This interview was conducted for The Borzoi Quarterly in July 1983 at Dick and John's home by Jocelyne Ivanovskis.
What would you consider good in terms of relationship of lengths of parts of the body?
Dick: I can't tell in terms of degrees or inches, but it should look right.
John: The length of the head should equal the length of the neck, give or take.
Dick: But we never measure, as such. It's like when you go to a fashion show, and someone comes out and something's not right you might not know what it is, exactly, but it's wrong.
How much emphasis would you give the head on a scale of ten?
John: Two or three. It's not the be-all and end-all at all. A lot of times, Borzoi breeders get hung up on heads. There was a dog in a particular show, and I talked to the judge. She said, "Oh, he has the most beautiful headpiece, the most wonderful headpiece." She couldn't tell me anything else about the rest of the dog, as if the dog ran on his head. No wolf anywhere has ever cared what a Borzoi looked like! (laughter)
What are your feelings on feet, Dick?
Dick: I feel that Hounds must have hare feet, because that is the best type of running foot. Flat feet are not good; they look like Minnie Mouse. Ten years ago, all American Borzoi had Minnie Mouse feet, very flat. I don't care what the head looks like, I don't care where the topline is; a good strong Hound must have hare feet. That dog can get somewhere, regardless of its head, or whether it has a level topline.
John: It's because they were bred to run on snow.
But you disagree?
John: I like the LOOK of the tight cat foot.
Dick: But from a functional point of view, it can never beat the hare foot.
John: Yes, and from that viewpoint, I have to go with the hare foot. My eye prefers the cat foot, but in the history of the breed, and considering its function, you have to go with the hare foot. Again, it has to walk on snow. It's the same thing, I feel, with nails. I hate to see a Borzoi with the nails chopped off back to the quick. They have to run on snow and ice; they need nails. They need traction. It really upsets me to see breeders that take them off back to the quick. I refuse to do it. I'm delighted to say that the Russian standard mentions the length of the nails: it says the nail must touch the ground, because that gives a dog traction, of course, in the ice and snow. It really does upset me to see people going chop, chop, chop! It's so wrong. So many judges get caught up in that, and contribute to it, by telling exhibitors that their dogs nails are too long.
Dick: We never clip the nails, although we might grind them down so they are not touching the ground. Nothing annoys me more, at indoor shows, than to hear the click, click, click of dogs' nails on tile or linoleum. It does make a difference from a show point of view, although I agree with what John says. I won a Group once with a dog that had cat feet, under a breeder-judge who said to me, "Such BEAUTIFUL feet!" And I thought, fine, even if they're wrong. This was a breeder-judge.
You mentioned earlier that your puppies were on gravel. Do you specifically use gravel for their feet?
Dick: Yes. Two reasons. One is that it makes them work more. It gives them nice hard pads, and sound feet. The other reason is that there is no mud to track in. The housekeeper loves that! Gravel is a great invention. We use coarse, river run gravel. We don't use pea gravel, we use a large type. When puppies start out on it, their feet get sore and they are lame, but then the feet get very nice
Let's talk about fronts. You said you don't measure for angulation, but what do you like to see? What is ideal in terms of the total front?
Dick: Well, the ideal layback, just from an anatomical sense; you look at a scapula and it's 45 degrees for maximum reach. Again, like all things in life, perfection is very hard to achieve, but it's something to aspire for.
I don’t like sloppy pasterns, can't deal with that at all. You have to have some bend, for some give. I like the humerus to be the same length as the scapula, again for balance. Essentially, it's what you were talking about, this balance. That way, you get your maximum for angles dynamically and physically in terms of physics, not in terms of physicality. In terms of soundness, it's a 45 degree layback and a 90 degree shoulder angle. But I don't know anybody yet who has bred a Borzoi with a 45 degree layback. They may talk as if they have ...! I haven't seen one.
John: I saw one. Ugly dog, although it had wonderful shoulder layback. It was a pig! (laughter)
Are you through? I like a moderately good depth of brisket, but it's not my cause fixe' by any means, probably because a lot of our dogs don't have it! It's something to aspire to. I like a relatively nice fill between the forelegs. I don't like nothing between the forelegs; I like some moderate pronouncement of brisket there. That probably goes back to my Doberman days, if the truth would be known. I thought Marienburg's Sunhawk was one of the most beautiful Dobermans I ever saw, and he had wonderful forechest. So that may be a carryover.
