Every dog has his day, but the day of the dog is now under question in the U.S. In the past year there has been rising public concern over the proliferation of dogs and their place in American society. The American Kennel Club is registering more than a million dogs a year. Shoddy puppy mills produce dogs by the thousands for the often-criticized pet-shop trade and, worse than that, many supposedly reputable breeders are more interested in breeding for form rather than function. The fact is that a dog's temperament is more significant than its appearance; almost all AKC dogs are cold as pets rather than for showing.
Fortunately, thoughtful dog people are now speaking out. For years the AKC, breed clubs, breeders and most of dogdom lived in an outwardly lovey-dovey world where all breeds were wonderful and Lassie-smart. Now even the august AKC is being questioned. One result is that the AKC has finally permitted women to become delegates, 54 years after they got the vote, but the critics remain impatient. Under new ownership, Popular Dogs, a monthly magazine for fanciers, has begun to print strong editorials on the AKC ("The incident at the December meeting clearly proves that the present system lends itself to abuse and conspiracy"), and in a column, Publication Director Matt Stander voiced the hope that the AKC would set up an effective system to license—and unlicense—judges.
For better or worse, the show ring is at the heart of purebred dogdom, and the most prestigious event is the Westminster Kennel Club show. The 99th annual Westminster was held last week at Madison Square Garden and one of the more outspoken experts present was Captain Arthur J. Haggerty, a man who had no qualms about calling his own shots from the start to best-in-show. At 6'3" and 335 pounds, Haggerty, 43, is probably the biggest man in dogdom, physically anyway, and his knowledge is deep. (AKC rules bar him from judging shows because he makes his living training dogs.) Haggerty says of his qualifications, "As an entire package, there is no one better than me in dogs."
The captain's involvement began when he was a year old; his father registered a litter of Irish setters in his name. Haggerty worked bull terriers as a boy, and one of them won best-of-breed at Westminster. For the last 15 years he has been the proprietor of Captain Haggerty's School for Dogs (Captain comes from service in the Army K-9 Corps), with facilities in New York City and rural Wallkill, N.Y., where he trains dogs of all breeds—even some of no particular breed—to guard, attack, point, pull sleds, detect bombs or drugs, trail men, rabbits or varmints or do theatrical work, e.g., the miniature poodle in Midnight Cowboy. The biggest lessor of guard dogs in the U.S., the captain has trained the celebrated Long-Haired Duke ("No piece of copper plumbing disappeared when this German shepherd was on the job in Harlem") and the resolute Cromwell, another shepherd who has since passed on to what Haggerty calls "the land of the big rabbit." There, as the captain envisions it, Cromwell (what a name for a dog trained by an Irishman) is joyfully pursuing bunnies the size of Larry Csonka.
Haggerty, a former president of The Bronx County Kennel Club, is no provincial. He regularly flies to Europe to observe dogs at Crufts in London, the English equivalent of Westminster, and to Germany, West and East, to study the working dog trials and the Sieger, the national show championship for the German shepherd.
Haggerty esteems Westminster but he believes it is time for Americans to face up to hard truths about purebred dogs. "Ninety-nine per cent of the dogs in the U.S. never realize their potential," he says. "Too many people treat their dogs like children, a serious mistake because a dog's behavior pattern is not similar to a child's. Many people pick a dog for its appearance, when temperament is the important thing. For example, the Boston terrier is a great little house dog. The breed began dropping in popularity eight or 10 years ago, but it's an ideal dog for the widow who misses her husband. It snorts occasionally, but won't talk back.
"A lot of people are taken by the Old English sheepdog. It is obviously an attractive animal, but there is an aggressiveness problem here. Part of the problem is the tremendous amount of hair over the eyes. These dogs get startled when someone suddenly appears before them. No one should own this breed unless he is prepared to brush the coat out every day, because if you don't, the coat gets matted and then, when it is snarled and the coat eventually does get combed, the dog starts biting because the comb gets hung up and hurts.
"The whole business of shows misses the main point of dogs. The show bench wants a dog that is esthetically pleasing, but any dog that becomes a champion in the show ring should be able to pass working tests. You watch an old-time terrier judge. He will start 'sparking' the dogs, putting a couple of terriers nose to nose in the ring. If one terrier backs down, get him out of the ring."
Making the rounds at Westminster, Haggerty despaired over the Alaskan malamutes and Siberian huskies in the working group, not because the breeds were without merit, but because the wrong people owned them. "People buy them because they look like wolves," the captain said, "and they think that they are going to get protection. They come to me because they want the malamute or the husky attack-trained. I tell them it's difficult. They figure a wolf is a great protector. Well, a wolf in the wild runs away from man, that's why the wolf survives. You also have a biting problem and a fighting problem in the malamute and to a lesser extent in the husky. Either breed, husky or malamute, it's hard to get them to bark. They are not good watchdogs if you want a watchdog to bark. In fact, I tell clients it's easier to get them to bite someone than to bark. And then you have to teach the dogs how to bite. Ahhh!" The captain clamped his hand to his enormous furrowed forehead.
That evening Haggerty disagreed quite strongly with the working-group selections of Mrs. Francis V. Crane. She picked Ch. Sir Lancelot of Barvan, an Old English sheepdog, as first in the group and Lancelot thus became a finalist in the best-in-show the next night. The captain favored the giant schnauzer, Ch. Quay's Antonio of Tanglewood, "a really good dog." Haggerty was upset by the look of a German shepherd, Ch. Breauhausen's Mavrick. "Spooky devil. The last thing you want in a shepherd."