A birthday with 3,233 dogs

What better than being under the big tent with thousands of purebred dogs?

A birthday with 3,233 dogs

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

One of the splendid aspects of proper dog shows is that almost all categories require the dogs to be “intact.” Which is to say, boys and girls must have all their bits and pieces. It’s very fashionable to support legislation for mandatory spaying and neutering (I personally think it preferable just to spay and neuter irresponsible or vicious owners and breeders) and in some cases it might be the best thing for your dog, although I can’t imagine why apart from health reasons. If you don’t want the seasonal inconvenience of a bitch in heat, buy a parakeet.

I’m not sure if dogs know when they are intact. It seems to me they walk more proudly, and certainly for the first couple of growth years having all their hormones allows proper development. The Brussels griffon that emerged recently from the elevator in the Hyatt Regency seemed to have a certain jauntiness sizing up a passing brace of female Salukis that his balls-off counterpart would not share. But who knows? The Brussels griffon with his beard and those wide black expressive eyes has always reminded me of a very randy professor I had at the University of Toronto, and that may cloud my judgment.

My scary birthday arrived and I gave myself a treat by escaping to the American Kennel Club/Eukanuba Championships in Long Beach, Calif., earlier this month. What better than being under the big tent with 3,233 purebred dogs? (And let me add a quick note to say that mixed breeds are a Very Good Thing, generally clever and engaging—and unlikely to be so plentiful if the surgical knives of the sterilization set get their way; see above. But AKC shows are about encouraging breed standards, so thoroughbreds only.)

I thought I had died and gone to heaven when on the way down from my room I went 12 floors with 12 paws: an Irish wolfhound, a dachshund and a Leonberger. We would have had a Doberman as well had its owner not looked rather snotty about all of us, as if long hair or short legs was a sign of degeneracy and a breed fault. The clientele of the Hyatt was split about 50/50, I reckon, between canines and humans, and doormen were politely waiting on four-legged guests bringing absolutely enormous amounts of luggage, including bed crates and favourite rugs—rather like Britney Spears bringing her own pillows.

Of course, dog shows are impossible as competitive events if you look at them logically. The AKC organizes dogs into seven groups according to their original purposes—hunting, herding, sporting etc., with a total of 167 recognized breeds and lots more to come when the AKC gets around to recognizing others on the waiting list, such as the xoloitzcuintli and my favorite outcast, the Caucasian ovcharka. I throw in the xoloitzcuintli as I had never heard of its existence until I got to Long Beach, and have utterly no idea how to pronounce it. The lady at the Meet the Breed booth says it is Mexican, hairless (thus no shedding), and considered primitive, but can, with socialization, become a wonderful companion and guard dog, though likely to climb or dig under any fence trying to contain it—which might obviate its guarding potential.

Still, how do you judge between first-rate examples of a beagle and a Tibetan mastiff or a Siberian husky and a Skye terrier? It cannot be done. This is as subjective as synchronized swimming or figure skating events at the Olympics. Nevertheless, at evening’s end on Dec. 5, a man in evening dress presented a large cup to the Best in Show. This year it was the Australian shepherd, a gorgeous dog, but come on, not superior to other herding dogs like the puli or old English sheepdog, never mind those masterpieces of loyalty and quick thinking—the border, rough and bearded collies. And, as if to demonstrate how arbitrary the choice, the same Australian shepherd was placed fourth in an earlier category at this event by a different judge.

I was naturally interested in my own dogs, the kuvaszok, a breed beyond comparison for humour, loyalty and affection. They have the singular beauty among livestock guardian dogs of a wonderful coat of curls and wavy crests with a mane around the neck—a coat in which their Best of Breed judge had utterly no interest. If only dogs could talk out loud:

“Here comes that bitch judge who freaks out if you’ve got curls. I suppose you’ve noticed how she only goes for straight hair blowouts—helmet hair with thickener. Watch me when she tries to look at my teeth.” I’ve never seen so many kuvaszok “excused” (which means dismissed for not letting the judge examine them). As expected, the single bouffant kuv won, though I must say he looked incredibly fab if not very kuvasz. Maybe he’s the American idea of a Hungarian dog.

Ah well. Beauty pageants are rarely fair, judges are only humans. This is, after all, a dog’s life.


A birthday with 3,233 dogs

  1. There are hundreds of thousands of unwanted dogs around the world. Most of them live lives of suffering or are eithanized by drugs or bullets. The author of this article shows everything that is wrong with 'purebread' dog owners. Adopt a mutt from your local shelter. At least they are no so inbred they can't even see straight.

