TCS Daily


Year of the Dog

By Sallie Baliunas - March 3, 2006 12:00 AM

The Year of the Dog by the Chinese calendar began Jan. 29 so we note that the Westminster Kennel Club just finished its 130th annual dog show and Crufts holds its 103rd competition in few weeks, March 9-12.

The Chinese calendar counts solar and lunar cycles with a 12-year cycle of 12 animal symbols, which is part of a broader stem-and-branch system that repeats nearly every 60 years. In the stem-branch system, this year isn't just the Year of the Dog, it's the Year of the Male Fire (or Red or Hot) Dog. Let's call it the Year of the Spitfire Dog. The quintessential spitfire dog is the terrier, a breed that haphazardly came to live with me and for me to admire it.

The Westminster Kennel Club of New York City was founded in 1877, among other things, its bylaws state, "to increase the interest in dogs, and thus improve the breeds." The American Kennel Club was established in 1884, and dogs must be registered with it to compete at Westminster. An award of Best In Show has been made across the winners of breed groups at Westminster except in 1923. The current groups are Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-sporting and Herd. Terrier Group dogs have won Best In Show 44 times, among them the new 2006 winner, Rufus, a Bull Terrier. That is more wins than for any other group, even though the Terrier Group doesn't count the Yorkshire Terrier win, which is a member of the Toy Group. One Smooth Fox Terrier, Ch. Warren Remedy, won Best In Show three years running (1907-1909).

Across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, Charles Cruft founded Crufts Greatest Dog Show in 1891, the apostrophe for his name lost somewhere in time, and now hosted by The Kennel Club. Between 1928 and 2005 the Terrier Group has won Crufts more than any other group - 18 times, with one Yorkshire Terrier from the Toy Group (Crufts held no shows in 1940-47, 1949 and 1954).

Only two dogs have won Best In Show both at Crufts and Westminster, and, yes, they were terriers -- 1968 a Lakeland Terrier, Stingray of Derryabah, and in 2003 a Kerry Blue Terrier, Ch. Torums Scarf Michael.

I've shared the admiration of dog show enthusiasts for terriers since 1976 when I went to the Animal Rescue League of Boston to adopt a dog. There were two available that day, a very large puppy and a 10-pound puppy about 12 weeks old. I chose the smaller one. Fido resembled a Smooth Fox Terrier but with a nonconforming, rounded head and ears she could whip back around her skull so the tips met or telescope out to the side like wings on a prop plane. I've since always had at least one terrier around, although my dogs would qualify not for Westminster or Crufts but Scruffts, the cross-breed competition of The Kennel Club, where dogs are judged for good character, health and temperament.

Terriers are sturdy, smart and energetic, with a propensity to chase vermin. They taught me that dogs have intelligence and high sociability, can count small quantities of things and possess a wide compliment of emotions.

With great respect to both lawyers and dogs, I have found terriers to be canine lawyers. I, as god-the-lawmaker, have always been challenged by terriers. They seem to interrogate me with their eyes and attitude: "Exactly what does that rule mean about not making a mess of the trash? What if I extract what I want and don't make a mess, huh?" When I've failed to state the laws unambiguously I'd be ambushed.

One day, Fido removed with surgical precision two poultry carcasses from a sealed trash bag inside its lidded bin inside the closed cabinet in the laundry area. Beyond successfully retrieving her treasure without leaving a mess, Fido perhaps reasoned that the carcasses per se constituted a mess if they were in view. To camouflage the carcasses, Fido reached up and nabbed two silk blouses air-drying on a clothesline in the room. I found a chicken carcass placed at each end of my living room couch, and a silk blouse draped around each carcass. Technically, no mess was visible; ergo, the terrier-vague law lay unbroken. After that, though, I put the trash atop the dryer, definitely out of reach.

Then there was the time I returned late to feed her dinner one day. In the living room, I found what seemed like the Devil's Tower sculpted by those obsessed after observing UFOs in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Every house plant in its dirt, uprooted from its pot, along with shampoo bottles and brush from the tub, clothing from the laundry pile and several shoes - some chewed- climbed skyward in a pile centered in the room. My Rolling Stones' Flowers LP, both the cardboard sleeve and the vinyl disc itself somewhat chewed, crowned the heap. Fido had then fed herself by opening the kitchen cabinet, removing the bag of kibble and tearing it open. The meaning of the pile of stuff remains a mystery to me; perhaps it was canine totemism, a symbolic re-creation of or call for my presence. Or it may have been a defiant mess.

After her 18 years, Fido taught me that if one terrier is fun, more is better. While not planning to care for so many at once, I have had several dogs re-home here from people entering long-term care facilities. Last year there were five, three of them elderly female terriers - a Jack Russell Terrier, Parson Russell Terrier and one resembling a Japanese or Nihon Terrier. The 18-year old Jack Russell has since died, and the two terriers now live here with an elderly papillon and young kelpie. The terriers still practice law for their mateys.

Archaeological evidence indicates that humans have shared lives with dogs for at least 14,000 years. We have genetically modified them from wolves (and they are often classified as a subspecies of the gray wolf) to be responsive to us, and to work with us. They do possess intelligence, and at my home will get care as best I can give for as many years as possible, because here it's always Year of the Dog.

The author has served as part Deputy Director of Mount Wilson Observatory and as Senior Scientist at the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington, DC, and chairs the Institute's Science Advisory Board and is past contributing editor to the World Climate Report.

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8 Comments

Where are all the usual posting suspects?
Can they not take any joy out of a fine story predicated on one of life's great pleasures--a good dog?

A Dog's Life
RSW1944, I'll give it a shot.

A 'pet peeve' of mine are irresponsible dog owners -- especially those that treat their pets as if it were a toy that can be turned on or off at whim. So if you have no inclination for daily walks, no tolerance for dirt or smell, and no intention of cursory training, then please DO NOT bring a dog into your life. Any joy you hope to find will be lost in disapointment and frustration -- and it won't be the dog's fault.

directed at......
Are you implying that I need advice or is this directed to people who have never owned a dog?

Year of the Dog
Wolves are hardly threatened species.
14,000 years ago they decided that making friends with humans, and learning to smile (among other things) would guarantee their survival.
It worked.
There are now millions and millions of dogs carrying their Wolf DNA around in great comfort.
Once humans make friends with some species, or find it is useful, that species is guaranteed survival. Think applies, potatoes, marijuana, tulips and other "Objects of Desire."

Bad dog owners
You said you wanted a negative comment ... it's for people who have never owned a dog or those that do and are irresponsible owners.

In doggy heaven
In doggy heaven, all the dogs who had bad masters come back as masters

and their bad masters come back as their dogs.

***

My favorite headline from the Weekly World News is "Dog drags cruel master back inside burning building". BTW this fine newspaper is where I get all my information.

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