Philadelphia show picks best 'best friend'
It was a celebration 100 years in the making. It happened downstairs in the sprawling civic center here - beyond the Kal-Kan and Purina concessions, beyond the ''I Love Afghans'' shoelaces, past the porcelain poodle bookends.Skip to next paragraph
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It was, quite simply, the largest gathering of man and dog ever assembled in North America.
For two full days last weekend, thousands of America's finest purebred dogs primped and pranced - 141 breeds from 49 states showing off everything from silky coats to soulful temperaments. Scowl-faced judges admonished dog handlers to ''slow down'' and go ''easy on the lead.'' Owners jockeyed their dogs to best advantage - fastidiously propping ears, head, and tails to mirror the pictures in ''The Complete Dog Book.''
Why all the hoopla? Because the American Kennel Club, the producer of that journal of dog-breeding standards and the largest animal registry in the world, has reached its centennial year.
The AKC, established in Philadelphia in 1884, is a nonprofit organization of 438 member clubs. To celebrate its centennial, the AKC brought together 8,075 animals for its most prestigious of shows - the only one of its kind since 1926. Beyond the awarding of ribbons and trophies for ''best of breed,'' ''best of group,'' and ''best of show,'' the gathering was to commemorate man's best friend.
''He's also man's oldest friend, and been found on artifacts going back 15, 000 years to prove it,'' says AKC president William Stifel, sitting in a quiet office overlooking the 26 numbered show rings. ''I'm convinced that if the tables were turned and it were humans that were trying to befriend a higher form of life, we'd be asking a lot more than the dog has ever asked of us.''
The club is dedicated to the development of purebred dogs. ''Dogs from the pound - mutts, mongrels, and mixed breeds - are wonderful and make marvelous pets,'' says Muriel Sonnichsen, a breeder and dog-show judge from Connecticut. ''But if you want to herd or hunt, you'd better have a dog that is purebred for what you're hunting or herding.'' Purebred, she says, means the dog has single-breed heritage through at least eight generations.
For the centennial gathering, the group of 8,000-plus dogs was narrowed to 141 (''best of breed''), then to seven (''best of group''), which included a German shepherd, a golden retriever, a bloodhound, a Doberman, an Irish terrier, a Maltese, and a bichon frise. Those who remained of the weekend's 60,000 spectators crammed into the civic center for the main event: ''best of show.''
After stroking each of the seven from nose to tail, the ''best of show'' judge, William L. Kendrick, watched closely as each trotted around the carpeted arena floor. He scribbled his choice on paper: the German shepherd named Ch. Covy Tucker Hills Manhattan, from Lyndonville, N.Y. The crowd erupted. Cameras flashed.
''It was his lovely, fluid gait, especially in the side view, and a never-failing, excellent demeanor that carried the day for him,'' Mr. Kendrick later told the press.
In a separate interview after the show, Mr. Kendrick said the lay person doesn't have the vaguest idea what separates one dog from the next, good from bad. ''I constantly hear people whispering, 'What's he looking for?' '' says the silver-haired Kendrick. The judge's most important criterion, he says, is watching the dog's movement.
''A dog makes the most of himself when moving, and shows you the structural points that can be hidden when he's standing - withers, shoulders, hocks,'' Kendrick says. Movement also reveals the dog's natural, inbred qualities. ''If a dog is a bad mover, all the training in the world won't help him,'' he says.