The Borzoi Quarterly
Dr. Richard Meen and
Dr. John Reeve-Newson
KISHNIGA [Part II]
Campbellville, Ontario, Canada
This interview was conducted in July 1983 at Dick and John's home by Jocelyne Ivanovskis.
What type of breeding have you found most successful in your program?
Dick: We've discovered some very interesting things in linebreeding.
John: Onstott gave some good advice on that. You can linebreed very extensively, but you have to be prepared to cull very extensively and be very objective.
Dick: That's the joy of breeding your own show dogs.
John: We were driving to the specialty in Atlanta and I read Onstott's book on breeding dogs. All it really did was confirm what I'd thought, because that's essentially what we've been doing; and what we learned from Pat Craige. I think if you outbreed a lot, you get too much; you waffle too much. You've got too many places to go. When you start a breeding kennel, you begin with dogs you like, and you have to believe in that. Why try to change?
Dick: I think essentially we're doing linebreeding, because it's so dilute; even though we've done brother/sister and mother/son. And in the 0 litter, it was mother/son back to a daughter of that. Until you get the genetic pool really concentrated, you're not inbreeding. I don't think there is much inbreeding being done, although we would be classified by definition as doing inbreeding; genetically, I don't think we are. We might be inbreeding when or if we breed Vanishing Cream back to Moustache. You see, Cleopatra was a result of a brother/sister breeding, probably one of the greatest rulers that ever lived. But we human beings, because of some of the genealogical taboos, don't breed properly.
Who is the best dog you've bred, or do you agree on that?
Dick: let John answer that.
John: Oh, God, that's a hard question. Once again, I adored Moustache from the show dog point of view, from an anatomical sense, and his movement. But Garth could bring tears to my eyes, to watch him in the show ring.
Maybe I'm more caught up in the "flash" of it. In Texas this year, he was in the Veterans class. Dick and I were there, and Kathy McDonald, and a friend from New York, and Danny Horn from Ottawa. We were just blubbering at ringside, all of us. It's like Marlene Dietrich come out at age 77 ... it's just all there. The "heart" in it was just wonderful. It's like the time I went to the race track to see Secretariat, and I didn't know what the horse looked like; but when the horses came out, you looked at the track, and just KNEW which one he was. There was just a sort of radiance that exuded from that animal. To me, Garth had that radiance. He was not maybe the greatest Borzoi that ever came down the pike, not by any stretch of the imagination; but, oh, he had IT! To my way of thinking, anyhow.
Who was the biggest winner?
Dick: There's no question about that, it was Moustache. Dalgarth was always my favorite, and it's not by accident that his name happens to be the name of my grandparents' home. So there has to be some sentimentalism there. In my opinion, the best dog we ever bred was Rasputin.
John: Are you speaking of the best dog, or the best show dog?
Dick: Oh, no, the best DOG. That's how people get caught up in words. The best Borzoi male that we bred is not the best show dog; he's got some things against him in terms of showing. The best BITCH we've ever bred, to date, is probably Isis.
John: I agree with that.
Dick: Isis was a Dalgarth daughter, and I think she was outstanding. We have another bitch that I think is of equal quality. She is out of a Dalgarth daughter bred back to his mother. I don't think we've bred the best yet.
What makes you think in terms of campaigning a dog?
John: Well, we showed Moustache very successfully as a young puppy, and he ended up going Best in Show at 10 months or so. We realized that he was sort of going through the gawky stage, so we decided to keep him in the kennel; we brought him home to mature properly. He came along very slowly; it took him a long time to finish in Canada, and then we took him to the States. That was worth waiting for; that was the most exciting day for me personally. He won the Breed, the Group. He was just a little over two, and we knew then that he was ready.
Dalgarth was ready earlier; he was the Number One Borzoi in Canada as a puppy. He won Best in Show when he was 10 months old, and then, which I think is typical in the breed, he fell apart. Moustache was a gawky puppy, and he slowly matured; but he was gawky and ugly when he was little. That's why I had so much difficulty with him; we won a lot of Reserves when he was a puppy. But when he was ready, I started to show Moustache. He took a Best in Show. It was at that time that Dyane Roth was looking for a specials dog in California. They came and stayed for 4 or 5 days. They did a superb job with Dalgarth. We realized that we could never campaign him that way. They were so different. We had them agree, the day that he was sold, that they would never compete against each other. They've only been in the ring together once, and no one remembers when it was!
