Reflecting on Westminster

Westminster winner, Banana Joe the affenpinscher.

Banana Joe the affenpinscher took the Westminster cup last night, and I’ve been thinking about dog shows again.

As a child, I always loved watching Westminster on TV, mainly to parade my knowledge of all the obscure dog breeds (I was a pretentious little kid, primarily about dogs). My goal was to name the breed before the announcer did. But, in truth, I found dog shows pretty boring. Because, let’s face it: They are. Watching well-coiffed dogs trot in a circle for a few hours? Not exactly my idea of a good time.

But I remain peripherally interested in dog shows, if only because they tend to be a good indicator of how dog breeding practices are trending right now. (And because it is still at least fun to look at all the pretty dogs.)

In general, the trends disappoint me.

The United States has so far to go still in terms of prioritizing health over looks—but then again, health has never been the point of dog shows. Look at the X-ray of a winning Pekingese. That is not a healthy animal. Look at the back legs of this year’s German shepherd who took best of breed; they touch the ground, warping the spine and hips, and for no other reason than “that’s how they’re supposed to look.” It breaks my heart. The winning bulldog and winning pug have such an extremely squashed faces; they both look like they’re laboring to breathe just for the photo shoot. Don’t even get me started on the Neapolitan mastiff.

I like to dream of a world in which competing dogs have to pass a health and fitness test before they can be allowed to show for confirmation. Can the bulldog run the length of the ring without collapsing? Can the German shepherd pass a hip exam? The United Kingdom is moving toward such protocols, with great controversy, and the UKC is contemplating such tests itself. There’s a reason why the breeds that still have a working function—many of the scent hounds, for example—are healthy and look like they did in the 1800s. Accordingly, it makes sense that dogs that do not “need” to be healthy—toy breeds, brachycephalic breeds—have seen their breed standards fall to extremes to support the whims of human vanity.

My complaining about this, obviously, isn’t going to change anything. But I still like to dream of a better world for purebred dogs. Breeding animals like this, purely to suit our tastes, is nothing short of animal cruelty.

Review: A Dog Is Listening

A Dog Is Listening.

This is probably the strangest book I have read so far in my year of dog book reading. Roger Caras, you were such a funny little man! I’m not even sure where to begin with a review. Caras, who passed away in 2001, was a president of the ASPCA and a long-time host of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. His deep love for dogs is apparent in this odd little book.

First, A Dog Is Listening is quite short and readable. So, that’s nice. The book begins with short chapters on all of the senses a dog has (sight, smell, touch, taste, etc.). The chapters, though, don’t really stick to their headings, and Caras has a tendency to wander off on some goose chase, talking about his farm and his large pack of dogs, or about some news story he recently read, or about fanciful domestication legends. Sticking to the topic at hand is not a primary concern for him.

His writing tone is also somewhat bizarre; it almost sounds like he’s read too many mid-19th-century British novelists and is trying to imitate one. The language construction is very strange and stilted.

The book is also peppered with totally unrelated black-and-white photographs or paintings of dogs throughout history. I enjoyed looking at them, but they were never mentioned or referenced in the text; many of them didn’t even have captions.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that I disliked it; it was entertaining and interesting, for the most part, but I’m not sure if I really learned anything. Oh, well. I just like reading about people’s undying love of dogs.

Pup links!

This little girl found her valentine. Source: LIFE Magazine.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Are you watching the conclusion of the Westminster Kennel Club show tonight? I’m going to watch it with my husband and his hilarious poetry colleagues from the university, who have an annual tradition of watching Westminster at a local sports bar. I am so excited. Could there be a more ironic combination of things? Poets + wings + cheap beer + dog show = I think not. Who’s your bet for the big win?

Dog show fun aside, here’s a few interesting links from around the Web:

Famous Artists Photographed with Their Dogs. Apparently, famous painters have a thing for dachshunds. Who knew? (Flavorwire)

5 Reasons to Adopt a Dog. These are the standard, excellent reasons, or at least, a great place to start in listing them. I like reminding myself of these reasons. I’m always surprised at how many people look sad or disappointed when I say I want to adopt an adult dog. “Don’t you want a puppy?” they plead. Next time, I’ll gently remind them of some of the elements on this list. (The Bark Blog)

NYC Dog Art Tour. A collection of canine artwork from around New York City. (Loving the Dog Art Today site redesign, too! So sleek!) (Dog Art Today)

Sharing the Love. Sweet-faced border collies and a dachshund with their Valentine’s message. (Raising Addie)