Azawakh Days in France: Judging the Club Du Lévrier Azawakh specialty at Laferté-sur-Amance
Facebook. Message from Dr. Frédéric Maison, an accomplished veterinarian from Amiens, France, who occupies a position with the Société Centrale Canine (Central Canine Organization, the French Kennel Club), a friend I have known for nearly 30 years, who has had tremendous success with his Du Grand Chien de Culann Irish Wolfhound kennel. Fred is at Crufts with a colleague, Dr. Sophie Debricon, also an accomplished veterinarian in her own right as well as an Azawakh/Borzoi breeder/enthusiast.
“David, we need a judge who would be willing to judge an Azawakh specialty in France in July. Are you free, and if so, contact Sophie Debricon.”
Now you can appreciate how some judging assignments are arranged in the international dog show world thanks to the technology revolution.
My introduction to the Azawakh breed began in the early '90s, nearly 27 years ago, with my friend, the artist and photographer Jean-Louis Grünheid, at the then well established and organized SLAG shows in France. (SLAG = Club du Sloughi et des Lévriers d’Afrique et le Galgo.) I met a number of prestigious Azawakh breeders on the Continent at that time, such as Monika Kessler from Switzerland and Hélène Youssef, living in France but from Algeria and later to reside in Manhattan with her nearly dozen Azawakh, since her husband was an ambassador to the United Nations from Algeria.
I have judged the breed in Europe on several occasions, even awarding the breed Group First in the FCI Group 10. I have had the honor to judge the Azawakh National Specialty twice in the United States before the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Fortunately, for the breed itself, I translated a monumental article written by Jean-Louis Grünheid for the highly coveted Classic Saluki Magazine under the direction of Marilyn LaBrache Brown and Sue Ann Pietros. The article detailed the reintroduction of the Azawakh into Algeria entitled “In The Land of the Oskas.” I was issued a participation ring for this endeavor by the French jeweler Romuald Lamy who was commissioned to commemorate the event.
Moreover, I revamped the judge’s education PowerPoint presentation, which was met with approval by the then-President of the American Azawakh Association, Ed Macmillan. I have given judging seminars on the breed in Australia, France, China, and the United States. I served as a Board Member of the American Azawakh Association for a brief stint to aid in having the club recognized by the AKC – the breed is recognized by the American Kennel Club; however, the club is not under the full auspices of the AKC. Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, I resigned from that position, realizing that a new club, whose membership has resolute ideas about the breed and administrative protocol, and who have a close vested interest in the breed, needs to resolve their differences themselves. Some battles are best waged by those who know their territory well. Voilà, my CV in the breed.
TRAVELING TO FRANCE
I immediately set everything in motion with Sophie Debricon to judge in July, 2019. Luckily it did not interfere with the Regatta Classic series of dog shows for which I am show chairman. However, the day I saw our visiting judges from China, Brazil and Italy off to their respective countries at the airport, I, as well, flew off to Paris. A close departure with everyone else!
France is not new to me. My mother was French. My grandmother was born and resided in Nice and I have relatives scattered all over the country. However, Laferté-sur-Amance, where the show was held, was a part of France with which I was hardly familiar. This would be an adventure in itself. After spending a day in Paris, having a dinner engagement with Jean-Louis Grünheid, I set off on my mission to reach Laferté-sur-Amance. Taking the fast French train, TGV (Train Grande Vitesse), from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Reims, I made a connection to board another train to a destination unfamiliar to me. The TGV station in Reims was surprisingly small and understated for such a famous champagne center as well as an historically important area of the country. I had passed through this station by train many times to spend Christmas in Strasbourg with family, always wondering what the stop would be like.
Back on another train for three hours. Heading to Langres, to what appeared to me a rather desolate train station in what we call “la France profonde” – deep in the French countryside. YIKES!!! There were no escalators to help me maneuver all my luggage to navigate to the station on the other side of the tracks at Langres … Those who know me well know I do not travel light! On the horizon, Dr. Sophie Debricon appeared and came to my rescue. We settled in her SUV for another hour’s ride to reach the bed-and-breakfast, built in the 1600s, owned and managed by a Dutch lady – how cosmopolitan France has become.
The journey to the B&B was laced with some of the most beautiful French countryside scenery I have experienced. Charles Trenet’s song and lyrics, "Douce France," resonated in my mind as we drove. Flashbacks to what my French grandfather used to comment upon: “We eat fresh, directly from the earth! Nature is forever.” He and I used to debate the use of freezers which, for a time, he abhorred. And the idea of a microwave oven, which I introduced into the household, was met with a rant and reproach; “l’engin du diable.” (The contraption of the devil.) It was reassuring to relive his vision of France before my eyes. Sometimes the past offers us so much more reassurance than the present, especially whenever we can take comfort in and appreciate our elder’s words of wisdom.