When was it? (laughter)
Dick: Actually, it was the Detroit Kennel Club.
John: We were both excused on the first cut! It was a judge from England ... We showed against each other, and Dick handled Moustache, and I handled Dalgarth. That was the last time they were shown together.
Dick took Moustache to Golden Gate, and Edd Abblett, who handles a lot of Borzoi in California, saw Moustache and liked him very much. He actually called the farm before Dick got home from California. He wanted to know if we had anything else, because he was looking for a Borzoi to show and campaign extensively there. It sounded like a perfect show home for the dog, and a perfect home, actually.
Dick: The question was, how did we decide to campaign him ... but we didn't decide. What we decided was, that this was the first dog we'd had that was specials quality. We thought he was a credit to the Breed, but that was our opinion. So we decided to make a plan, and that plan was to show him quarterly. We showed him the first 3 months of the year, and he did well. He was the Number One dog, all breeds, that year. Once you get past the 6-month mark, you can ALMOST tell, but you've got to keep going.
John: It's like playing Hearts; you have to go for everything!
Dick: One of my complaints has been that a lot of Canadian dogs get put down by Americans, because they can't do any winning in the U.S. We felt that the Canadians had some top dogs, and we wanted the Americans to see some of them, so we decided that we would show him at major shows across the U.S. The first show we took him to was Golden Gate, in California. He went Best in Show. Then there was Westminster, and he won the Breed, and I can't recall whether we placed in the Group. Then we went Best in Show at Chicago.
John: That was exciting, really exciting.
Dick: We went Best in Show at Trenton. Then I decided I was stuck. We decided what we wanted to do. We had proven to the U.S. that our dogs could win, and now we owed it to the dog, and to the Breed, to campaign him. He finished the year as the Number Two Hound, and we were pretty pleased with that.
John: That was in 1978, and his batting average for those shows was really good.
Dick: He won every specialty that he went to. The only one we didn't go to was the Oakland specialty, and that was because I missed the entry.
What are you doing with him now?
Dick: He's still out there, still producing puppies.
John: He's still one of the top 50 winning dogs in the U.S.
Dick: I don't keep track of things like that - it doesn't mean that much to me.
John: He's one of those dogs that happen to you once in a lifetime, I think. I hope maybe it will happen twice, but I think the gods only smile once!
Dick: We're talking about winning now!
Why did he win so much? What was there about him that was so special?
John: You can ask Dick that.
Okay, let's ask Dick.
Dick: He was a QUALITY dog. He is a dog that is unoffensive, in that he is not extreme in any way. He's a dog that sneaks up on people.
When you first look at a class, you may or may not see him. But once you go over him, and once he moves and gets out there, you can't take your eyes off him. He's a very subtle dog. For some reason or other, he and I made a hell of a good team! We looked good together. He was not an Afghan, he was not a Greyhound, and there hadn't been a Borzoi around for a long time, that had that kind of quality. If you could put up with his type, then, which is a personal thing, then you could NOT fault him. If you didn't like his type, well, of course, he was awful. But if you could put up with his type, then he had no faults; all the judges then had to go with him, they were all the same in that regard.
John: I would say essentially the same thing. He was beautifully balanced; he appealed to the all-rounder as well as the breeder. He was one of the soundest Borzoi I've ever seen, even yet. What is he, 10 this year? But still, as he trots around the paddock, those feet go just where they should. As a judge from England said, he and Dick were just the most beautiful combination of dog and handler he'd ever seen in the Borzoi ring. It was just simply one of those magic things. It's like Gayle Bontecou with Timber; there was a rapport, and it worked ... it was wonderful to see. He was a great color, the mahogany and white. There was just nothing you could say, that he was this or that -he was just THERE.
Dick: You see, his coloring was not offensive. Up until about 1940, black had done very little winning on the East Coast. The white dogs, and the red and white dogs were winning. So it was safe for Dalgarth to go to California, where there were a lot of black and white dogs. On the East Coast, though, you almost had to have a red and white. Moustache was mahogany and white with some black, but once again, it was a very safe color that didn't offend anyone.
