222 World Dog Show 1995 Brussels

by   David Hancock

 "I'm only surprised that they let the dogs in too !" was the gently sarcastic comment of one dog enthusiast, on leaving the 1995 World Dog Show, held in Brussels in early June. This was a forgiveable remark; it was more of a trade show than a dog show. My own first and last impression was that, whilst I acknowledge the generosity of sponsors and accept their need for commercial exposure, the sheer plastering of this venue with Pedigree Petfood logos and signage was not only way over the top but almost certainly counterproductive. A commercial sponsor doesn't have to dominate a showground to score promotional points. This irritating feature, the poor quality PA system, the quite dreadful noise level and the disappointing surfaces in so many rings were however easily forgotten when looking at the many splendid dogs. 

 There were dogs there from most European countries, over two and a half thousand from Belgium and from Germany and nearly as many from Holland and from France. As there were also participants from Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rica, Canada, South Africa and the United States, our absence through our near-hysterical subjection to the great rabies myth, was even sadder. We may be importing and exporting good dogs but we are not truly players in the greater game of widening gene pools, breeding out stubborn faults through well-planned international programmes or getting to grips with the wholehearted pursuit of excellence.

 An English visitor to the show must have been impressed by the representatives of those breeds irrationally outlawed from our country by the ill-conceived Dangerous Dogs Act. I was struck by the anatomical soundness and faultless temperament of the Dogos Argentino -- and there were plenty of them, over 80. The Filas Brasileiro too looked impressive, again apparently with stable friendly temperaments. I saw just one Perro de Presa Mallorquin, wearing a spiked collar, but sound asleep most of the time -- not exactly eating the bars of its cage or slavering with rage! I do wish however that the French version of this title were not Chien de Combat; the breed title in Spanish means 'holding' or 'gripping' dog, rather like our Bullmastiff, and has little to do with fighting.

 It was enlightening to see breeds from the Eastern European countries, ranging from the rather proud Black Russian or Tchiorny Terrier, the formidable mid-Asian Owtcharka, the charming Sarplanninac, the highly individual Pumi from Hungary, a variety of Laika breeds, the Chart Polski (which I wrongly identified as the Chortaj or West Russian coursing hound) to the Karelian Bear Dog (which I thought was so much bigger). Other countries provided the very attractive Iceland Farm Dog, the impressive Greenland Dog, the magnificent Great Swiss Mountain Dog, the rather nondescript Kromfohrlander, the distinctive Spanish Mastiff, the imposing Pyrenean Mastiff and the modest Pyrenean Sheepdog in two types of facial hair.

 I was intrigued to see the Eurasier (a cross between the Chow and the Keeshond), a really handsome breed, the somewhat self-conscious Mexican Hairless Dog, the Landseer Newfoundlands as bred on the continent (not so heavy-coated or lumbering), the Portuguese Podengos (in varying sizes), the Jamthund (which I often confuse with the Elkhound), the Hanover Scenthound (a type of dog not usually brindle) and the stunning Bolognese, a bichon now available here. I was not impressed to be told that a rather moth-eaten Thai Ridgeback Dog was a "World Champion". One of the best dogs I saw was a little Cirneco dell'Etna and one of the worst, a Bloodhound being displayed by the host country; it had the worst feet I have ever seen on a hound. 

 My thoughts on breeds well known or created here included these: the Pugs were seriously overweight; the Boxers had more substance than ours; the Great Danes were heavier boned; the Bullmastiffs had better movement and longer muzzles; the Mastiffs were simply appalling; the Akitas were a bit shelly; the Labradors appreciably overweight and the Wire-haired Fox Terriers weren't wire-haired at all! To my great regret, it was not easy to find any breed in a hard-muscled, well-exercised, fit and in (now perhaps old-fashioned) show condition. My own dogs have their faults but they are supremely fit. Exercising them gives me as much pleasure as it gives them.

