I was sipping my morning latte while looking through the daily news feeds when I stumbled upon a news article about some Russian canine event, published in The Times by some Roger Boyes. As I continued reading, I was getting increasingly disturbed by the content and the tone of the article.
The author was presenting his observations of the "Russia-2008" dog show, using them to portray for his British audience an insulting fictitious image of supposed severe cultural degradation of Russia. Provocative and often false statements were flowing abundantly one after the other. Such writing style is not unusual for the yellow press in any country, but one would naturally expect the newspapers like The Times to follow higher standards in journalism.
That said, it's not Mr. Boyes' political statements or rude journalistic tricks that I would like to debunk here, but his ignorant observations about Russian breeders and dog owners. With this post I hope to make it a little harder for Mr. Boyes to distort the truth, once his ignorance becomes obvious to readers. So, here's my 2c... pure facts.
Forget the decadent Western breeds; it was the borzois, East European sheepdogs and Russian black terriers that were making the running.
Everybody wants one — they are the patriotic breeds.
The dog fair is the Russian equivalent of Crufts — "cruftski", as one breeder called it — and at the weekend there were 198 breeds on show.
Fact number 1: It is not true that native Russian breeds are in high demand or of extreme popularity in the present-day Russia. According to observations expressed by many Russian breeders, the breed that is suffering most from the present-day fashion trends in the country is Yorkshire Terrier.
Fact number 2: The catalog of "Russia-2008" dog show illustrates that the most represented breeds at the show were Labrador Retriever with 138 entries and Cane Corso with 98 entries, followed by 93 Golden Retrievers. And to top it off, the Best-in-Show dog was a toy poodle. No Russian breeds in the vicinity of the pedestal this year, sigh...
However, with the exception of one strikingly tall woman dripping jewellery, with a handbag-sized papillon in matching bling, it was not a glamorous occasion.
The exhibitors tried their best, attaching ear stiffeners to hunting dogs, slipping hand-knitted sweaters on shivering, hairless creatures, applying whitener to scrub out yellowish fur stains. But mainly it had the gritty atmosphere of a street market as breeders tried to pair off their prize-winning pooches.
Fact number 3: The main purpose of organizing dog shows in any country, be it Russia or the UK, is to allow breeders and their handlers to demonstrate and compare the results of their work. They do so by presenting their dogs to the judges, who evaluate individual dogs for how well they conform to published breed standards. Therefore, they have little to do with glamor or canine reproduction.
Fact number 4: Practically all hunting dogs have long and/or floppy ears, there's nothing to "stiffen".
Fact number 5: "Hairless creatures" are called Chinese Crested dogs and they shiver from cold in every country, Great Britain being no exception.
Fact number 6: Hair whiteners are used on show animals everywhere in the World, yes, even at the great Crufts show.
Russia has become a land of dog-owners, with a third of households owning a canine of some kind.
Well... how come my dog is the only one in the entire 36-apartment building? Ok, this probably does not qualify as a fact, so here's some actual statistics. My native Volga Region of Russia has a population of 30.5 million people who have about 2.5 million dogs in their ownership. According to the 2002 census an average number of persons per household in Russia was 2.75. Simple calculations give us a figure of about one dog per 4.5 households. In reality this figure is higher, since many families have more than one dog.
Now let's look at Russia as a whole. The population of Russia is 142.8 million people, who have about 15 million dogs in their households - that's about one dog per 3.5 household... Let's see how this compares to the same statistics in Great Britain. The same year in Great Britain the average number of persons per household was 2.31. With human population of 59.5 million and canine population of about 7.3 million we get...
Fact number 7: There is approximately one dog per 3.5 a household in Great Britain, just like in Russia. If Russia is to be considered "a land of dog owners", so is the UK.
Not since Laika the husky was ordered into the Sputnik in 1957 has there been such excitement about dogs.
Now, this is my favorite one ;)
Fact number 8: All dogs in the Soviet space program were female mongrels taken from the streets. The name "Laika" means "Barker" in Russian and has nothing to do with Siberian Huskies.
Fact number 9: It is true that the amount of dogs in Russian households has been growing in the past years, following the Perestroika period which was hard on everybody, including Russian breeders. With many people loosing their jobs and feeling extremely insecure in the new economy, the demand for dogs dropped significantly. Now that the situation feels more predictable, many citizens bring dogs to their homes again. And they do so for the variety of reasons, which are all far from patriotic. As a famous Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz once put it, "... In the almost film-like flitting by of modern life a man needs something to tell him, from time to time, that he is still himself, and nothing can give him this assurance in so comforting a manner as the four feet trotting behind."
Even Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, has a St Petersburg-bred black labrador called Connie. It tends to sniff visitors in embarrassing places.
Of course, the billionaire oligarchs are boosting the market for fashionable pedigrees; French bulldogs, in the case of some oil and gas tycoons, but increasingly the handsome Russian borzoi, the hunting dogs of the tsars.
Fact number 10: Connie was bred in the EMERCOM state kennel located in the town of Noginsk east of Moscow. That's 660 kilometers from St. Petersburg.
Fact number 11: People who do not party with oligarchs have never heard about French Bulldogs getting so fashionable with oil and gas tycoons... thanks for sharing the sacred knowledge, Mr. Boyes!
Dogs crept back into favour, and during the nine-year war in Afghanistan in the 1980s Soviet officers returning home with booty brought carpets and Afghan hounds. “They became the basis for a whole strand of Aboriginal Afghan hunting dogs,” said Dmitri Voronin, a harried breeder trying to blow-dry his hound.
Nice try! Here's ...
Fact number 12: there's nothing to blow-dry on an Aboriginal Afghan hound. It has a bit of fluff on its ears and tail, but the rest of the dog's body is short. Beautiful as Aboriginal Afghans are, they would never make their way to Russia's most important dog shows like "Russia" and "Eurasia".
The climax of the show was an owner-dog dancing contest. "We have seen that Russian dogs are the most beautiful, now you will see that they are clever and well trained," said the compère.
The winner was Olga, who had persuaded her dog to dance on its back paws while clutching a red rose in his teeth.
Fact number 13: Yep, that's called "freestyle". They do it at Crufts, too ;)
Ok, maybe I'd better stop on this magic number of facts. My conclusion: this article by Roger Boyes would have made a nice piece of fantasy, if only it did not have the lace of chauvinistic sarcasm woven into it. Whether his brilliant statements were presented due to ignorance or from the desire to prove his point despite the well-known facts, Mr. Boyes is clearly aiming for a grand prix in the cheap-yellow-press nomination.