The exotic animal on the cover that somehow combines the look of a platinum baboon, the arrogance of an eagle and the languor of a cat—is a dog. But Taejon of Crown Crest, in the opinion of Kay Finch, his owner, cannot be called just a dog, any more than the Taj Mahal can be called a building, the Queen Mary a boat or Marilyn Monroe a woman. Actually, she feels, Taejon is a sports personality in the tradition of Man o' War or, for that matter, John B. Kelly Sr.—a champion and a sire of champions. Taejon has sired 12 champions, and this year's Westminster breed winner, Ch. Crown Crest Rubi, is his grandson.
Like all Afghan hounds, Taejon is a stranger—albeit a well-adjusted one—in a world he never made. For more than 5,000 years the Afghan doubled as a companion and a killer in the remote Asiatic country that supplied its name. No one knows exactly how the breed came to Afghanistan (some think from Egypt), but once there the hounds were used to course the gazelle and jack rabbit and even to hunt and kill snow leopards. Then, as now, they were not scent but gaze hounds of such exceptional eyesight that they could spot their prey at a great distance.
Transplanting the breed to the new world has not weakened this inherent ruggedness. Some years ago a pet Afghan was lost in the Sierra Nevada, and by necessity reverted to a wild state. Nearly two years later he had some 15 cougars to his credit and a reputation among the mountain dwellers comparable to that of the Abominable Snowman. When finally captured, he was caged as a wild beast, but his owner recognized him from a radio description and hurried to the scene. Over the alarmed protests of the Afghan's captors, she walked into the enclosure, snapped a leash around his neck and took him home. During the trip the dog reverted right back, and on arrival he climbed onto his favorite couch, gazed sphinx-like around the room and settled down to sleep, sure of his rights as a family member.
The Afghan's adoption by European families dates back to the end of the First World War, although as early as 1907 a dog named Zardin was shown in England in the foreign dog class and created such stir that his presence was commanded at the palace by Queen Alexandra. Zardin became the model for the standard of the Afghan breed and after his death he was embalmed and placed in the British Museum for ready reference in case another hound from Afghanistan turned up. A few did, but the breed did not become established in England until the 1920s when many hounds were imported by Major and Mrs. G. Bell Murray and their friend Miss Jean Manson, and Mrs. Mary Amps. His acceptance in the United States is due in large part to the brilliance of Rudiki of Prides Hill (1937-471), the great American sire whose blood is present in practically every Afghan bred in this country and whose record of 13 best-in-shows remained unsurpassed until the advent of Taejon of Crown Crest.
Taejon is called Johnny by Owner Finch. At Corona Del Mar, where the Finches operate a ceramics shop and factory, Johnny sleeps on his mistress's boudoir dressing table and has the run of the house. In their native Afghanistan, Afghans like to perch above the ground (usually on rocks) with one clear eye on danger, and in a concession to the persistence of this instinct the Finches have surrounded Taejon's dressing table with a picture window. They often find him staring skyward at a drifting sea gull or even an airplane with the peculiar alert, predatory look that has so impressed judges.
The Finches, now grandparents, took up dog-breeding after their family of three had grown up and married. Their theory of dog-raising is that the animal must be treated as a precocious child, given happy surroundings and constant injections of confidence.
Taejon, it so happens, has the confidence of a river boat gambler with a stacked deck. "It's funny at shows," says Kay Finch, "but when Johnny comes in, the other dogs just wilt."
Because of the Afghan's eastern origin, many of them today bear names which suggest the villains in Kipling novels. For most of her Afghan litters, Breeder Finch has puckishly combined occidental themes with tongue-in-cheek Kiplingese. For example, her "Wild West" litter, sired by Taejon, includes Devi Kkrokit and Jezi Jaimz. Her "birthstone" group (so-called because there happened to be an even year's worth—12—in the litter) include Dhiamon, Kristal and Rubi. Taejon himself is an exception to this method of nomenclature. Whelped in 1950, he was named for the Battle of Taejon in Korea.
A litter of 12 is in no way surprising for Afghans—the appearance of the puppies is. In most breeds the puppy bears some resemblance to the adult, but not so with the Afghan who resembles nothing more than an unhappy cross between a cocker and a mongrel. Having been impressed by mature dogs at show, prospective buyers have often left kennels in a fury, certain that an unscrupulous owner was attempting to foist off a mistake at a profit (the average price for a puppy of show calibre is $250).
But as the puppy develops, his shagginess takes shape. The "monkey whiskers" disappear, leaving a smooth face surmounted by a silky topknot. The hair along the back, called the saddle, becomes short and smooth, and a luxuriant coat springs out from the sides.