Dick: You should be breeding Dachshunds!
John: Right! But I don't like a Borzoi front to be pinched. And I don't like sloppy pasterns. When they go around the ring, I don't like them to go down in the pasterns, although I like some give. That goes back to good running form. There has to be some give just because of the pressure put on the forelegs; but not a lot of fall, because eventually the dog would break down due to the tension on the tendons.
How do they have to be stretching out to be able to do that?
Dick: They have to be strong, and they have be in the proper location and position. The whole body has to be strong, with good, bladed bone. They have to have good muscle tone, placed properly, so that these legs, which are being driven by the rear end, can get out of the way cleanly, without interrupting or interfering. They have to be strong enough to hold the head and the neck up so that when the Borzoi goes in to to do its job, it is strong enough and sturdy enough for that purpose. The angulation, to me, is not that important. As I said earlier, it's the balance that's important. If the front layback matches the rear end, then the dog will be in proportion. The length of the upper arm is very important. If you have a running dog, it must have depth of chest to have the air and lung capacity. Dogs with very short upper arms can't move because their elbows are getting caught on their chest. If you have short upper arms and no chest, you've got a problem.
I'm nuts about pasterns. Pasterns that are not strong will collapse. There is so much time wasted from each collapse, in recouping, that those legs then get in the way of the other end. You've got to have some spring. You can't have a straight pastern, because it then forces the leg straight in the air.
John: It's got to be a spring and take off action.
Dick: Who's talking?
John: You are, Dick!
Dick: The lung capacity, once again, and balance are important factors. If you have a short upper arm, you have no chest at all. In some breeds they have shortened the upper arm in the breed; they have great depth of brisket from shoulder to elbow, but really what they've got is shorter arms! You see a lot of that in sighthounds, generally. This is especially so with Whippets; no upper arm.
John: Most Whippets now would knock their front teeth out.
What about the spring of the ribs in the brisket?
Dick: Well, I don't want them slab-sided, and I don't want them barrel-chested. I want something in between. They should be aerodynamically sound. It should be a nice, long, smooth look, so they don't bulge out. If a dog is slab-sided, there is just not enough lung and heart room
John: Also, if the dog is in very poor condition, and it has poor muscle tone, the shoulders will be higher; the point of the shoulders will be higher than the point of the withers. If the muscle tone is very poor, the shoulders slide up. The whole rib cage, per se, which is not a bony attachment, but purely muscular, drops down, and the shoulders slide up. When you look at the dog standing, and you feel underneath, this dog's chest will hit his elbows. You go to the top of the shoulders, and run your hand over the top of the dog, the point of the shoulders will be here; but put your fingers between them, and the process of the thoracic vertebrae will be down about 2 inches, which means very poor muscle tone and very poor anatomical conformation. Yet when you look at this dog, his brisket is at his knees or below. It's just like when you get old; it's sort of fallen.
It makes it hard to measure from the point of the withers, doesn't it?
John: Yes, it does. When you're measuring where your brisket is in relation to the elbow, always check the top first to make sure it's okay before you measure the rest. Does that make any sense?
Dick: Well, it does, but most people won't consider that. They forget all about muscle tone and structure, and just get caught up in measuring bones.
John: If you feel at the top, the point of the shoulder, the point of the thoracic vertebrae and the point of the opposing shoulder should be almost level. THEN look at the drop of your chest, because then the dog is in good tone. Everything is where it should be.
What about toplines?
John: Moderation in all things, my dear! Drugs, alcohol, sex... (laughter)
That's a good analogy!
Dick: The topline ... that should be very easy, if you go back and read about the history of the breed the Borzoi, the Greyhound, the Deerhound, what they were bred for. In keeping with the continuous flow of the line, it depends on the length of the dog, etc. The Borzoi has a nice, even flow to it, through the head, the neck, the topline, the tail. I don't get hung up on exactly where it begins. Once again, from my point of view, it's the eye, and how the dog uses what it has to best function. What John said about muscles in the shoulder is also true of the topline. A dog that has not had the proper exercise will not have the correct muscling in the loin, for the arch of the loin. A dog that is in proper condition, that has been turning and moving will have good muscle tone in the topline. People try to change the bony structure, and the muscle tone goes along with that; then they say, "I have the right topline," but what they really have done is deformed the dog. They've made it a hunchback.