Upon arrival to this exquisite mansion nestled in a forgotten, small village, I was introduced to the history of this dwelling place. The scent of lavender, so reminiscent of my stays in Nice and Provence, filled the air, along with the bees pollinating the quantity of flowers surrounding the grounds. Small lizards were darting across the stone steps near the entrance. Winding staircases, beautiful tilework and ancient, huge fireplaces were imaginarily glowing in my eyes. A large framed photograph of Coco Chanel adorned the sitting room; a past, personal friend of the proprietor, who divides her time between this bucolic setting and Menton on the French Riviera.
The bed-and-breakfast place.
DINNER WITH THE EXHIBITORS!
That evening we had dinner at the show site with the people who arranged the event. Yes, I, the judge, mingled with the exhibitors as well. No influencing, just camaraderie with a common purpose: the Azawakh. We, as judges, are often cloistered from exhibitors to thwart any talk of impropriety. I was conditioned to this. This added to my angst when I first judged the Saluki National in France at the Château de Prunoy where judges, exhibitors and show personnel dined collectively the evening before the show. At my first initiation of this practice, I was very ill at ease. While judging in some countries, you must accept the differences in tradition and outlook towards the sport of dogs. Quite a different mindset from what we are accustomed to at shows in the United States and elsewhere. Afterall, we are there to judge the merits of the dogs, not their owner’s praise and comments. However, I still am a bit at odds with the perception of this practice.
At the dinner it was explained to me that there are two Azawakh entities in France. One is the official organization recognized by the SCC. It is called the Club des Lévriers d’Afrique et de la Méditerranée. This club reigns over three breeds: Azawakh, Galgo and Sloughi. Its president is Jean-François Abisse. At their National d’ Élevage in 2019 only 35 Azawakh were entered.
The second entity is the Club du Lévrier Azawakh. This is the unrecognized club that held its first event in July, 2019, at which I officiated. Therefore, this show was a convivial meeting of Azawakh and no official awards were given to add to their championship since, again, this club is unrecognized. The entry was 57 Azawakh. Needless to say, the club was ecstatic. Now, the entry numbers did not reflect the fact that David Miller from the United States was judging, however much I would have like to have thought so … The explanation that was offered to me was the difference in the specifications and differences in the standard to which this club adheres, as opposed to the other, recognized club.
Group of Azawakh and owners (plus a few additional breeds).
DIFFERENT COLOR REQUIREMENTS
The reason there are two clubs is an apparent rift between ideologies. The FCI has adopted the official club’s stance on color and markings. The FCI and the Club des Lévriers d’Afrique et de la Méditerranée are adamant on color, especially about a predominance of white. Although a variety of color and markings exist in the countries of origin, the FCI and the recognized club do not wish that the Azawakh becomes a kaleidoscope of colors and/or markings. In fact, the recognized club states in their standard;
Color: Fawn, with or without brindles, with white patching limited to the extremities. All shades are admitted, clear sand to dark fawn (mahogany). Brindles should be black as excluding any other shade. The muzzle can present a black mask.
White Patching: The blaze is very inconsistent. On the forechest, white may be present as white patches, more or less extensively, confined to the base of the neck. Yet a narrow white stripe is permitted on the fore part of the neck, on the forechest, and on the lower part of the chest. The bib should not extend past the point of the shoulder or go up each side of the neck. A small white spot on the nape of the neck, of reduced size, is tolerated. As a continuation of the forechest, white spots can appear below the chest, but must not in any case go up the ribs.
Each of the four limbs has a white stocking, at least as a trait on the feet.
On a subject having an excellent morphology, the lack of white on one limb is allowed. The white markings on the forequarters, often irregular, should not extend beyond the elbows, or encroach on the shoulders, often more regular and less invasive, should not go up the thigh, however should not be considered a fault.
The specifications of color and markings are a bone of contention with the Club du Lévrier Azawakh, the unrecognized club, as well as the view of the authors of the American Azawakh Association standard, approved by AKC. Since a multitude of markings and colors exist in the countries of origin of the Azawakh, these two clubs do not wish to limit the gene pool.
One specific detail to note: the gene pool in Africa is dwindling due to societal and political upheaval. Moreover, clouding the whole perception of how the Azawakh should be, some enthusiasts insist that perhaps the dogs of various colors and markings may not be pure. Some also state that the only pure Azawakh come from the Valley of the Azawakh. This is an argument best left for the protectors of the breed to deliberate and it is my belief that this will be debated for millennia to come.
