The most important dog show in America, the 84th annual Westminster Kennel Club Show, next week takes over New York's Madison Square Garden. For two days some 2,500 purebred dogs will wait in stalls in the Garden's vast basement for their turn to promenade in the green show rings upstairs. At midnight on the final evening one dog will be chosen "best-in-show," which means he will become the best-known dog in the U.S. for all of 1960. His victory, as likely as not, will also mean the ultimate ruin of his breed.
With the exception of a few breeds, such as the Bedlington (see cover), Afghan, Sealyham and West Highland white terrier, whose victories at Westminster have been few and spread over many years, all of the big-time winners have degenerated as their victories mounted up.
Consider the record for the past 35 years:
?Fox terriers won at Westminster seven times and were ruined.
?Cocker spaniels won three times and were ruined.
?Boxers won three times and were ruined.
?Poodles won five times and were started on a ruinous course of progressively lower breeding standards that is still going on.
THREE GUILTY GROUPS
Why should these disasters have followed these triumphs? The reasons—and, as we shall see, the remedies—are quite plain.
Three groups of "dog-lovers" must share the blame for the degeneration of so many best-in-show winners:
First, the judges. They are supposed to know what a dog should be able to do, as well as how it is supposed to look, but most of them judge solely on the basis of appearance, with little regard for temperament or ability. The obvious examples are the sporting breeds, the most notoriously abused dogs at any show. The premium placed upon conformation, at the expense of performance characteristics, has created a schism between field and show specimens that is now virtually unbridgeable. Just as the leggy, close-coated field spaniel bears only vague resemblance to its counterpart on the bench, so, too, are hunting Labradors, pointers, setters and hounds noticeably different in appearance and ability from those in the show ring.
Second, the public. No other dog show is so widely publicized or attracts so large an audience as the Westminster. The breed that wins at the Garden is almost certain to be the most fashionable of the year, and an enormous demand is created for it—a demand that usually exceeds the supply. In consequence, disreputable kennels begin producing for quantity rather than for quality.
Third, the breeder. Dog breeding on any scale is an expensive, time-consuming profession, and the risks a breeder takes are many. He may pay an exorbitant stud fee for a well-known champion and then have that champion fail to produce a litter; the litter may be unusually small or it may contain several badly shaped or badly marked puppies; he may have to order a Caesarean delivery, which is costly; or he may lose his entire stock to an epidemic disease. Any one of these situations can put him out of business temporarily or permanently, and when the chance comes for him to get ahead of the game he often will seize it.