What didn't you like about him?
John: You think I'm going to tell you THAT? (laughter)
Dick: Sure! I will. I've always said I didn't like his shoulders. For me, he was too long over the loin. I've always said that, although a lot of people never saw it. His topline - that's always controversial.
John: His topline was correctly placed. It didn't offend people that didn't like one thing or another. To me, he was a bit short in the neck, but then, I always like extremes in a dog. I like a little more angulation, a little more of an "overdone" look. I want exaggeration.
Let's talk about breeding. Do you supervise a mating?
John: I don't believe in artificial insemination; they either do it, or they don't.
Dick: The first time I bred one dog, I couldn't get him to do it. So I took them in my basement ...
John: In the dark! (laughter)
Dick: Yes, in the basement, in the dark; he wouldn't do it in the daylight, but he did it in the dark! But we never just put them alone; you help out. The bitches are always muzzled. Both dogs are always on a leash, and there are usually two people around to help. If it's a visiting bitch, there are always two; if it's our own, usually. We always leash and muzzle our own bitches, too. There is no way I want a bitch to get one of the males.
John: Then we let them do what comes naturally. There is one exception. Sometimes it is very difficult to get a male that has never been used to do it with a leash on. So we usually like to "prove" our males on one of our own bitches first. What I try to do is kennel them side by side for a couple of days, with the wire mesh between. I try to get them in a controlled situation; if not, I put them out in the paddock. Then I'm there, and as soon as they tie, I'm right there.
What about the proper time for breeding: do you do smears, let the male decide, or do you decide?
John: I've never smeared any bitch, ever.
John: Surprises you, eh? We don't count days ... I sort of look, and I'll think, "Oh, today is the day." Maybe it's experience, or maybe it's just living with your own dogs long enough. Even when we have visiting bitches; I ask them to get the bitch to us as soon as possible after she comes in heat, right away. So they get used to us. Now, some people won't do that. They say, "Oh, she has to be bred on the 14th day," or whatever. So at 2:30 of that day, when the sun is in the zenith of the lunar - etc., etc., etc.
Dick: So if that's how they arrive at the 14th day, that's fine. But what we prefer to do is to have the bitch early on, and watch her for the changes in the vulva; the change in coloration of the discharge. When it starts to change, we kennel them next to each other. Then when she starts to flag, we know she's ready.
John: We've only missed, maybe, 3 bitches. I think a lot of people make too much of a production out of it.
You've had good stud dogs.
John: Yes, touch wood! We start them early.
What do you mean by early?
John: Ten months. If we can, we like to start them with an experienced bitch. The way we all should start, with someone older and wiser! (laughter) Someone who teaches you the ropes, literally. In France, it's traditional that when boys reach the age of sexual maturity, their fathers hire a very good prostitute to teach the boys the way to do it. I believe that's sort of the way to do it with dogs, as well. If you start them out right, then it's always a pleasure, always a good thing.
Moustache was always a wonderful, wonderful stud dog. Dick is often away with his work, so I do a lot of the breedings. When we had visiting bitches, Moustache would wait for me, and sort of look at me as if to say, "All right, John, just hold for a few seconds!" And that was it.
Not a lot of foreplay?
John: Nope. Women hate him a lot! No foreplay at all! A few kisses afterwards, maybe, but not much.
Dick: Monky is the same way. They just know when the bitch is ready. But I believe the breeder also has to have a feel for the dog, to know what time is right.
John: That's why we like to have them come early, so we get to know them, their style.
Do you require any health check for visiting bitches?
John: Brucellosis. It's interesting ... well, not interesting, I suppose. But you'd think with all the winning that we did, we'd have been swamped with outside stud services. But literally, you could count them on two hands.
You said you were novices with your first bitch. Since then, what do you do when you choose a bitch for breeding?
Dick: Let's start before that. We learned a lot from that first bitch. We do not breed a bitch unless she is in absolutely gorgeous condition. That means she's had lots of exercise, and is in superb muscular condition. She cannot be out of shape; she cannot be a bitch that has sat on the sofa watching soap operas! Those bitches do not do well; they don't carry their puppies as well, and they don't whelp as well. All of our bitches we have bred, to date, have had absolutely no problems with whelping a litter; the Borzoi.
