers. This is not, however, compulsory although most judges fulfill the duty with no complaint, tiresome, and tedious as the task may be for many of them. Comments are made only on dogs placed. In Britain, an enormous amount of newsprint is devoted annually to these critiques which are generally characterized more by what they do not say than by any really meaningful evaluation. They are usually composed of well-worn, rather bland phrases such as “well made up”, “good overall type”, “moved freely with drive”, “nice head and expression”. The superlatives invariably far outweigh any mild negatives included. The comments of judges involved in the continental grading system are, overall, far more critical and objective although perhaps it is risky to generalize in this regard.

One area of FCI regulations over which there is some general disquiet is the organization’s procedure for approval of judges, particularly the ease with which additional breeds can be acquired. Judges from countries formerly in the eastern block and elsewhere who gain approval to award CACs (championship certificates) in a few breeds within a given group automatically qualify to give such awards in the entire group. It seems that very little if any, regard is paid to this when judging invitations are issued and concern is being expressed as to whether or not this is a satisfactory or even acceptable situation. There have, reportedly, been cases of individuals awarding CACs in breeds that they had never judged before or, in some extreme instances, had never even seen previously! Examples of judges from Poland, Yugoslavia, and some other countries, committing unspeakable judging gaffes, reflecting total ignorance of the breeds in the competition have, from what I’ve heard, become rather common in the past few years.

In the United Kingdom, things are very different. Judging is predominantly performed by experienced breeder-judges, approved by parent clubs, and a judges committee at The Kennel Club. Each national club maintains a list of such judges and others, including all-rounders, qualified to award CCs. As an example, The Pekingese Club has a roster of just over one hundred approved judges, most successful breeder exhibitors. In addition, seventeen non-specialist judges and, interestingly, exactly the same number of foreign breeder-judges, including four Americans and eight from continental Europe, are listed as eligible to judge the breed. Comparatively few of the native breeder-judges award CCs in more than a single breed and a considerable number are still active exhibitors. At the over thirty championship shows held in Britain each year at which Pekingese CCs are on offer, well in excel of two-thirds of the judges are usually native specialists. Very few foreigners are ever selected. In 1991 and 1992 combined only three non-natives were invited to judge the breed at a total of sixty-eight championship shows. There is, in fact, a slow, slight trend away from the overwhelming preponderance of breeder-judges. A decade earlier, only three non-specialist judges officiated at thirty-eight championship shows. This trend, albeit at snail’s pace, is occurring across the board, in breed after breed. It is considered by many to be healthy since it provides objective, detached insurance that will keep breeds honest and thereby contribute to their well-being.

A serious criticism that has often been leveled at the British system is that it has been, and continues to be, in more ways than one, something of a closed shop. There is undoubtedly some merit to this contention and to the view that this has had negative repercussions on the condition of some breeds. There is no question that in most, if not all, breeds small groups of cliques of people, mostly from a certain social class, dominate the action and even have a monopoly on the CCs through and informal, loose fraternity of mutual patronage. I’m not suggesting that there is organized corruption or that this is altogether a bad thing provided that breed quality is safeguarded. Benign mutual sympathy and benefaction would possibly be a better way of describing some of what goes on. Perhaps this is inevitable given that there are many people who are active breeders, exhibitors and judges of single breeds all at the relatively small country. The “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” syndrome is hard to resist in such a context.

With the opening up of Europe, many things will presumably change, some precipitously, others gradually, some free, others following much resistance. There are other impediments that will presumably hold back further integration. The requirement of the FCI for mutual acknowledgment of stud books of its members will be a stumbling block, as will mutual agreements on breed standards and recognition of international judges. From the perspective of an expatriate Welshman such as myself, observing European dogdom from afar during the remainder of this decade and beyond promises to be a fascinating pursuit; keep posted!

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