As one of my French hound specialist friends emphasizes, Mr. Grünheid, all markings and colours can and do occur in nature.
THE DAY OF THE EVENT
The day of the event was a beautiful, sunny day with superb weather. The French countryside surrounded the event grounds in all its splendor. However, the first and only incident of the day happened when everyone assembled to start the show. One Azawakh decided he did not like being tethered with others and a fight ensued. These somewhat feral dogs had a fierce altercation with another and several people bounded to stop the nerve-shattering display. It all ended with the veterinarian, Dr. Sophie Debricon, stitching up part of the leg of the dog who did not fare well in the altercation, a famous exhibit who was not able to be shown that day. If any consolation could be had, he did share my glass of sparkling, natural water during lunch to soothe his damaged leg and ego. Only in France can French sparkling water have such a medicinally therapeutic and psychological calming effect!!
The day resumed with the beginning of judging. I was amazed at the various marking and colors which were presented in the ring in each class. But what caught my eye was the quality of the various Azawakh presented to me. There are some great Azawakh breeders on the Continent, representing France, Italy, Holland, and many more countries.
The best female in show who went Best of Breed was bred by Corine Lundqvist of the kennel name Garde-Epée. Champion Inara De Garde-Epée. The sire is Ferren Kel Az’Amour (Ch. Tadaksahak Idiiyat-Es-Sahel x Bossi (Import from Niger). Her dam is Hawa Idiiyat-Es-Sahel x Tamgak (import from Niger). A beautifully stylish Azawakh bitch, rectangular profile being taller than long, lovely head planes, nice eye and a great mover as well that possesses true Azawakh movement due to her correct construction and open angulation front and rear. Her caracter is typically Azawakh. A true dancer of the desert.
The Best-of-Breed winner, Inara.
At this time, I would like the reader to note and view the catalog page to see that not only the sire and dam are referenced, but the parents of the sire and dam are included as well. We also note from the information above that the BOB winner, Ch. Inara De Garde-Epée, does not possess a complete three-generation pedigree that our AKC registry requires. There are several imports from Niger in her pedigree. I shall explain why she has become a French Champion at SCC shows later on in this article.
The best male in the show was from Italy, Tigidit Zaafrane from the Tigidit Kennels of Alberto Rossi. A nicely constructed male with a beautiful, masculine head, correct eye, rectangular outline being taller than long, good topline and openly angulated front and rear. He had sufficient front fill and width. He moved well laterally and coming and going. Very nice Azawakh underline that accentuated his type. His sire is Tigidit Ilhami (sire: Calamide Tigidit x Tigidit Elica). His dam is Tigidit Mzereb (Django, import from Burkina Faso x Tigidit Gadzi).
Please take a look at a page in this catalog to see how the sire and dam are listed as well as the sire and dam’s pedigree. This is done, in part, to reference if the Azawakh is first, second or third generation.
A page in the catalog. The red banner on top of the pages has the name of the class: Junior Adult Bitches (30 months and over). The first line lists the dog's catalog number, name and breeder. The secnd line gives the name of the dog's sire (and his parents in parenthesis); the third line has the dam's name (and her parents in parenthesis). The last two lines provides information of the owner's name, address, telephoe number and email address.
It is important to note that the ultimate winners listed above were from second-generation pedigrees. Therefore, they would not be allowed to compete in an AKC event. The reason they are permitted to compete in a French event hosted by the SCC is due to the process called confirmation. The examination of confirmation and the delivery of a pedigree (LOF– Livre Des Origines Françaises – Book of French Origins) that accompanies it gives the possibility to a dog to become a producer.
There are four categories of the process of confirmation:
1. Confirmation of a Puppy, and Parents of that Puppy, to Receive Its Pedigree. In France a puppy or any dog bred in France is not qualified to be a producer unless it has been confirmed by an expert. This will enable the dog to be placed in the LOF. For example, if the dog has a disqualifying fault according to the standard, then that dog may not produce and will not be included into the LOF.
2. Confirmation of a Dog who is Registered in a Foreign Registry Recognized by the SCC. An imported dog upon examination by an “expert confirmateur” and whose pedigree is from a kennel club registry recognized by the SCC.
3. Confirmation of a Dog whose Parents are Unknown or Whose Parents are not Registered with the French Registry. These are dogs coming from Africa, for example, whose parents are unknown, since the country does not have a registry system, or their registry is not recognized by the SCC, and, most importantly, the stud book is still open for the breed. The Azawakh breed is open to this.
