So, as anybody who reads WINOW for more than a day or two knows, I'm a dog person. In my case, "dog person" means someone who loves dogs, has dogs, volunteers for dog rescue, and has done quite a bit of dog training work. It means someone who has all sorts of opinions on dog politics and health care. It doesn't mean someone who knows a damn thing about grooming or really much at all about breeds or showing or dog pedagogy. For that stuff, by all means let me refer you to Joanna's amazing blog. Joanna knows her dogs.
I've never been to a dog show. I watch them on TV, but I've never attended one. I have been exposed to show dogs only in the form of the relatively low-ranking show Akitas and Boston Terriers raised by my family. Due, I guess, to this lack of information, I haven't ever really considered that there is a world of difference between a champion dog and a "regular" dog.
And then, on Saturday, I met Uno.
Remember Uno? The beagle who won the Westminster Dog Show last year? First beagle ever? His owner was kind enough to bring him to an event we held for Hound Rescue this weekend. He was a big draw and we got a ton of donations, but beyond that, I think seeing him was really eye opening for some of our rescuers. I know it was for me.
Over the past couple of years, I've either fostered or evaluated lots of beagles. At least a couple of dozen. Some of them have clearly been mixes, some poorly bred, a couple AKC-registered. I have never seen a beagle that looks anything like Uno.
This is a picture of Yogi, who we fostered last year. Yogi was pretty typical of the dogs we see in rescue--likely full beagle, but not "perfect." The "flaws" in his body were pretty obvious--heavy set, short legs, smoother and longer than breed standard tail, etc. These are areas in which I'd expect our average foster dog to differ from Uno. What is really interesting and surprising to me, though, is the face. Yogi's face, as you can see, has a very definite point, with pointed ears and a narrower forhead.
This is Uno's face. The jaw is much more square, the ears are set differently, they eyes are farther apart. This, apparently, is what a beagle is supposed to look like.
So what happened? Why have I never seen a beagle that looks like Uno before, if Uno is the standard for beagles?
Dogs bred indescriminately is what happened. The beagles I know and love don't look like Uno because Uno is a purposeful creation. Before Uno was ever conceived of, people were thinking about the genetics that would make him up--his perfect head, his perfect stack, his perfect little beagle yodel. Uno is, frankly, eugenics. My beagles are, by and large, accidents.
None of this is to say that Uno is "better" than any beagle I've ever fostered. He seemed like a very nice little dog, but I'll keep Huey, who is, frankly, funny looking, but has one of the best canine personalities I've ever encountered. But Uno is markedly different than our dogs. It seems almost wrong to call Uno and Huey (or Yogi, or any of our beagles) the same breed. I hadn't realized it before, but even if you are comparing two "full bred" dogs, the difference between one that is intentionally and carefully bred and one that isn't is almost as big as the difference between one breed and another.
All of which is to say that I think, finally, I kind of understand what good breeders are trying to do in protecting the integrity of breeds. Had I never met Uno, I honestly would not have known that our beagles, varied and wonderful as they are, do not very well represent the beagle breed standard. I love every one of our muttly beagle crew, but even those among them who are likely "pure" beagle are steps away from, rather than towards, what beagles are "supposed" to be.
Whether or not maintaining the greatest possible variety of differnet breeds is imporant is, of course, a matter of debate. If you think it is, however, this illustration proves, at least to me, that intentional and careful breeding is the only way to succesfully do that.