DOGS: THE ROAD TO RUIN
I am a longtime subscriber to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. It is clearly the best magazine in its field—competent, useful, often amusing and commendably responsible in its postures with respect to boxing chicanery and allied derelictions in the whole area of sports activity. It was with considerable dismay, therefore, that I read the piece treating the breeding and showing of dogs (The Westminster: Road to Ruin, SI, Feb. 8). This article, it seems to me as a breeder, is intemperate and incongruous with your customary objectivity.
"Cocker spaniels won three times and were ruined." This assertion will not bear examination. Ch. My Own Brucie won in 1940 and 1941. Ch. Carmor's Rise and Shine won in 1954. When did the ruination take place? If cockers were "ruined" in the years subsequent to 1941, how could an individual of the breed have taken top honors at the Westminster show 13 years later? How could the dog have maintained its unparalleled popularity from 1938 through 1952 if its representatives were "neurotic" and "ill-tempered"? How is it that the cocker remained the nation's most popular clog without benefit of a single Westminster win in the years between 1941 and 1952? Furthermore, the cocker was the No. 1 dog in AKC registrations for two years prior to the advent of Ch. My Own Brucie. The breed's acceptance was surely not entirely dependent upon Westminster publicity. Finally, if best-in-show at Westminster is the key to popularity with dog owners, how do you account for the decline in cocker registrations since the 1954 win of Ch. Carmor's Rise and Shine?
Here again, "in 1947 a new favorite emerged" replacing the "ill-tempered cocker spaniel." It took five years—until 1952—to replace the "ill-tempered cocker spaniel" as No. 1 dog in AKC registrations. Obviously, this was a rather coolly received "new favorite."
You say "the premium placed upon conformation [is] at the expense of performance characteristics...." These are not, as you imply, mutually exclusive attributes. There is a clear relationship between a dog's gait and his usefulness in the field; his skull and jaws are relevant to his ability to carry a bird properly. It is absurd for you to assume that the contemporary show cocker is not also a competent field dog. It so happens that the cocker is still a sporting dog, and the criteria of the show ring do not ignore this.
It is your persuasion that the best dog in the Westminster Kennel Club show insures the immediate deterioration of his kind. You cite a smattering of winners, and as "proof" dogmatically assert that the mentioned breeds became canine maniacs. Then in a final frenzy of casuistry yelp that something must be done about "this shameful cycle." Is there really a "shameful cycle" or only an occasional and inevitable opportunism?
It is perfectly true that there are cynical breeders whose concern is not the improvement of the breed but the aggrandizement of their pocketbooks. They pervert the Westminster show and its attendant publicity to the basest uses of commerce. They should be exposed. None deplores their existence more than the breeder who is attempting, at inevitably greater expense, to evolve the best dog possible. Isn't it "breaking a fly on a wheel," however, to work up a lather of righteous indignation over a state of things in the business of breeding dogs that is far more egregiously conspicuous at most other levels of our society? Fraud is practiced on a really grand scale in America. I'm sure we all deprecate the old principle of caveat emptor in buyer-seller relations, but let's be fair, if a man buys a lousy dog for an outrageous price because he's a wise guy and refuses to seek or listen to competent counsel, I cannot feel sorry for him. It shouldn't happen, but it does. For you to publish angry sentiments bemoaning it is not without value, but you also tend to tar all breeders with the same brush, tag-line disclaimers to the contrary notwithstanding. The public, as Miss Kraft points out, is "impressionable and ill-informed." They could easily infer that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has imputed dishonesty to the entire dog-breeding industry.
Why did you find it necessary to so castigate the cocker? It is true that a few profit-hungry kennels took advantage of the "cocker boom," mated injudiciously and produced some snappish dogs, but it is equally true—dog generations coming as frequently as they do—that these characteristics were soon recognized and have long since been bred out of the dog.
C. KENNETH CHATFIELD III
Just why should you make such a savage attack on the Westminster show? It is the most important dog show in America, but I doubt whether a half a dozen people scattered among our 50 states purchase a dog of a particular breed simply because that breed happened to go best-in-show at Westminster. That's nonsense. Fox terriers, cocker spaniels, boxers and poodles are not ruined. It is childish to make such a statement. It is perfectly true that many breeds that have won popularity at various times in the past have lost that popularity, and in some cases deteriorated in type, but that has nothing to do with dog shows. Indiscriminate, careless breeding is always the reason.
Is it your serious recommendation that the Westminster show should be abolished? Do you deny that the dogs of 1960 are better than the dogs of 1900 or any other date that you care to pick in the past?
Do you blame Westminster for various shady practices that go on in the dog business? What in the world has the Westminster Kennel Club to do with the dishonesty of individuals? Do you blame Westminster because some American cocker spaniels are neurotic? Parenthetically, when I was a boy between 1900 and 1910, I owned several American cockers. They were nervous and inclined to bite even then. Are you aware of the origins of the Doberman? Did you know that he was the result of a cross between a Rottweiler and a greyhound, and that his color and eventual standardization was caused by the standard Manchester? Did you know that before the mixing of these breeds was the subject of experiments the object was to produce the best watchdog in the world? How can the bloodhound's powers of scent be evaluated in the show ring? In what way can a dog judge eliminate dual breeding? Why is a "beauty contest" incompatible with judging how a dog can do its particular job? Why does Dr. Whitney or Miss Kraft think that what you call the American farm shepherd is purebred? Old Shep, as far as I have been able to find out, is a different-looking animal in practically every state of the Union.