John: But that's muscle tone.
Dick: That's muscle tone along with structure. If you've got that nice strong loin, the dog is going to take off. It's going to have that drive in the rear, and the muscling to drive the dog along.
John: People that want to see how sighthounds should be kenneled and conditioned should go and visit Gayle Bontecou at Gayleward. Her Deerhounds are all beautifully kenneled with a flat "takeoff," then all the runs go up a hill. That's how we caught on about the hills, from seeing Gayle's set-up. Her dogs go up and down that hill; they drive up, and they brake coming down, so the front is worked, and the back is worked. They work in reverse direc-tions all the time. They are kenneled beside each other, so they chase one another in the runs. They have to turn, and move; they don't go back and forth, back and forth, always at the same angle and in the same pattern.
Dick: Hers must be 400 or 500 feet long, on grass. Ours are on grass and gravel.
One of the things that I liked about the Rasputin dog that I was talking about earlier: I actually measured that dog, and I measured his father. The Rasputin dog measures identically in every respect, every way, with his father, except in the loin, where he is 2 inches shorter. I like his outline better than his father's outline.
John: But if they're too short, they're are going to be "bunched," and there is nowhere for anything to go. They are a running, coursing Hound, and they have to have room for flexibility and turning. If they're too short, they will be unable to turn.
Dick: And if they're too long, it takes too long to turn.
John: That's what we were talking about - it's balance and harmony.
What about rear ends ... you both said solid.
Dick: Solid, strong, powerful, moderate angulation.
John: Parallel hocks, well let-down and STRONG.
Dick: Good bone, and clean.
What about the second thigh?
Dick: A titch longer than the first. Or maybe more than a titch. But then again, it's me, and exaggeration! To me, the length of the second thigh gives the impression of a dog standing over ground. I would say that theoretically, I would like the second thigh a titch longer. Now, I know that in reality, when a dog has a second thigh that is a titch longer, when it is standing there, THEN it looks like a sighthound.
John: But again, if the hocks are high, regardless of the length of the second thigh, they're going to look bunched up.
Dick: Yes, you want well let-down hocks, and not very many Borzoi anywhere, in America or elsewhere, have them. That's one of things that we criticize.
John: Yes, that's is one of things that we are proudest of in our line, I think. Do you agree?
Dick: I think we could be lower on hock. There is no Borzoi, anywhere, that I have seen that has a long enough tail.
John: The longer the better!
Dick: The tail cannot be too long. It must, at the very minimum, reach the tip of the hock.
John: Well, to each his own...
Dick: But it MUST be carried down!
John: MUST, yes.
What about the curls or kinks in the tail? Have you had those?
John: I've never surgically corrected any.
Dick: That would be out of the question.
John: What you want in a tail is a long, straight tail with a lot of hair, a lot of plumage; as long as possible, and you don't want it to go to the left or right.
Dick: To my knowledge, we've only had one kink tail. She was an outcross bitch. She produced curly tails, so we never bred her again, and we'll never show her. We have shown dogs whose tails went to the left or to the right, as long as it isn't raised above the hock.
John: I find that so offensive: a gay tail that curls over. The dog uses its tail; it serves as a rudder. It is an essential part of the sight-hound. I go to shows and watch the judge gives Winners Dog and Winners Bitch to dogs that carry their tails over their backs; and it makes me crazy! If the judge knew ANYTHING at all about sighthounds, what they are supposed to do, what they are bred to do - it's just SO wrong. It's like trying to teach English and not knowing your ABCs. It's so bad. I've been very tempted to write a letter about some of these judges...
Dick: I would fault a Borzoi that had a tail over its back more than I would missing teeth. I would put a dog up with five missing teeth, but I would never give a blue ribbon, certainly not a Winners ribbon, to a Borzoi that carried its tail over its back, no matter what. Because that dog could never do its job, ever.
How can you tell?
Dick: I can tell. I saw one that had its tail fixed.
How functional can it be?
Dick: It's very functional for winning blue ribbons...
John: I never had my hands on the dog. It was in the States, and I know the tail was fixed. I could tell by the look of it, and the way it was carried. The tail never moved, ever. It stayed in a fixed position. It also had a funny kink where it came out of the body, and also some sort of checking here and there. That is NOT a functional tail. Again, you have to get past the people who don't know these things.
How do you feel about missing teeth and dentition?
