On the Wednesday following the World Show I flew into Guayaquil for my very first judging appointment in Ecuador. I had checked out the club with South American friends who assured me that I would be well looked after and that the show would be well organised. They were right on both counts.
The flight from Amsterdam touched down in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, before moving on to Guayaquil. Sitting on the plane in Quito Denis Kuzelj suddenly appeared and it turned out that he was also judging at the same show. Originally from Slovenia, Denis spent a few years in Bulgaria but is presently living in Cyprus. He is well known as a very capable organiser of dog shows and of course an FCI all breeds judge.
We arrived on time in Guayaquil and after a while spent going through immigration there to meet us on the other side were the very youthful Sandy Raad and Sebastian Cańarte. After a short drive we were settled into the very comfortable Unipark Hotel, opposite the Metropolitan Cathedral that overlooks Bolivar Park, otherwise known as Iguana Park for obvious reasons. Here hundreds of iguanas of various sizes stroll among passers-by, quiet and confident; totally responsive to all the patting and petting they get, especially from children.
That evening Sandy and some colleagues collected us for a leisurely stroll around the civic centre and down to the waterfront, taking in some very impressive architecture, before returning to the Unipark for dinner. The other judges were Feliticas Mattosch, a Yorkie breeder and gifted artist from Paraguay, Antonio Colon Roman from Puerto Rico who keeps a variety of terriers, and Jaime Ganoza, an old Afghan friend from Peru.
I was fascinated over the next few days listening to Denis’ insight into show organising in Europe and came to the conclusion that a lot of kennel clubs are making a lot of money out of dog exhibitors. If we thought having German CACs on offer in Stafford, and our CCs in Dortmund, was bizarre try this for size – one Bulgarian circuit of shows offers CACs from no fewer than NINE different countries, all of whose kennel clubs charge a fee for the championship title certificate they issue if a dog wins a CAC to ‘top up’ its existing titles. The latest country to join this circuit is the Philippines so you can drive to Bulgaria and make your dog up into a Philippino champion if it has a title elsewhere, and you don’t have to go near the Philippines! Personally I don’t actually get it as the titles won in this way in no way reflect the competition in the country issuing the championship, but seemingly the dog world is still populated by many people who are title-mad and happy to pay for the opportunity!
During Thursday’s sightseeing we paid a visit to the Ecua Andino Panama Hat showrooms, run by Alejandro Lecaro Romo who has taken the Panama onto a new level and is now regularly seen on top catwalks around the world. He has also – at Sandy’s suggestion – started to produce a range of hats featuring various dog breeds and business is obviously booming. You will see many of his hats at the opening ceremony of the Olympics this year.
This assignment was going to be something of a breeze as there were three international shows to be held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each day’s show would have less than 200 dogs and there were five judges. Judging did not start until 5pm because of the heat, which gave us plenty of time for sightseeing and shopping. Carla Molinari would be in seventh heaven here!
It was still light when we arrived at the show on Friday and everything seemed to be very orderly. All the judges were introduced and lined up as each of our national anthems was played – I didn’t have the heart to tell them that Land of Hope and Glory wasn’t actually our national anthem, and doubt that Her Majesty would have been offended.
Before judging I was introduced to my steward – 12-year-old Mathias Vega Guerrero, who spoke perfect English and calmly informed me that his ambition was to become FCI president! I am sure that he has the determination, personality and charm to achieve his ambition. Remember the name and that you heard it here first; his father Christian who is deeply involved with the Ecuador Kennel Club is clearly proud of his talented and unusually polite young son. Mathias is now studying Italian and it is ironic to think that he instigated a more intelligent conversation about FCI Standards being applicable where American type dominates than many I have had with those five times his age. Certainly this young man is wise beyond his years.
My first breed was Bulldogs and this was not a perfect way to start the day! I really do wish the vet who denied the Crufts BOB winner her rightful place in the group could have seen some of these pathetic dogs – mouths, breathing, skin, coat and general soundness were in the majority far from impressive, while a handful did not actually resemble the breed at all – then they would realise what exaggeration is and appreciate what a fantastic job our Bulldog breeders have done to produce dogs that can live healthy, happy lives. Certainly some of the Bulldogs I had to judge here I genuinely felt sorry for as they clearly were not comfortable in this temperature. That said, the top ones were really excellent and the BOB bitch a real star, both for type, fitness and movement. Apparently Ch Popis By Ole was bred in Mexico and is an international champion. She would do well at home.
My other breeds were all from group 2 on Friday and in addition to the Bulldog I was particularly impressed with the Shar Pei bitch from Peru who was BOB and a very handsome Rottweiler imported from Holland to Venezuela. Dobermanns and Miniature Schnauzers fielded some good ones (if over-angulated in some cases) and the BOB Boxer was supremely stylish but could have had a little more substance all through.
