My wife’s favorite Thanksgiving Day non-activity is the Macy’s Day Parade, which she annually sleeps through and watches during the afternoon.

My favorite Thanksgiving Day non-activity is the American Kennel Club Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.

There was a time in my life when I wanted dearly to be a veterinarian; I still would.  But an orthodox allergist convinced my mother it would never be possible. That seemed compounded when I had to give up my job as an intern at a veterinary hospital after I had a major allergy/asthma attack while handing a feline patient. Of course had I soldiered on, medicine would have caught up with my ills and I probably could have lived the dream. Oh well, back to the dog show.

There was a time when I could tell you on sight any dog that was a registered thoroughbred and oftentimes hit the nail on the head guessing what the mix was that made up a passing mutt on the street. I am, in a phrase “a dog person.” I’ve owned everything from a miniature Dachshund to Great Danes. In between were full size doxies, a Boston Terrier, a Scotch Terrier, and two Weimaraners.

I love watching the groups, the judges, the many flaky handlers, and am always looking for that exuberant entrant that insists on a little fun through self-expression in spite of the school-marmish handler trying to insist on perfect behavior. So engaged am I in the show that for days after a weird thing happens. I’ll see a dog on the street and a tape seems to click on my head describing the dog and its traits. The voice on the tape isn’t mine. It’s the announcer’s from the dog show! That’s worrisome…

More worrisome is what tends to happen to the breed that wins best of group and best of show. It seems every puppy-mill owner runs out to get a few sets of those breeds and turns them out like hot-dogs for the inevitable spike in popularity. They over-breed them and in breed them. They screw up the gene pool. Dogs with no history of disease suddenly are prone to digestive issues or cancer. Dogs with wonderful coats become allergic messes with all manner of skin problems. Worse yet, some dogs with little history of aggression end up high on the likely biter list, like the 8 year old Golden Retriever who one day was swimming in the pool with the family’s daughter with whom he had grown up. Out of the blue, the dog bit half her face off.

As I write this a most beautiful, loving, funny Cocker Spaniel, Jax, sits at my feet. Actually he’s sleeping. This breed, which zoomed into popularity after the Dog Show made it famous about a half century ago is another example. A sturdy, fun-loving hunter that was as durable as an old rubber tire got all fouled up. Oddly enough, a vet tells me that different strains have different issues. The “party-colored” dogs have different issues than the mostly solid goldens, which have different issues than the blacks, which tend to be the most nervous and most aggressive. This is our 2nd cocker. The first, Lady, was a dear little dog. She developed Cushing’s Disease and over about 8 months her systems began to shut down until she was so miserably ill we had to put her down. She hadn’t made it to her 7th birthday. Jax has skin issues; we hope and pray that will be that.

This year’s winner was the Greyhound. The Greyhound is a perfect example of what the announcers are constantly pointing out–not every dog is for every person. Greyhounds are coursing hounds. They hunt by sight. They are long, very lean, heavier than they look; a male can easily break 100 lbs. They love to run. In fact unless you live on a large farm or ranch, or deep in the woods way, way away from cars and trucks, a greyhound should never be off a leash. If it sees something running by, you might not catch up with it until it stops 3 states away either with prey “in hand” or exhausted.

Otherwise, this dog makes an interesting companion. They tend to be docile, mild-mannered to the point that they’d probably watch a robber make off with your goods, and very short-coated. No de-matting needed, only a vacuum cleaner. So why not buy one?

Well here the reason is a bit different, though I am sure the breeders will begin turning them out as pets and mess them up like most of the other winners. The fact is we don’t need anymore Greyhounds. They are bred for racing at dog-tracks. The specifics that the breeders want have no give in them. For years until it came to public notice, breeders would drown pups that didn’t make the mark rather than feed, care for them, and sell them as pets. Their usefulness for “business” (racing) is 3 maybe four years. Then they are expendable. This is business at its worst.

There are many, many Greyhound rescue societies. If you really want a sweet, docile, almost-never-does-much-of-anything dog that will none-the-less turn heads because of this long body walking on the longest, thinnest legs imaginable and will let every kid who wants to have a pet or two on his long snout, then for goodness sake  adopt one. If for whatever reason that doesn’t work for you then be wise. Search out an AKC registered breeder. Go see the dogs in their home environment. Meet the parents (not the breeders but the parents of the pup you want). Don’t just look. Interact with them inside and out. Any good breeder will encourage this. Discuss all the needs and peculiarities of the breed and then be prepared to pay what the going rate is for a well bred dog whose lines you can trace back three or four generations. Remember, you get what you pay for. If you go cheap on an ill-bred dog with no traceable history you could be buying trouble, a hundred pounds of it.

That way everyone, breeder, family, and dog come out a winner.



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