As I write this, it is almost time for America’s most loved dog show to begin in New York City. Westminster is one of my favorite shows of the year, next to the Palm Springs shows. I used to record the Westminster coverage when I was a kid and watch the Group judging over and over, studying each breed and how the handlers presented them. As an adult dog lover and fancier, I am eager to see the positive press coverage of show dogs begin. There will be the exciting feature of new breeds in AKC this year, and I’m sure the addition of agility at WKC will be featured, as well as various heartwarming stories, all of which are an important part of being involved in purebred dogs.
While these stories are relevant and wonderful, I wonder if AKC realizes that there is an important group of fanciers consistently being left out. It is the people who champion the cause of the rare breeds. I’m not referring to the breeds in the Miscellaneous Class but to those that have attained full AKC recognition yet have extremely low registration numbers, never mind low entries in dog shows. Could we please start a conversation about the Löwchen, the Boykin Spaniel, the Pharaoh Hound, the Cesky Terrier or the Entlebucher Mountain Dog for a change of pace?
We are always in search of a story to grab the public’s attention, and perhaps the story lies in rare breeds. Showcasing these lesser-known AKC breeds offers the public an insight into our own past as we describe each breed’s uses and noteworthy traits. Plus, the public likes to see what it hasn’t seen before, and some of these breeds have a truly distinctive appearance that is sure to fascinate dog lovers who encounter them for the first time.
My own affinity for the offbeat dog breeds began when I was 11 and first started begging my mom for a dog. We read countless books together about all the different dog breeds in order to find the one that was right for us. Finally, my mom decided a Japanese Chin was the “perfect” breed for us. However, “perfect” in her mind meant “hard to find.” I believe she figured that we would never find a Japanese Chin, so she wouldn’t have to get me a dog. Nonetheless, she said if I found one, she would buy it for me. The breed was extremely rare in the ‘80s, and it was very difficult to find one, but never underestimate the desire of a kid to find herself a dog! After many months, I found that “perfect” Japanese Chin, and my mother kept her promise of buying him for me. A few months after I got Ureshii, I discovered dog shows, and the rest is a story all too familiar. Today, my husband and I breed and exhibit Cane Corsos. In addition, we are proud new owners of a wonderful Löwchen named Beatrice. She is amazing and possesses all the wonderful traits that were described to us when we were looking for a small breed to add to our home.
An article in the November 2013 edition of Psychology Today entitled “Dog Breeds Vulnerable to Extinction in the United States,” by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., listed 50 of the rarest AKC breeds in the United States. I was shocked to see my beloved Löwchen on the list. It made me want to do something. The thought of being without my beautiful Lion Dog or even my Cane Corsos (which were not listed) was frightening.
So what to do next?
Most people looking to bring home a dog are only familiar with the breeds flashed on TV, in magazines and in movies. We need to showcase the less popular breeds, and what better time to do that than during Westminster? One never knows what might spark someone’s interest in a particular breed, and positive media exposure while the country is watching is paramount.
Some folks may say they don’t want their breed to become “too popular.” While none of us wants to see our beloved breeds in the wrong hands, there is benefit in having demand for a specific breed. With demand comes new fanciers, and because we won’t live forever, we need new people to take over where we leave off. Otherwise, who will be there to keep these rare breeds alive and well? The breed clubs do all they can to educate the public, but if the public doesn’t even know about us, our efforts are for naught.
In my short amount of time owning a Löwchen, I’ve heard from many dog fanciers how excited they are to finally see one in person. Many friends and fellow exhibitors remarked that they had been interested in the Löwchen but decided on a different breed because they hadn’t gotten the chance to meet one. I’ve even met people who have had Löwchen but stopped exhibiting them because they were the only ones in the area with the breed. To me this shows us that fanciers need to be out and about as much as possible, showing off their rare breeds. The Meet the Breeds events are wonderful; in fact that’s when I decided to look into a Löwchen for our home. However, we need wider exposure, and with AKC’s access to mass media through Westminster, the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship and the National Dog Show, it’s imperative that we showcase our rare breeds during times when we have America’s attention. Our uncommon breeds are depending on us to preserve them and not allow them to be forgotten.
Source: Coren, S. Psychology Today. Nov. 2013. “Dog Breeds Vulnerable to Extinction in the United States.” Psychologytoday.com.