    • Get a life, twit!

      • Get a life? TH1 made a good point. Purebred=Inbred, plain and simple. Seriously people… Enough people have "intact" dogs, that the world will never be lacking the unwanted puppies. Support your shelters. We have them for a reason.

  2. What better than being under the big tent with 3,233 purebred dogs?

    With my allergies? What worse?

  3. At last. You're back. I missed you. Don't always agree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it elegantly. Welcome.

    And sorry for your trouble. Whatever the truth of the matter, I deplore the feeding frenzy. The gratuitous slurs. The self-righteousness. The…well you get the idea. Courage.

    • Really? This dreck gets your inner Voltaire all fired up?

    • I agree with you 100% on this. I've missed the columns, I enjoy the alternative angle and reading a different point of view from my own.

      As someone who went through a painful courtroom drama, courage is exactly what one needs at a time like this.

  4. I always wondered what those frumpy dowagers in the stands at the AKC shows were thinking. Now that I know, I know it wasn't worth wondering.

  5. Purebred dogs are not why there are dogs in shelters. Bad owners are. People think dogs are disposable. Purebred dogs have a long history of helping their humans, whether through just companionship or actual working. Exterminating purebred dog breeds, such as animal rights nuts want you to do (PETA/HSUS) robs humankind of our past and our culture. Purebred dog breeds are also used to "sell" shelther dogs. Look at the listings at petfinder and see how many you see listed as "such and such purebred mix". To solve the problem of dogs in shelters, there needs to be more low cost spay and neuter clinics, bans against landlords discriminating based on pets and the military needs to allow pets to accompany their families wherever they are deployed. Pet stores (which PETA and HSUS seem to leave alone) need to be banned from selling dogs. You will never see one of my pups in a pet store OR a shelter.

  6. "What better than to be under the big tent with 3,233 purebred dogs?" I would suggest to truly "treat" yourself visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary or any one of the thousands of shelters and rescues across North America giving shelter to those who cannot speak for themselves.

    Your column smacks of the elitism that those of us who are advocating spay/neuter would ruin pet ownership/guardianship for the unclean masses, while superior people like yourself could continue to enjoy the "special" dogs of the world, because of course purebred dogs don't end up in shelters. Think there are no purebred pets in shelters, have a look on Petfinder. Those who abandon, abuse and neglect don't generally discriminate based on their pet's lineage.

  7. many purebred dog clubs have rescue programs where any dog even remotely identified as their breed gets pulled and placed in a home. There are many fabulous breeders out there who do health testing on the parents and place pups with lifetime guarantees. They will take back any dog of their breeding. Purebred dogs have a right to life also.

  8. Man's best friend…

  9. You mean Amiel?

  10. Real art has a wet nose and liquid eyes that look at you with its tongue hanging out. Ta, Ta to the gaga amiels.

  11. It shocks me that Maclean's would publish an article by such an uneducated author. The first paragraph makes me outright laugh. She can't imagine why someone would spay/neuter aside from health reasons? Someone needs to escort this lady to the nearest animal shelter.
    As beautiful as some purebred dogs can be, I refuse to support a 'money-making' or 'showy' lifestyle off of a live animal. No matter what breed they are, they deserve to be treated with the same respect.

    And of course, we support mandatory spay and neutering because it's 'fashionable'. :s

    • I prefer my dogs to be "fixed" rather than "intact." I don't want puppies, and I believe that anybody who does not want puppies, should take the necessary steps to prevent having them. I "fix" both male and female, because if my male is "intact" and my neighbors female is as well, it's not fair to the neighbor. Sometimes, it really is best for the dog, and it's potential puppies.
      I agree with you Erin. This woman first needs to have her head examined, and then needs to go tour a shelter.

  12. The newest issue is not up on the site yet (Jan. 17) — Amiel's article on "Murder and sex, Canadian-style" may be well-written, but it is a poor and offensive attempt at humour — witticisms about the various terrible murders in Canada? Sure, this is an opinion piece but, lady, how cruel can you get? Maybe it's time she turned in her column?

  13. Barbara Amiel is married to Conrad Black. Hmmmmmmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Should'nt she be in jail as well? Who cares what she thinks. You can lump her in with Andrew Coyne and Conrad Black, ship them to Mars and the planet would be the better for it.

  14. WEll, I guess if anyone would know if a dog is intact, it would be Barbara Amiel.