Dick: Ideally, just to be functional, they should not have more than one or two missing teeth. Three or four is quite a few, and more than that, you definitely get weak jaws. For us, more than one or two is too many. Bite - you want a scissors bite.
John: You see a lot of Borzoi with the bottom two middle incisors apart as they get older. I don't fault that, because all the teeth are there, and if the outer two on both sides are fine, that's fairly normal. You see that a lot in Sheepdogs, as well. The key thing is that the canines mesh properly, and the basic lineup of the jaw should be good. The bite is from the jaw, not from the teeth. People get confused on that point. By the age of 4 or 5, a lot of dogs have fairly even bites, rather than scissors, because of wearing down. I don't think you should fault that.
How do you feel about size?
Dick: The standard is very clear on size. It says that bitches should be smaller than dogs; 33 inches for dogs, 31 inches for bitches. I agree with that. I think bitches must be very feminine; there are too many bitches that are doggy. I feel very strongly about that. One problem is that in the French standard, it says that the Borzoi must be of "imposing" size. People read that, and they forget that a Borzoi at 29 inches is imposing to a Frenchman! Frenchman are shorter! So it's all relative. Borzoi were not meant to be Irish Wolfhounds. They work on a whole different terrain; they are a lumbering, big breed. I mean, I'd love to see a 36-inch Borzoi with balance; I really would. I'd give it Best in Show, IF it was balanced. But there are very few Borzoi over 33 inches that are balanced; very few that I have ever seen that did not become lumbering. Borzoi must NOT lumber. It's hard enough to get a nice Wolfhound because of their extreme size. Then I am a fanatic on Borzoi bitches. Most of them are way too big.
John: I can forgive a little more size than Dick. He likes them much smaller, much more feminine than I do. Perhaps I look at them more from a campaigning or showing standpoint.
Dick: How come all of a sudden you're worrying about that aspect? Yours is breeding!
John: Memento, por favor!
John: To breed from, ideally, they should be smaller. But if you're picking one to go as a specials bitch, then she must be larger, I feel, than the bitch you might select to breed from. She is competing with the males.
Dick: You're proposing two different standards then: one for a show bitch and one for a brood bitch. That is not what it's about.
John: You need one that will appeal to the judge.
Dick: The judge had better start reading the standard.
John: Well, you can forgive that later on.
Dick: No, that's where all the problems stem from...
John: If you tried to campaign a very small bitch, I feel that she would have very little success.
The judge goes with the bigger dog because he feels it will have a better chance in Group.
John: Yes, exactly.
Dick: Even so, some small, fine-boned bitch, according to statistics I've seen, that have the right blading of the bone, good muscle tone - they'll leave that male totally behind.
Speaking of movement, what do you like to see in a Borzoi that is coming at you?
Dick: Well, I want to see all four feet coming at me.
Should they single track?
Dick: Depends on the speed and the size of the area it is moving in. In most of the show rings, Borzoi cannot single track. The rings are too small, and the dogs can't get going to the point where the center of gravity allows single tracking. Hopefully, if you can get them going fast enough, on a loose lead, they will start to do so. Most of the show rings are too small to allow it. I want to see four feet coming toward me; I don't want to see feet going in all directions. When the dog stops, all four feet are headed the same way. There is a wonderful sort of a gait that a Borzoi has. It has drive, but it also sort of floats. Somewhere between -well, I want to say a German Shepherd but...
John: Sort of like an Afghan, but not as exaggerated.
Dick: Not as much kick as an Afghan. But somewhere in between...
John: I like side movement. I don't get caught up a lot on coming and going. I like it when the dog stops and its feet end up where they're supposed to be, but it doesn't make me crazy if they don't get there in sort of a nice way. But they have to go around nicely, the profile. Lots of reach and drive.
Dick: Lots of balance.
John: Yes. Obviously, when they go back and forth, I don't like them to knit and pearl, and things like that; but I can forgive a lot there, as long as they look nice from the side.
Dick: I don't like highstepping action; they do that because they're trying to get away from themselves in the rear end.
John Going around, I don't like to see them overreach. I don't like that at all, when they have to crab. Again, we're back to balance. If the dog is built properly, the front can get away from the back. If one is more exaggerated than the other, then the dog is going to get caught up somewhere. If the dog is built right, he'll do it right as long as he is properly handled.