Denis judged all the groups and BIS after Jaime had made a Golden Retriever best baby and Felicitas a Basset Hound best puppy. He first awarded junior BIS to a pied Stafford male and then ended up with a Scottish Terrier male as Best followed by a Standard Poodle, the Shar Pei and then a Peruvian Hairless Dog. Interestingly the last three were all owned by the same lady, Ilaria Bondi de Ciabatti.
Having not retired until 1am, Saturday morning was spent relaxing so some welcome sleep was caught up on. We were back in harness before 6pm but for me Saturday was an irritatingly easy day and a clear example of the mess that has been caused by the FCI withdrawing the special concession for the UK’s ‘top 16’ judges. When I first signed the contract with the Guaya Canine Association a year or so ago the concession was still in force, however as soon as I was aware that it was to cease I contacted the association and explained that I would only be able to award CACIBs to breeds in which I had previously awarded CCs at home. They found it hard to understand that I should suddenly become ineligible to judge breeds that I have judged at CACIB level for several years but I pointed out that insisting on my judging these breeds could result in problems with the FCI for both the association and myself. In any event they were most accommodating and went to the expense of bringing Jaime Ganoza in from Peru to cover the breeds I couldn’t judge. In truth I had probably judged considerably more dogs in these breeds than Jaime over the years, but he had the licence to do it.
Around the world I am constantly asked why the Kennel Club in Britain – still considered the mother country of the sport – refuses to create a small number of all-breeds judges of whom other countries would be happy to engage. The standing of the British all-rounder on the international scene appears to be very low on the list of Clarges Street priorities, but we know it has much bigger problems to deal with right now. That said, a number of all breeds licences could be issued at the stroke of a pen and we could be brought into line with rest of the world.
Jaime was telling me that he had recently been invited to judge an Afghan Hound breed club championship show in the UK but that the letter of invitation stressed that he would need to pay his own travelling expenses and hotel accommodation as it was such a great honour to judge in the UK! This really is outrageous and illustrates again how out of step we are with the rest of the world who routinely pay all expenses when they invite British judges. Jaime has judged Afghan specialties all over the world, so needless to say he declined the invitation.
I started off with Border Collies where a very typy and good moving black and white bitch won the breed. Just one Rough Collie showed up and he was graded good, which was perhaps being a little generous. In American Cockers I had a buff male winning BOB, a shade long cast but a good mover who held a correct topline. In Labradors a standout was a yellow open bitch who had lots of type and used herself well on the move, if she could have been a little kinder in expression.
In the big ring I made a Golden Retriever best baby, admittedly slightly ‘American’ in type but nonetheless the best of the babies I had, and then the white Bulldog bitch who had impressed me the previous day in the breed took best puppy. Felicitas’ junior BIS was a repeat win for the pied Stafford and then for BIS she chose the Bichon Frisé I remember winning BIS at the SICALAM show last autumn in Uruguay. The custom here is to allow the second from the BIS winner’s group to challenge for reserve BIS as some groups are so much stronger than others and in this instance the white Standard Poodle was invited in and walked off with reserve followed by the Shar Pei and Beagle.
I had a busier day on Sunday with most of group 9, one Pointer, a few Dachshunds, Bassets, a Whippet, a Ridgeback and then a Beagle specialty show. I was fully expecting to find at the specialty show nothing but very American looking hounds, ultra-compact with gay sterns and rather restricted movement, so was amazed when an open marked tricolour dog of 13 months came into the ring, showing the most impressive construction and movement. He sailed through to BOB which caused great confusion with both exhibitors and my co-judges who were by now watching, and later prompted something of a mini-seminar on type in the breed. It can be daunting when a judge has one dog that is totally different from the rest, but when that dog is the most correct it should win. I was amazed to discover that this dog was bred in the US but his American breeder was attending the show as a spectator and informed me after judging that his grand-dam was actually exported to her by Maggie White, mother of our own Marina Scott – it really is a small world.
Next came the ‘top 20’ competition where 20 qualified dogs competed under Denis, Felicitas and me who had to judge each dog on a very detailed points system. The results were not announced until after the big ring competitions where Denis made an American Akita best baby and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier best puppy. I then had the pied Stafford making it a hat-trick with his third junior BIS and my group winners were an Australian Shepherd, Shar Pei, Lakeland Terrier, Smooth Dachshund, American Akita, Beagle, German Shorthaired, Clumber Spaniel, Bichon and Whippet.
For BIS I felt the Shar Pei was a standout; such a great mover with wonderful head, clear eyes and in superb coat and condition. Next came the Lakeland Terrier bitch, Sanherpinc Paris, the Bichon and the American Akita bitch, Ch Sondaisa Shiver In The Dark Jenscot.
The day ended with the winner of the top 20 being announced and this proved to be the Shar Pei, giving her a memorable weekend.
Monday was spent relaxing and catching up with emails before meeting up with Sandy and friends for a pleasant alfresco dinner at a convivial Italian restaurant. Then on Tuesday evening I headed for home with many warm memories of a first trip to a country whose people are as warm as its climate and where I met some super dogs.