 What disturbed me about British breeds exhibited at this show was the departure from true type in far too many specimens. This was especially noticeable in the gundog and terrier breeds. Untypical heads, wrong length of back, incorrect set-on of tail, inappropriate coats (i.e. not what our breed standard demands) and poor feet were particularly visible. Why don't judges look at feet any more? Have feet suddenly become unimportant? If so, what has justified such a foolish change? Just as sad is to witness whole classes being completed without the judge once looking inside a dog's mouth. For any breed of dog, whatever its function, sound feet and mouths are crucially important. In sporting and working breeds, the dogs are virtually worthless without them.

 It was fascinating to look at the manufactured breeds and spot the signs of their ancestor breeds, e.g. the Great Dane characteristics in the Dogo Argentino, the Bloodhound features in the Filas Brasileiro and the heavy bulldog look in the German Bullmastiffs. The winning Bullmastiff was an impessive animal but very very different from the early Bullmastiffs which provided the foundation stock in the United Kingdom. The latter were much more houndlike and lacked the bulldog head. One of my Bullmastiffs is built like a Hunter, the other like a Suffolk Punch. The former is the better country estate patrol dog, the latter tires too easily. If the Bullmastiff is supposed to be a gamekeeper's nightdog, it is clear to me which type functions better.

 This show, frankly, wasn't organised as well as our top shows but it was somehow more interesting. It was illuminating to come from an allegedly deregulated Britain and enter the home of the dreaded EC bureaucracy, Brussels. There, paradoxically, it wasn't an offence to import a Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro or Tosa and free passage of dogs across adjacent national borders was assured. It was a Euro-sceptic's worst nightmare -- more freedom under Brussels! Unless we rethink our attitude to quarantine and revise our unwise and unloved Dangerous Dogs Act, we are going to look increasingly to the continental dog community like a small, backward, offshore island becoming isolated from the real world. For a nation which once painted much of the world map pink through intrepidity and an adventurous spirit, and has produced more breeds of dog than any other nation, through skill and initiative, we are beginning to look a bit quaint. I do hope our own Kennel Club, sometimes itself determined to appear quaint, is alert to this and its implications for pedigree dogs.

 The next decade or so is going to be enormously important for pedigree dog fanciers. We are threatened with misguided legislation from the Council of Europe's "Multilateral Consultation of Parties to the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals". This consultation involves a resolution on breeding which requires parties to the convention, amongst other things,  to discontinue the breeding of merle dogs and sets out maximum and minimum heights, weights and leg-lengths for many of our breeds. Some of this may be wise and well-intentioned. But this  is the remit of Kennel Clubs not pushy bureaucrats. Such legislative plans need pre-empting.

 It is now up to our own Kennel Club, with skill and initiative, to set the pace with the "intrepidity and adventurous spirit" of previous times. If not we will become victims of distant laws as well as local ones. Are they up to it? The Kennel Club was consulted when the idiotic Dangerous Dogs Act was being drafted -- an Act which has already led to the destruction of well over a thousand innocent dogs and unfairly maimed another two thousand. Are our precious breeds of pedigree dogs in safe hands?

 Our meek toleration of the shameful Dangerous Dogs Act, our insecure clinging to never-justified quarantine laws and our 'head in the sand' attitude to pending legislation from the European we-know-best brigade must be making our dog-owning ancestors turn in their graves, probably from a combination of fury, scorn and anguish. They threw a torch to us and we have not only dropped it but shown a degrading disinclination to pick it up again. Canine historians in the next century will not be kind to a generation which has offered such a gutless surrender to misguided politicians and foolish legislators that it disgraces our heritage. There might just be time...    

 After looking back at the Brussels show, I look forward to the day when the world dog show is held at the NEC, run by our KC, includes a strong entry of dogs from all over Europe and beyond, and embraces breeds currently and stupidly banned here. How can we, a nation prepared to make so many sacrifices in the name of freedom and justice, tolerate manifestly unjust laws which punish totally innocent dogs? Cannot dogs like humans have the right to be judged on their deeds and not on their breeds? And how can we, a developed nation with outstanding veterinary skills, retain quarantine restrictions which rightly astound every other European country? We can learn from Brussels; we can benefit from Brussels!