Unlike last year’s Westminster Best in Show Peke, GCH PalaceGarden Malachy, this year’s top winning footstool doesn’t stand a chance at taking home the big prize. Malachy was the #2 All Breed dog in 2011 with 50 BIS wins, as well as #2 in 2010 with 63. GCH Windmere’s Dusting of White at Pevyne, the top winning Pekingese of 2012, has amassed only 11 BIS wins and finished the year as the #20 All Breed dog. Oh how the tiny have fallen, metaphorically if not physically, given that Pekes can’t actually fall very far as most of them have trouble seeing over a Roomba.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way, even though they are a toy breed Pekes once had straight legs and could perform physical acts like walking without the need for an ice pack and oxygen supplementation. Here’s a video from 1964 which shows Pekes actually “racing” (read: jogging) and not dying:
Although the dogs in the video are considerably more furbound than the original Pekes that were smuggled out of China before the turn of the 20th century, the ones in the video pale in comparison to the undead-toupée-mounds that had risen to prominence in the show ring during that same decade.
It didn’t take a hundred and ten years to transform the Pekingese, the majority of the malformation was accomplished in half that time. Under the control of Mary de Pledge, the Caversham kennel in England steadily morphed the breed starting in the 1920s until her death in the late 1960s. She bred for profuse coats and bracycephalic faces.
But it was the Caversham dynasty that would rise to the greatest heights by the 1950s and 60s because the kennel produced not only the breed’s biggest winners and record holders of the 20th century, but sires that literally became pillars of the breed. With the use of Alderbourne and Caversham sires, we began to see major improvements with better heads and much more coat than ever before. A glamour factor was emerging. Those combined characteristics flourished when breeders began to linebreed to the Caversham dogs.
By the time the Caversham kennel was hitting a high, it had captured the interest and imagination of Pekingese breeders worldwide. But the name ‘Caversham’ went even further and became emblazoned overseas into the psyche of the entire American dog show world when Ch. Chik T’Sun of Caversham (pronounced “Chick Sun”) came onto the scene. Chik T’Sun made a huge mark as Top Dog All Breeds in America back in the late 1950s and early 60s, having won 169 group firsts and 126 Best in Shows. Many American judges today remember the dog and comment on his showmanship and accomplishments in his day. His show record was a phenomenon at the time since there weren’t nearly as many shows in America then as there are today, and few dogs traveled by air or out of their geographic area as they do now.
The change in the breed was profound. Compare this American show Peke featured in Life Magazine from 1946 with the British Bred and imported Chik T’Sun who was born in 1954. You can see just how terminally shortened the muzzle has gotten and how much more profuse the coat is. The skin that normally would glove the snout has no underlying depth of face to cover and is thus bunched in a skin roll which hangs over the top of the nose and even obstructs the eyes.
The British effort was rewarded in America and Chik T’Sun won every show in sight and was the first Pekingese to win Best in Show at Westminster in 1960. The animal was such a radical transformation from what most people considered a canine form and appeared so alien to the American sensibility that Life Magazine ran a feature of the dog which included a full body x-ray to reveal what was under all that hair.
The X-ray above shows what almost everybody who has seen a Pekingese wants to know: what is underneath all the hair. In this case it is a particularly superb structure of bones. This dog us a 5-year-old Pekingese from Atlanta, International Champion Chik T’Sun of Caversham. In a few days at New York City’s almighty Westminster dog show, a judge will probe Chik’s profuse coat trying to tell by feel instead of X-ray just how close his skeletal make-up comes to Pekingese perfection.
The judge’s skilled fingers will search the short, bowed forelegs, the massive skull, the broad “lionlike” chest to see if they measure up to official Pekingese standards. After this digital diagnosis the judge will investigate Chik for some of the more visible Peke requirements–a quaint and courageous expression, large lustrous eyes, a long, soft coat. If, when it is all over, Chik should be singled out from the 2,500 other prize dogs, the judge who does it will have plenty of precedent going for him. For over the past three years, Chik T’Sun has won “best in show” 126 different times, breaking the old record held by the great boxter, Bang Away.
The relentless pursuit of blue ribbons has not been easy for Chik. He has had to travel–75,000 miles on the grueling show circuit. He has submitted to interminable brushings by his handler and forced feedings to keep up his weight. Because of the danger to his protruding eyes he cannot play with children or other dogs. He is never permitted to take a walk on bare ground–a twig might catch in his coat and tear it. He cannot even take a bath–his hair would mat.
After Westminster life will change abruptly for Champion Chik. Win or lose, he will be retired to stud by his owners, Mr. and Mrs. C.C. Venable. Only then, for the first time in his life, will Chik be allowed to carry out what the American Kennel Club considers the life purpose of a Pekingese–”to give understanding, companionship, and loyalty to his owner.”
It boggles the mind to read all the laudatory praise for that X-ray when even a layman can tell you that there’s nothing lion-like about that dog, rather there is a shrunken and rotated skull and invisible muzzle sitting on an overly long neck supported by crippled front legs (just look at how much lower the front is than the rear), and a wonky spine.
The insatiable desire for more coat and less muzzle didn’t stop in the 1960s, the Peke would once again win Best in Show at Westminster in the 1980s. After winning the top honor in 1979 with her Irish Water Spaniel, Canadian Anne E. Snelling won the prize again in 1982 with a Pekingese bitch named Ch. St. Aubrey Dragonora of Elsdon.
In 1990, yet another Peke was the toast of the town when Ch. Wendessa Crown Prince took the top honors.
Of course, last year at Westminster 2012, the powers that be once again anointed a British import Peke that brought even more extreme distortion to the breed by crowning Palacegarden Malachy Best in Show. This was a rather clear backlash at the negative publicity that the sport of dog showing has been accumulating in recent years. Palacegarden is of note as the kennel whose entry to the famed Crufts competition was disqualified last year by failing the UK Kennel Club’s new vet check scheme. A Peke won BIS at Crufts in 2003, but the success of Pedigree Dogs Exposed has shifted the tide against such obviously monstrous dogs in the UK.
The tide appears to have reached the US, as Malachy’s win last year brought more scorn than praise from the media and public. Most writers tried to find creative and pejorative comparisons for the dog calling it a dwarf wookie, a troll doll, a mop, a living mullet, a lint trap, hairball, and of course my favorite, a Tribble. And we all know how it ended with the Tribbles… you can only indulge the madness for so long until you finally get rid of them all. There’s no place in a humane and educated world for such a distorted, tortured, and useless animal as the modern show Peke. Let’s just hope the coming purge doesn’t take all purebred dogs down with the Pekes.
* * *
Comments and disagreements are welcome, but be sure to read the Comment Policy. If this post made you think and you'd like to read more like it, consider a donation to my 4 Border Collies' Treat and Toy Fund. They'll be glad you did. You can subscribe to the feed or enter your e-mail in the field on the right to receive notice of new content. You can also like BorderWars on Facebook for more frequent musings and curiosities.
* * *