I spent yesterday afternoon at Pier 94 in NYC helping out for the second year in a row at the Belgian Tervuren booth for the Westminster Kennel Club's "Meet the Breeds." It's always fun to do that, because I get to play with dogs for a day and talk to many people about Moki's breed. The booth was decorated with festive lights and huge tapestries of Tervs herding, doing agility, and many of the other activities they so love to do. This year, the place was overrun with people, perhaps because it was a little warmer outside than it was last year, or because New York was getting over a one-day snowstorm and people had some cabin fever.
After a few hours, I took a little break and walked around the place a bit, but because I didn't want to leave the folks at the booth high and dry, I decided to make a circle only around the booths in the general vicinity of ours so that I could get back quickly. The AKC currently recognizes 189 breeds of dogs, and I suspect that most of those breeds were represented there yesterday, but in my little walk-about, I had a chance to see only 20 or 30 of those. And even in that fraction of the total number, something interesting and ironic jumped out at me.
First, I passed the Bedlington Terriers. An old breed, the first Bedlingtons were bred as far back as 1782 to hunt vermin in the coal mines in Northumberland, in northeast England. Rumor has it that "back in the day," they were dyed to improve the look of their coat. People often comment that they most resemble sheep!
Next, I saw a beautiful Doberman Pinscher, sleek, black, and a K9 dog, so well trained that he stood stock-still without a leash, obeying his owner's commands, despite all the noise and commotion around the booth. Dobies originated in Thueringen, German, around 1890.
The next breed that caught my eye was the Sicilian Cirneco dell'Etna, a sight hound that looked to me like a smaller Ibizan Hound or Pharaoh Hound. The owner told me these breeds are closely related. The breed cognoscenti call them CdECAs. They were originally used to hunt rabbits, and they can go for hours without food or water. This one was completely unfazed by all the noise and commotion--a long day!
The next dog I saw was the Bouvier des Flandres. I'm partial to these guys, because they are originally from Belgium, like my Moki's breed. Bouviers are also herding dogs, originally used as farm dogs to herd cattle and sheep and to pull carts. The breed wasn't well defined until the First World War, when a Bouvier named Nic was trained as a trench dog and became the precursor to modern Bouviers. The folks at the booth were dressed in traditional Belgian costumes.
Continuing on the circuit, I came to the Chinese Shar-Pei. Shar-Peis originated in China as long as 2,000 years ago. They're recognizable for the deep skin wrinkles that go from their heads to their toes. Originally used as a hunting dog, the Shar-Pei has a short, prickly coat. When grabbed on one of its wrinkles, the Shar-Pei could twist out of its enemy's mouth and get away from the bite.
Changing gears, I passed the Borzoi booth. Borzoi is an archaic Russian adjective for "fast." Until 1936, the breed was known as Russian Wolfhound. Regal and sleek, Borzois were brought to Russia from Byzantium in the 9th or 10th centuries to be developed as wolf hunters.
I couldn't leave out the Bernese Mountain Dog, a giant breed that is one of the Swiss Sennenhund dogs, all of which have the same color coats, a combination of black, white, and rust. (The other Sennenhunds, from largest to smallest, are Greater Swiss mountain dog, very similar to the Bernese but with short hair; Appenzeller, a medium sized dog descended from an ancient cattle dog breed; and Entlebucher mountain dog, the smallest of the four.) The breed was established in 1907. Berners were used originally as farm dogs, draft animals, and herders. They still participate in herding trials in the U.S.
Then I passed the Burgomasco Shepherd, also known in its Italian homeland as Cane da Pastore Bergomasco, one of the latest herding breeds recognized by the AKC. This breed migrated from Anatolia to the Italian Alps near Bergamo, Italy. An ancient breed, they were used by shepherds both to herd their sheep and to guard their flocks. The Burgomasco's coat is its most outstanding characteristic, combining three types of hair that combine to form dense, felt-like mats that protect the dog from cold and wet conditions as well as from the bites of wolves and other wild animals.
Heading back toward the Tervuren booth, I passed the Malamutes. Malamutes originated in Siberia but migrated to the Americas 12,000 years ago. With similar genetic markers to the Siberian and Alaskan Husky, Malamutes are often mistaken for Huskies, which are actually quite a bit smaller. Malamutes are thought to have been created by the Malemiut Inupiaq (Thule) people for the purpose of pulling sleds and hauling freight. Malamutes are wonderful family dogs and are known as gentle giants.
Next, I passed a booth where the Mexican Xoloitzcuintli (affectionately nicknamed Xolo) were being showcased. Xolos are hairless and come in three sizes: standard, miniature, and toy. Genetic testing determined that Xolos were developed more than 3,500 years ago by the Colima, Mayan, Toltec, Zapotec, and Aztec Native American peoples, who considered them sacred and believed that Xolos would safeguard their homes from evil spirits as well as intruders. After Columbus "discovered" the New World in 1492, he reported about the "strange hairless dogs" and exported some of them back to Europe.
Then I returned to my own booth, where the Belgian Tervuren were showing off their beautiful coats. Tervs come originally from a small town in Belgian called Tervuren, but except for coat color and appearance, they are exactly the same dog as Belgian Malinois (short-haired), Belgian Groenendael (completely black), and Belgian Laekenois (curly-coated), all of whom show in the same ring in the European countries.
There were too many others to mention here. But what occurred to me as I walked back to my booth was that these dog breeds originated all over the world, but we accept all of them into our lives and our hearts without question. I've been a bit of a one-trick-pony lately on the subject of immigrants in this country. But it's interesting how humans of all origins own dogs from all over the world. Certainly, these dogs become "American," as do the people who emigrate to this country, if not at first, then over several generations.
Am I reaching with the analogy? Perhaps. But it still struck me that when it comes to dogs, we are much more accepting of differences than when it comes to people. If we could embrace differences in people the way we do in dog breeds, the world would be a much more compassionate place.