John: No Cesareans, no problems. They just get in there and do it.
Dick: And out of all our litters, I think we delivered one dead puppy. Our bitches have to be in prime condition before we will consider breeding them.
How do you care for them during pregnancy?
John: We exercise them almost right up to whelping. They run with the "girls," I call them, until the last week of pregnancy. Then they are brought in so they can become accustomed to where they will whelp. They need to get used to the isolation, because they're all sort of com-munal. Pregnant bitches from that point are exercised individually so they can be watched closely. The couple that has worked for us - no, I shouldn't say for us, but literally WITH us, since we started the kennel (in fact, they were here before the dogs were), are so intuitive now. They can almost tell by ESP when a bitch is ready to whelp. We don't feed them any extra; oh, a little PD, maybe. But nothing really special.
John: We now give them a parvo shot when they are one month in whelp. We went through a real parvo crisis 2 or 3 years ago. You would hear one thing from one person, and something else from another. I thought, "Heck with this, I have to listen to ONE person that I really respect." It's a modified live vaccine, and so far, we've done fine. Touch wood again! We were like everyone else that was in dogs, up to 75% mortality in a day, at 16 weeks of age.
Dick: Bitches in whelp have a very private area. And because all of our dogs live outside year around, our puppies are whelped in unheated kennels. We use a brooder lamp on the puppies, not the mother. But if you have a bitch that is used to be being outside, she is going to be quite uncomfortable in a hot situation. So we use the lamp, which permits the mother to lay outside of the radius of the heat.
John: Some people do, but I myself don't believe in suckling along the weak puppies, and things like that. I don't know whether that's just me, or the fact that as a veterinarian, I deal with too many sick and unhealthy animals. We've never had that much problem with it, though. We've had good mothers. Ruby was a fabulous mother, and most of our bitches go back to her. Ruby was heaven. She would divide her puppies into two piles; one got nursed, and the other stayed put, then the second group got nursed. Most of our dogs are really wonderful mothers, and they sort of do it all themselves. If the mother turns a puppy away that is weak and smaller and says, "Look, I don't want to look after this," we abide by that. As Dick said, nature has been taking her course for a millenium, and who are we to interfere with that?
Dick: With large litters, we will supplement; bottle feed the puppies. We do that just to give the mother a rest.
What about tube feeding?
John: No, we've never tube fed Borzoi. We tried. It sounds sort of naive, but the mother is trying to tell you something, and nature is trying to tell you something: "Look, I can raise 6 and do it beautifully, but don't saddle me with 8 because I just cannot do it." Perhaps it's a matter of time, I don't know. If I were here all the time and had nothing else to do, perhaps I could do it.
Dick: We have lost, at the most, 10 puppies; and I don't agree with you, John. I think that had to do with the attitude and condition of the mother. If the mother is a little neurotic and doesn't want to deal with puppies, you have to help out. I also think - we haven't done postmortems on all the puppies, but I would suspect that there was something wrong with them. Something congenital. I think the mothers know this. On a couple of the ones we have done PMs on, there has been an intrusion, or something else wrong with them. I trust to the bitch's judgement. But if they're not being fed because the mother is neurotic, then I think we should get the mother away as fast as possible. I do agree with that. We haven't had that problem. But we have supported puppies with bottle feeding because the mother may not have enough milk. We then use Esbilac.
John: The first litter was bottle fed, because there were 13 and the mother didn't want to look after all of them. Fortunately, we are having smallish litters now, 6 to 8, which is really nice. The bitch can handle them all.
Do you wean the puppies?
Dick: I let the mother wean them.
John: It's usually somewhere around 4 to 6 weeks. We start with pablum and PD, and then graduate to Puppy Chow ground up in the blender. The adult chow we feed is called Gilpin, which is available only in Canada.
It's a good food. It's also very cheap! (laughter) Which is important, believe me! We give PD vitamin drops when they are 3 weeks old, and then when they're eating well, we start them on the vitamin supplements, which we put in with the food.
What is PD?