Unfortunately, a lot of Borzoi are owner-handled, often very poorly. The ring presentation is not good. For instance, a 250-pound lady lumbering around the ring; the dog is trying so hard, but it just can't get her around any faster! It just can't move that all-too-solid flesh any faster! (laughter) To paraphrase Shakespeare...
Dick: I love to go to Borzoi specialties ... I find it very interesting that often, if only the handler would try as hard as the dog, they would be more successful.
John: Yes, the dogs try so hard, and they work so hard! I think a lot of Borzoi people, perhaps if, before they went to shows and specialties, they would invest in some better undergarments; they might be a lot more successful than they are.
Sounds like a pet peeve.
John: Yes, it is, unfortunate. Not a pet peeve, because I grew up as a very fat and a very shy teenager. But it tends to be one of my causes, excess...
You work hard at keeping your weight down?
John: Desperately, yes. And really don't care if others are overweight, if that's their thing, to eat until they blow up. But don't force it on the dog. If they have a good dog, they should go off to McDonalds and eat hamburgers, and hire a handler for the dog.
John is going to be judging soon.
Dick: His entries may come down some!
John: (laughter) I do not want to see an artificial fiber in my ring!
Dick: And he's not talking about the dogs! (laughter)
All right, back to the dogs! What about head carriage?
Dick: Head carriage. A Borzoi should not carry its head high. It should not be strained.
John: It should not be shown like an Afghan. They are very different sighthounds.
How should it be carried? Dick: Once again, a continuous flowing line.
John: Slightly lower than the carriage of the topline. You are talking about a hunting, coursing dog that hunted on the Russian steppes, which is quite different than hunting in the woods. To be aerodynamically sound, it's like skiers: when they ski, they tuck over into the A position. The head should go a bit lower than the topline so that the sweep is up over the head, and up over the topline, much the same way that an airplane wing has a curve in it. I got so angry at a lot of judges when Moustache was being shown. They said he didn't carry his head high enough, and I said, "He's not SUPPOSED to carry his head high enough; he's a Borzoi, a coursing hound bred to course in the steppes." If he held his head high, all that air would be coming at him, and it would slow him down.
Dick: They should almost look as though they were running downhill.
John: Yes. Again, like the hood on a Mercedes. I don't want to see them with the head flung up and thrown back. It's not natural for the dog, nor is it correct for the function of the breed.
Earlier, you were talking
John: That early part of environment conditions the puppies to a great extent.
Dick: You can't say, John, that it's all conditioning or environment. That contradicts what you said earlier. That is part of it, but I cannot believe that all temperament issues come from bitches. Males have temperaments, too, and there is certainly some genetic influence as well as environmental. What I'm saying is that your bitch will give you the puppies, and then she works for them, whereas the male only gives himself. You've got what you've got in the male, but the bitch keeps on contributing. I don't think you can overemphasize the value of the brood bitch.
What keeps you in this sport?
Dick: Being hyper-critical of our own stock. We don't waste our energy criticizing other people or dogs. Not getting caught up in the hysterics of other breeders. Dedication, I think. We spend a lot of time, effort and dedication in the breed ... Honestly not getting discouraged, because there are a lot of heartbreaks in breeding dogs, right from the beginning. There's always something
John: The pick of the litter has one testicle, for instance.
Dick: Right, there's always something. And you just can't give up. You see, we were lucky. Honestly, the best thing that ever happened to us, as breeders, was losing our first dogs. That was a major heartbreak, but it kept us breeding honestly. There has not been a perfect Borzoi bred, and you have to keep your eyes open.
John: Talk to other breeders; you can learn so much from them.
You mentioned a few people that you feel are very good dog people...
John: Gayle Bontecou. Pat Craige. Anne Rogers Clark.
Dick: The person that has been the most helpful to me in terms of exhibiting is Carol Holly. She's a professional handler, and she taught me the art of showing a dog. She was a great help to me.
One of my discouragements in the breed is that, as far as mentioning people who have been helpful to us, there are none in Borzoi. Partly, I think, and it's very sad, we did too much winning too early, even though it was 5 years down the road. People got jealous for the wrong reasons. In the breed itself, I don't think there has been anyone to date that has been a major influence for us, except by watching, showing us what NOT to do.
John: That's sad.
You're sort of isolated in terms of contact with other people.
