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On an email list I belong to that is devoted to canine genetics, I was involved in a discussion that revolved around the condemnation of all things show ring. "The show ring is responsible for exaggeration. The show ring is a false and artificial place that is sucking in our breeds and ruining them for all eternity. It's just a beauty contest."
Just a beauty contest.
I had never been a strong advocate of the show ring, though I did compete with enthusiasm. I was familiar with the extremes that can result from the all mighty ribbon chase, the sad fact that breed standards can become secondary to fashion and sires promoted to serve egos at the expense of breed health. I knew of the abuses. I knew all of that.
But now things were different. I rose to defend the show ring, and to challenge the statement, for now I have an appreciation that I did not before.
"When," I found myself asking, "did beauty become a perjorative term?
For 20 years my small breeding program had met with some success. I worked within a fairly tight family line, introducing new blood carefully, and discarding dogs who failed to meet both my competitive standards and threshold for health problems. There was steady progress while I set a few distinctive traits into the family. Not only were the dogs becoming known for their type and movement, but we were carefully pulling together and preserving the genes of an important family of the past that had fallen into disfavour when PRA was discovered in the line. Only a few pockets of direct descendants remained in the breed and our dogs represented one of those - and the dogs here defied the odds and remained (as they have to this day) free of PRA.
In the mid 1990's my veterinarian's wife asked to breed a bitch she had of my breeding. She was bred to a dog from an entirely different background that had been given to me by a friend in California. I had great fun showing him, but had never used him myself. The breeding resulted in a male puppy who became mine in lieu of stud fee. He was to give my dogs the turbo charge of style they needed.
He finished his US title with an unprecedented sweep of the majors at AMSC Great Western. He won a specialty his first day as a special in the US as well as several groups in Canada. He was crossed back into my original bitch line with immediate success, creating one of those rare nicks in which the virtues of two lines combine and then remain intact in successive generations. His first son completed his title at Montgomery County, and began to rack up the Best In Shows. He drew the interest of color breeders, as he also happened to be a black, and rarest of all, a black who had never seen the dye bottle. Sons went to Australia, to Brazil, bitches were bred in the US and Canada and offspring went to Europe. His grandchildren began to spread across the globe, winning groups and Bests In Show both here and abroad.
Then, in routine puppy eye exams, a litter out of one of his daughters was diagnosed with retinal dysplasia.
As I had crossed him back into my line he was quietly creating carriers across the spectrum of the family and seeding them into others. As the weeks and months passed, breeding after breeding proved dog after bitch after dog to be carriers. The dog who had helped made my dreams come true was poised to bring them crashing down.
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By Catherine McMillan
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