John: It's a prescription, canned puppy diet dog food. We don't give calcium supplements. We give a natural, balanced vitamin selection. Lots of cottage cheese and rice. We buy rice by the 20-pound bag. Our housekeeper saves all the chicken carcasses that we eat all year, and the rice and chicken are cooked together. Then the bones are picked out, and the broth is taken over for the mother and puppies, with lots of cottage cheese. That's a really cheap and good thing to feed them.
It's nothing very magical, I'm afraid. I think people get carried away with arts and crafts and secrets of feeding and diet. You can look at a dog and know whether it's healthy or not. They get dry kibble out there in the paddock, the adult dogs. Dry kibble, and a bucket of water. The dogs that we're showing get a little different diet.
Do you do anything different with the dogs you're showing?
Dick: They don't sleep out in the paddocks; they sleep on blankets. We get them from Goodwill; I buy all their blankets! And they usually get fed individually a frozen meat that we buy. It's cooked at night, and then it's ready for the next day. It's essentially, I guess, what is fed to foxes. It is mixed with the food and water.
John: They get fed that individually in a pan where they can eat and not be disturbed by anyone else. They also get Mirra-Coat. We find that really does help the coat. When we travel with the dogs, we take our own water. The dogs are on well water here, and they get diarrhea if they drink anything else. We don't give them dry kibble on the road, and they are not fed the day they travel. Then they're fed only after they're through in the ring.
Dick: In the kennel, they have a routine. After shows, they get fed at night. We've never had any problems with that. I think if you make a big production out of dog food, you'll have problems with it.
Earlier you talked about exercise and condition being very important for any bitch you bred. What kind of conditioning do you do?
John: In the paddocks.
Dick: Not just running in the paddocks; they have EXERCISE paddocks, which they can run in, and run against each other.
How big are they?
John: What, 500 feet long, would you say? Our dogs are kenneled beside each other, so they can have someone to run with. We don't have square kennels; they are different shapes, so the dogs are never running straight up and down, in a line.
Dick: I have set up special exercise programs for some of the dogs we were campaigning; the specials. Riding with them on bikes, that kind of thing.
Of course, Edd exercised Garth by running in the heat of the day, so he could win in California! The other dogs were panting away, and Garth had been exercised every day for 5 miles, I think it was, in the middle of the day. The poor kennel boy who had to run him was almost dead, but Garth did fine. We do that with the dogs we are campaigning as specials. Otherwies, they stay in good condition with our set-up. If you have the chance, when you are building kennel runs, always build them on a hill; it gives the dogs strength.
Bicycling is excellent. If you want the correct muscle tone, the dogs must be exercised in some manner; they are not going to get it lying around the house or yard. One woman in Borzoi says she never exercises her dogs, because genetically, her dogs have correct muscle tone. Well, what she's got is fat dogs! They LOOK all right, but they really fall down in the movement department. All dogs, no matter what breed, have got to have muscle tone. Borzoi MUST have it above most others. The only way you're going to get it is by running.
John: The same with people!
Dick: That's right - like me: my stomach has no muscle, because I just sit around.
John: Again, we learned from Pat Craige. She exercises the dogs she's campaigning every morning. She's in wonderful shape, and so are the dogs. When you see the two of them in the ring, you know that. Again, this is talking about the difference between a dog you're actively campaigning, and one you're trying to keep in relatively good condition.
Of course, our dogs are outside from the time they're 6 or 8 weeks old. We don't coddle them; they're supposed to be a hardy breed. They were developed in Russia, with the steppes, and harsh country.
What about lure coursing?
Dick: I think lure coursing is wonderful, but I don't have time to do it. I think it's one of the great things that has happened in sighthounds in the last few years. I'm really pleased that lure coursing has been recognized. I'm not opposed to blood sport, perhaps as a result of my English blood, but unfortunately, a lot of people are. They won't allow dogs to be used on live game. So I think lure coursing is really great.
One of the things that we've been criticized on is that we breed only for conformation; the show ring. People say that our Borzoi can't course. Fortunately, we had someone come along who was interested in lure coursing, Kathy McDonald. She bought one of our dogs.
John: He was a Nickelodeon Kid son, and he became Canada's Number One Lure Coursing Borzoi -which upset a few people, especially in the States. Those who had been saying that we couldn't do both.
