SI Vault
Jacquin Sanders
November 10, 1969
People who raise guard dogs are a singular group, often reflecting the hostility and suspicion of their animals. They are not even above an occasional right to a lady's chin
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November 10, 1969

Beware Of Fierce Breeders!

People who raise guard dogs are a singular group, often reflecting the hostility and suspicion of their animals. They are not even above an occasional right to a lady's chin

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A breeder of high repute had agreed, for a premium price, to grant pick of a particularly promising litter to another. But in the hours before the purchaser arrived to make his choice, one puppy began to seem so heartbreakingly beautiful that the breeder—or so she was charged—concealed him in the laundry hamper in the powder room. The purchaser arrived, chose from the puppies he saw and went home to wait for a champion to mature. As is so often the case, the puppy grew into a disappointment. As is also so often the case, the purchaser was a suspicious man. When he learned that the breeder was scoring consistently in shows with an animal just his own dog's age, with exactly his own dog's pedigree, he went to the trouble of tracking down all the animals from that particular litter. Then, striking suddenly, he brought the breeder to the bar of dog club justice. Panic followed, and what is alleged to have been a confession. Then the breeder recovered composure and obfuscated.

Too late—the war was on. Club members chose sides, charged and countercharged. Ancient injustices were re-fought, new enmities created, unforgivable insult piled upon unthinkable accusation. Even the last bastion of breed club civility fell: members began to criticize one another's dogs.

The next step could only be assault with intent to kill, and symbolically it happened. Someone moved that the breeder be expelled from the club; the motion passed. In the tumult someone else moved that the man who had brought the charges be expelled; that motion passed, too. In the end the parent American Kennel Club stepped in and expelled the entire club.

Later, when the guns were muted and the wounds bandaged over, the AKC relented and took back the club with a stern admonition against factionalism. A rigged election of new officers followed; so did the publication of a new magazine, dedicated to improving the breed and taking potshots at the official club publication. But all-out war never quite resumed, and the AKC, having long experience at this sort of thing, is now doing what it has always done best—looking the other way.

Drama dogs the dog world, and playing God, if only to animals, is the most uncertain of human endeavors. Puppies, after all, are unpredictable little beasts. The stateliest six-month-old head can for no known reason simply stop growing, and the mature dog will end up resembling a four-legged pear. Ears go awry, level bites grow undershot, feet splay, limps develop where no limp can be explained. The lustiest male may at his moment of truth be of no more use than the most dubious chorus boy in a Broadway musical.

Is it any wonder, then, that after years of hope and expense and wrecked furniture, occasionally a breeder veers off the True Path? Cosmetic Alley has proved irresistible to more than one owner of a bitch with a single bitter show-ring flaw: the lack of approved coloring. And any magazine, any TV evening points the evil way. "Does she or doesn't she?" has been asked at many a dog show.

There are also certain veterinarians—their names are whispered as furtively as that of an abortionist—who are not above a spot of plastic surgery. Such operations are legal enough by medical standards, but disgraceful according to a Higher (AKC) Law. Has the dog an inverted eyelid, a peculiarity of ear formation, an operable minor bone defect? The answer, the code word, is " Cleveland," in deference to a certain vet of that city who cuts but does not tell. "He's been to Cleveland," mutter the disgruntled losers.

More serious is the swirl of innuendo about hip dysplasia, a hereditary disease that occurs in some guard breeds but is often undetectable, except by X-ray, during the early show ring years. New breeders, who have not yet developed well-known brood bitches or studs, are campaigning to X-ray all breeding stock. Expectedly, some owners of prominent dogs often downgrade the disease and, having so much to lose, refuse to X-ray. This puts the new people, who want to breed into the famous lines but don't want to risk transmitting the disease, into a quandary, unless they are willing, as one lady recently was, to take exceptional methods—like dognapping.

Very simply, not to say dauntlessly, she spirited a well-known shepherd stud out of his backyard pen one afternoon, drove him to her own vet and then stood by while the dog was anesthetized and X-rayed. Then, with her luck still riding, she got him back undetected to his pen and quite calmly proceeded to make arrangements for stud service. The owner never knew what happened. To this day he adamantly refuses to X-ray, and the lady—who could tell him such reassuring things about his famous dog's hips—must remain silent.

For good reasons, it is obvious, dog people seldom fully trust one another. Sometimes their suspicions verge on the paranoiac. A famous bull mastiff breeder was once accused—on no credible evidence—of using a lesser stud on a bitch whose owner had paid for the services of one of the breed's great dogs. To make sure that no such accusation could ever again be leveled, the breeder began to photograph the proceedings in her mating pen. All went well until the developing service—perhaps alerted by an enemy breeder—suddenly impounded the prints and negatives. Righteously the service informed the breeder that there were, after all, laws against such things.

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