Dick: The people that have been a great influence to us have been in other breeds, other aspects; but they've all been in their breeds a long time. You could not find a person more dedicated to his dogs than Ed Jennings. We've learned a lot from him just in terms of dedication, hanging in there, and taking care of and looking after his dogs. I mentioned Carol Holly in terms of condition, and quality of presentation; if the dog isn't ready, leave it at home.
John: Frank Sabella, also, in terms of showing. Carol or Gayle in terms of conditioning or breeding, and long-range planning. The same with Pat Craige. Robin Hernandez was a lot of help in terms of criticism in the best sense; constructive criticism. If you respect someone in the breed, you can accept criticism. When they tell you what is wrong, and that this is where you need to improve, you can accept that at face value.
Dick: I'm more critical than John is.
John: But he's still a great help in terms of constructive criticism; you need help here or there, that type of things. You learn a lot from other breeders. Gayle Bontecou looks at our dogs with a very different eye than we do. We learn a lot, seeing them from her eyes, so to speak. She is one sighthound breeder that just springs to the fore. Pat Ide in California is a great friend who breeds Greyhounds. Carol Esterkin in Afghans has been a great help. Lynn Chelley came from Australia and spent several days with us. We learned a lot from her, seeing them from her point of view.
Dick: What we've attempted to do is to see the Borzoi through the eyes of sighthounds, and then refine that down to the standard of the Borzoi. There are lots of great breeders of sighthounds that have had a major influence on us.
John: We learned a lot from Gerda Kennedy just in terms of showing and the art of presentation.
Dick: If you are going to be a successful breeder, I don't believe that you can stay within the narrow confines of your own kennel, or your own breed. One of the problems with people in dogs is that they only stay in an average of 5 years. In 5 years, you haven't even begun. We've attempted to collect a lot of old books, of kennels from the times when people could have many, many dogs. We learn a lot from them.
Mrs. W.W. Clark. She's the one who produced Gordon Setters in great numbers, and produced great quality in a rare breed.
Earlier, you mentioned something about the Romanoff Kennel.
Dick: The original Romanoff Kennel was a Canadian kennel. This was printed, I think, in The Borzoi Quarterly. Then, and I'm not sure, but there were 3 people in the U.S. that bred Borzoi under the Romanoff prefix, one being on the East Coast and one on the West Coast; the most famous, of course, being Louis Murr. But the first people to use the Romanoff prefix were Canadians, in Canada.
What do you consider to be some of the best Borzoi kennels today? Aside from Kishniga, or in addition to!
Dick: That's a reasonable question.
John: Karen Staudt, Majenkir.
Dick: Majenkir. Audrey Benbow, Sirhan Kennels.
John: Rising Star, Nadine Johnson and Lorraine Groshans.
John: The Cheneys. Some of these breeders do not necessarily breed our type of dogs, but we respect them.
Dick: Frankly, it's the same thing I said earlier about judges: these people are consistent in the art of breeding. They believe in a type, as we do, and that is what they're going for. I give them full marks for that.
I meant to ask earlier how many champions you've bred?
Dick: I don't know. I don't keep records. I have an idea - actually, I do keep some sort of record, but I would have to go back and count. Because of a letter that Irene Schlintz, who keeps the record, I know that Moustache has sired 24 American champions, as of right now. I think that we have bred somewhere between 35 and 40 American champions. I would guess that we have bred in the neighborhood of 75 Canadian champions. We have also bred Mexican, Brazilian and Spanish champions. We have bred 6 Best in Show dogs.
Dick: Let's count them: Moustache, Garth, Rasputin, Nickelodeon Kid, Isis and Darth. Moustache has sired some Best in Show winners that we ourselves did not breed. And I have no idea how many Groups we've won with the dogs.
Dogs of our breeding, dogs with the Kishniga prefix on the dog, the sire or the dam, have won every Borzoi specialty, sometimes from the classes.
John: Moustache won the Midwest Borzoi Specialty 3 times; the BCOA once. His son has won the BCOA twice.
How many Borzoi do you keep?
Dick: I think at the present time, we have around 25.
John: Which is a lot for us. We try to keep around 20, excluding puppies.
Dick: We have 4 males, the rest are bitches. We also have Scottish Terriers, Pekingese, French Bulldogs, Standard Poodles and Old English Sheepdogs.
How many dogs do you have all together?
John: Don't ask me to count!
What are some of the advantages of being in dogs?
John: For me?