Obviously, if dogs are bred to the standard, they can do what they were bred for. That is a good example of what I'm talking about.
The other thing, while I'm talking about records and things like that, in lure coursing - the Number One Obedience Dog in Canada in 1982 was sired by Desert Song. I think that the Borzoi can do all sorts of things! If you're breeding to the standard, whether it be for lure coursing, the show ring, or the companion dog, or obedience, the dog will be able to do it. Isthmus is a Desert Song grandson, and the Number One Obedience dog is a grandson.
If a dog is anatomically correct, and is trained and conditioned to run, they literally HAVE to be able to do so. Kathy's dog is a very young dog; her interest was in lure coursing, and she taught him to do it. He had what it took, and he did it. He has also won in the conformation ring, and he is maturing very nicely.
Have you done any obedience work?
Dick: I know NOTHING of obedience. I'm lucky if I can catch them! I'm lucky if they're leash broken when I go to a dog show! That's because I don't have the time. One of the things that attracted me to the Borzoi was that they really like people. They are really easy to train, as long as you give them the attention and time. We knew a woman who was in obedience, and she had a bitch that really dazzled me in the obedience ring. Conformation-wise, she was not the greatest bitch in the world. She looked around for years for a dog to breed the bitch to, to produce dogs which would be good in obedience. She went around to all these kennels, and she had tests that she gave prospective stud dogs. After about a year, she came back and said that she had decided she wanted to breed her bitch to Moustache. She was not the kind of bitch that I would normally breed to, but John and I talked, and we really felt that she was dedicated to obedience. She had proven what she could do with her bitch in obedience, and if we could contribute to devotion to the breed on that level, we figured, why not? So she bred the bitch...
John: In my waiting room!
Dick: She brought the bitch to his office, and the breeding was done. And the one puppy from the litter is now Number One in obedience, all-breed.
That's a real accomplishment, isn't it?
John: It is. I can't even get them housetrained! But then I was never good at housetraining any of my pets. My mother could housetrain anything, even me! So I left that to her.
Dick: I've always liked obedience; I'm intrigued by it.
John: So am I. I'm going to buy a Golden Retriever.
Dick: No, you have to take a Borzoi and do it! Much more challenging!
You mentioned that this bitch was not one that you might normally breed to. What type of criterion do you use to decide that?
John: I turned some away at the front door of the kennel, once. They just arrived. I don't know whether they called or anything. They hadn't prearranged, had they?
Dick: No, they just arrived.
John: They said they wanted to breed her to Moustache, and we took one look and said, "No way." It's interesting: if a litter is awful, the fault is always the stud dog's. People think they can bring you the worst crap as far as the bitch, and that because you have a nice male, every puppy is going to be Best in Show. We learned that from Braxton. A lot comes from the mother, an awful lot.
Dick: Yes, that taught us an awful lot about the value of the brood bitch. No one should breed a litter unless they've red that. We've turned down somewhere around 20% of the bitches that come to us.
We usually get the requests by mail. What we ask for is at least a 3 generation pedigree, and a color photograph, and we make our decisions from that. If possible, we like to see the bitch. Since we do travel around so much to dog shows, we often see most of the bitches; or at least we know the bloodline. We've done a very extensive study, and I keep files of all the major bloodlines in Borzoi. We know pretty well what we're getting into. It's rare that we get a request from the owner of a bitch that we don't know something about.
Do you think that most pedigrees can be trusted in terms of accuracy?
Dick: I saw a pedigree recently in which the grandsire and dam of the bitch was Dalgarth bred to a certain bitch, and there's no way that those two have ever been bred! My own feeling is, that the pedigrees of the bitches we have seen, that have come to us, are legitimate.
We've had a few bitches come with temperament problems, which I wasn't too pleased about. That bothered me a bit. But unfortunately, when you've made a commitment, you have to follow through. Fortunately for us, Moustache's temperament is good, and he seems to pass it on; it seems to be very predominant.
What does he throw the most?
John: His head.
Dick: Gorgeous rear ends.
John: The placement and shape of the eyes.
Continued in part III
Scan and OCR: Dan Persson
Editor: Sue Vasick