4. — and finally, this is close to the preceing confirmation: Confirmation of a Dog Whose Origins are Unknown or is a Get of One or Two Parents That Are Not Inscribed in the LOF and the Stud Book is Closed. This is a tedious process whereas it permits a dog belonging to a breed where the stud book is closed. This happens on the demand of the breed club upon authorization of the Minister of Agriculture, when the population of the breed is numerous. This will permit the dog to be inscribed in the LOF Annex, called the Waiting List. After three generations inscribed in the Livre d’Attente (Waiting List), the get may be registered into the L.O.F.
With the Azawakh, the first three forms of Confirmation are applicable. For COO (Country of Origin) dogs, only the third form is applicable. The fourth type is not applicable to Azawakh, since the stud book is not closed. To complicate the matter further pertaining to the third mode of confirmation, an Azawakh born in a COO can be registered and accorded a “Titre Initial” (an Initial Title) after confirmation with one French judge. But then the parent club (breed club) can reject this confirmation within one month for certain specific reasons. However, once the Azawakh has been confirmed and registered, it has the same privileges as any other three- or four-generation Azawakh.
After completing paperwork by one or more designated expert French confirmation judges, who are appointed and designated as “Expert Confirmateur” by the SCC, and who attest to the dog being pure blooded, the dog may compete/reproduce. The judges look at the morphology and movement prescribed by the standard of the subject to make their decision. They may also look at other paperwork offered by the owner. The “expert confirmateur” checks to verify if the subject adheres to the standard. After this phase is finished and all paperwork tendered to the SCC and approval is granted, the subject may compete and be subscribed to the registry.
This is roughly the same process that the Saluki Club of America uses to deal with imported Desert-Bred dogs and imports from the “Stan” countries (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). This is also why it is so vital to the American Azawakh Association that they should be proactive in seeking recognition of the club into the AKC. African imports are important to the breed and the gene pool. To drag one’s feet in the sand to stall the recognition of the club is to decisively slow down the process and inclusion of incorporation of this vital gene pool, needed to maintain type and balance into breeding programs in this country and the dog show ring.
David Miller between his Best Dog (left) and Best Bitch/Best of Breed (right).
DIFFICULT TO EXAMINE
At the French event, the majority of the entries were difficult to examine and I did not press the point. It is unnecessary in this short-coated, feral guardian breed. What you see is what you get. This is an inherent part of the breed’s character. In the writings of Richard Beauchamp, especially cited in Solving The Mysteries of Breed Type, to change the character would be to change type. In putting up an inferior specimen of the breed just because it was not difficult to examine would be an affront to type and a detriment to the breed which we need to preserve; a truly ancient African breed.
This one temperament element of judging this breed worries me with judges officiating on the breed. Sure, we would love to have frolicking, tail-wagging, and loving the caresses upon examination making our job as a judge much easier; however, this will not happen with a majority of Azawakh. Remembering that the dog who masterfully stands for examination may not be the best dog in light of the standard, one must first and foremost judge on type, not behavior. If I may share this observation: if the Brazilian Fila should ever gain recognition with the AKC, would you insist on touching an adult dog?
I would like to thank the Club du Lévrier Azawakh and the President, Dr. Sophie Debricon, for such an exciting experience. I thank everyone for attending my seminar on the breed, given in both French and English, since the audience was of mixed nationalities. I was amazed and pleased during the seminar that the Europeans have a better grasp geographically of the countries in Africa, while my American audiences have not been as well versed.
Dr. Sophie Debricon, a veterinarian and responsible for the show.
The breed made history that day in July in Laferté-sur-Amance in view of the numerous entries it attracted and the wide range of different markings and colors that are all found in the desert.
In conclusion to this article, I must share a message I received from Corine Lundqvist, a world-renowned Azawakh breeder. This is in reference to the American Azawakh Association, its membership and Azawakh aficionados. She states the importance of having a unified club with the sight of the well-being of the breed in focus. She states; “I am sorry to see all the problems with the American Azawakh Association. I had hoped that the United States would be a country where the Azawakh breed could survive in all its diversity, to be a gene pool reservoir different than that of the FCI. I am really afraid that this will not take this pathway, because of the decisions made concerning the breed in the United States. It is really too bad, because it is evident that the breed is living its last years in its countries of origin, considering political, economic and security circumstances. I am very pessimistic.”
This is an unfortunate international pronouncement and a warning sign to the Azawakh community in the United States.
May we always remember the words of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, the 19th Century French novelist, in his book entitled Le Petit Prince: “We are forever responsible for what we tame.”