Dick: Don't be tacky, now! (laughter)
John: All those weekends alone while Dick is away at dog shows! (laughter) Seriously, for me, it's some of the wonderful people I've met, the wonderful friends I've made. You meet people as a result of the dogs, and then the friendship expands into other areas. It's sort of like belonging to a secret fraternity now, because we can go almost anywhere, and know someone.
Dick: Certainly, the friendships. I think a real advantage is that it's a very sound, very wonderful hobby. I think we are contributing in a major way to a very important sport, on a national and international level. For me, that's very important. It has extended my boundaries. I'm not the world's greatest tennis player or golfer, but we're on the map, so to speak, in Canada, as breeders of Borzoi. That means a major, major contribution. There is no amount of money that could ever buy that.
What about the disadvantages?
John: Getting up on Sunday morning and cleaning kennels. That's a disadvantage! It's expensive; when push comes to shove, it has been a VERY expensive hobby. It's a strain on any relationship, because it's very time-consuming if you exhibit all the time.
You don't get up Sunday morning and clean the kennel! (laughter)
Dick: Well, I get up at 4:00 a.m. Sunday mornings to make sure the dog is bathed, and exercise him, and get to the show site. To me, that is not a disadvantage. I really can't think of any disadvantages. You see, I made a decision that I was going to put my money into my dogs; so maybe that's a disadvantage, but it was a decision I made and I'm happy with it.
One of the disadvantages is the poor sportsmanship. There are still a lot of petty people out there, people who are there for the wrong reasons. They make it unpleasant. It's hard work breeding and showing, and it's certainly disadvantageous to have petty, jealous poor sports to deal with at the show ring, on the phone, or wherever.
John: My favorite story of this is when Dick was campaigning Moustache in the States. I got a call one Saturday night, and the woman said, "Dr. Reeve-Newson, I'm very sorry to tell you that Moustache died today." I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "I was at the show, and he died." I just got hysterical, and with that, she hung up. Because Dick hadn't called me, I had no way of knowing. When he called on Sunday to say Moustache had gone Best in Show, was when I knew for sure that he had not died. That's just an example of the type of thing that happened all the time he was being campaigned; that sort of phone call was not at all uncommon.
Dick: That kind of thing is really a disadvantage, but it happens in every sport. It shouldn't, but it does. Are we almost through?
We're getting to the good stuff - personal questions! How old you are, how long you've been here...
Dick: You haven't asked me any of the questions I thought you would ask! Okay, I'm 5 days younger than John. (laughter) All right, we're both 42. We've been here, on this property since 1970. Our first litter was in 1972, so all Kishniga Borzoi have been bred here.
How much land do you have?
Dick: 47 acres. We use, what, about 10 acres?
Is it designed exactly the way you want?
Dick: Ideal? No.
John: Nothing in life, my dear, is ever exactly what you want. There is always room for improvement in anything. The kennel was designed 12 years ago. If I were to design a kennel now for Borzoi, it would be quite different. But it is an easy, workable kennel.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Dick: I thought you would ask about the kennel name.
Kishniga? Oh, all right.
Dick: I thought you would ask that, and I decided I would have to tell you what the kennel name really means. I had a kennel name before we started breeding. In Canada, you have to have an original name before you can breed dogs. I was stuck with coming up with that name. It is the first two letters of the first four dogs I have owned: when I was a kid, I had a mutt called Kink; the first purebred dog I ever bought was an Afghan, SHine; the first Borzoi I ever owned was NI ; and the second Borzoi was a dog called GArth. So the name goes from a mutt, through a pet Afghan, to a heartbreak with the dog that died, to the replacement dog, Garth. And I think that describes the dog game exactly; a lot of hard work, a lot of heartbreaks, trying again. That's why the place is called Kishniga.
Anything you'd like to add, John?
John: Not really, except that anyone who wants to breed must persevere. Set your goals, and aspire to them; don't get discouraged or sidetracked. Just try to retain your objectivity in your breeding program. Decide what you want. Learn to cull. Don't get weighed down with details. In breeding programs, I really think simplicity is best. Nature is cruel, but in the long run, she is really kind and very fair. Trust your judgement; trust your eye. And trust in your luck.
Dick: The last word (as usual!): Know your dog, LIKE your dog, and show it. Never show a dog that you don't believe in.
Thank you very much.
** Interview edited by Sue E.A. Vasick