Bo Bengtson Opening Space: A Wide World of Dogs

It's a wide world of dogs out there, and we're pleased to bring you a taste of it in every issue of Dogs In Review.

By Bo Bengtson | February 1, 2007

The most amazing thing that's happened in dogs in my lifetime is, I believe, the fact that showing and breeding dogs has become as nearly a global pursuit as it's possible for any hobby activity to be. In fact, one of the more remarkable developments of the past century has been how this slightly rarefied occupation, descending from obscure rat pits in Queen Victoria's England, has developed into one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan hobby activities of our age.

No, I was not (quite) around in Victorian times, but the change even in the last 50 years has been startling. When I began in this sport in the 1950s dog shows were something most people had barely heard of. I remember answering endless inane questions from people, along the lines of, "You show dogs? What do you show them? Oh, it's some sort of competition. What kind of tricks do you teach the dogs to do?" etc., etc. These days the check-out girl at the supermarket, the bank teller or the dry cleaner is likely to tell you who her favorite at Westminster was, and sometimes it seems you can't turn on the TV without watching a dog show program.

In those distant days we didn't know much of what went on beyond wherever we happened to live. Some of us may have heard of that big dog show in London, and the more daring among us might fantasize about some day going to Madison Square Garden in New York City — but that was about it. I remember the general disbelief when one of the early international judges returned from a rare trip to Australia in the early 1970s and reported that he had seen lots of beautiful Afghan Hounds, hundreds of them! Wow, they had dog shows over there — who would have guessed?

If anyone in those days had told me that a few decades later thousands of dogs and people would routinely cross national borders, even continents, in the pursuit of competing or judging at dog shows, that millions of people in scores of countries would be following the Westminster judging in virtual time on their computers, or that countries which barely existed in dogs then would now organize shows of a size and sophistication equal to those in Britain and America, well, I simply would not have believed them.

This was all brought home to me very forcibly after the FCI World Show in Poznan, Poland, in November, 2006. I remember hearing the first, rather depressing tales of dog shows in Eastern Europe in the 1960s or early 1970s: drab, primitive little affairs.

Political and social changes in many parts of the world have helped generate changes which reached an apex in recent years, most succinctly demonstrated by the recent events in Poland. There were over 21,000 dogs entered (five times more than at any AKC show, bigger even than most Crufts), and just three days after the show I was sitting at my computer in California watching the Best in Show finale in Poznan. It wasn't Westminster, but it was smooth, it was exciting, and it was very obviously a really big event. The technology would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier, and so would the very existence of such a dog show.

It's a wide world of dogs out there, and we're pleased to bring you a taste of it in every issue of Dogs In Review, courtesy of wonderful contributors from almost every country where there are dog shows, which is pretty much everywhere these days.

The American influence on the sport of purebred dogs worldwide has been huge and, we hope, mostly beneficial. Will this continue, and what will the next generation think of what we are doing today?


At a Crossroads

The foregoing is not unrelated to the content of a letter I received before Christmas. I don't think the author — one of our top AKC all-rounders and a past Westminster BIS judge — will mind if I quote a couple of passages which I believe need to be listened to:

"I think we in the USA are at a crossroads right now, in more ways than one. If we cannot affect new fanciers when they come in and help them find the essence of why breeding and showing dogs is so interesting to us, our hobby as we know it will disappear.

"We, in the USA, have given this hobby a finish, a glamour that had not been there. Whether that is good or bad, I don't know. I am sure we must return to basics if future generations are to have the pleasure we of my generation have had in this hobby.

"Thanks for your continuing efforts to keep the American fancy on track."


Loss of a Legend

As reported elsewhere in this issue, Anne Rogers Clark died peacefully on Dec. 20, 2006, after a long battle with cancer. Nobody had a greater impact on all major aspects of the dog sport than she did. Dogs In Review will devote a future issue to Mrs. Clark's many achievements; let it be said here that this magazine most likely would not have been born unless Mrs. Clark, with her customary generosity, had encouraged the fledgling publication by promising to write what became her legendary series of "Annie on" articles.

Others will tell of their favorite "Annie memory." I remember standing with her long ago outside the Hotel Pennsylvania opposite Madison Square Garden. Like almost everyone else I was in awe in the great lady's presence. She looked at me sternly but with a sort of twinkle and said, "Now, isn't it about time you started to call me Annie?" I blushed and stammered and said, "Ah, oh yes, of course — thank you, Mrs. Clark."

I eventually learned to call Annie by her first name, but I never got over the awe. As someone put it, with her gone it feels as if a wall in my house is missing.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Clark.


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