What defines a border collie is down to a job description, and a poll
BY BARBARA RIGHTON • One hundred years ago, in the border country between Scotland and England, the border collie was the humble shepherd’s best friend. The dog is still blazingly fast and super-smart. And those are the only facts many fanciers can agree on. The border collie is now at the centre of a David-and-Goliath struggle for rightful registration—and job description. On one side is the Canadian Border Collie Association (CBCA), the only group allowed to register the dog as a purebred in Canada, with maybe 500 members and one stubborn criterion—to judge border collies on their sheep-herding abilities. On the other is the 25,000-member Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), which represents almost all purebred breeds in Canada, but not the border collie. The CKC has now been asked by some of the breed’s aficionados to bring it into the fold, which would, however, mean dogs being judged solely by CKC standards of looks, agility and obedience, and not sheepherding abilities—something the CBCA says will ruin the breed.
The current tussle is due to the efforts of a group of border collie owners who want their pets to take part in agility and obedience competitions, which they currently organize privately. Miffed that such contests are anathema to the CBCA, and that they can’t show their animals at CKC events, they demanded that the CKC poll its member-
ship about taking in the border collie. If the CKC does so, it would be in a miscellaneous grouping, which is not full recognition. But that would mean border collies not only being allowed to take part in CKC sporting competitions, but also pretty, so-called “Barbie collies” being shown in so-called conformation classes, where dogs are judged only on their beauty and correctness of form. That will spell the end of the border collie as a working dog, says Amanda Milliken, an owner of champion herding border collies in Kingston, Ont. Nonsense, says Paula Elson, an obedience petitioner. Already the battle is “nasty, nasty,” Elson says, citing a number of accusatory emails from someone called “The Shepherd.” And when the polling ends on April 15, it’s bound to get worse.
This set-to actually dates back to the early 1980s, when the CKC did include the border collie in its miscellaneous category, and allowed the breed to take part in competitions. But in 1985, Parliament enacted the Animal Pedigree Act, giving the right to register a particular breed to one organization only. The CBCA, passionately opposed to what it considered fringe competitions and conformation shows, polled nearly 300 Canadian breeders to prove its right to be the
EVERYONE AGREES ON THIS: The border collie is very smart and very fast
caretaker of the breed, and won. “As soon as you start breeding a dog for its appearance, you detract from its real work,” says Milliken. The CBCA still won’t define the dog by its looks. Sure, Babe's border collies were black and white, Milliken says, but the dogs can be a variety of shades including red and white or even tricoloured, with thick coats or smooth, pricked ears or flopped. “None of it matters,” she says dismissively.
The CKC subsequently dropped the border collie, and the CBCA wouldn’t allow anything but herding dogs to compete, casting obedience trainers and others adrift. “I had the last border collie to be No. 1 in obedience in Canada,” fumes Elson of Stouffville, Ont., who spearheaded the petition to have the border collie reinstated last December. She swears the original CBCA polling was flawed. Then she blurts, “I am so sick of them! They do not own this breed!”
The battle is being fought elsewhere as well. In the U.S., without any government act to prohibit it, the American Kennel Club recognized the border collie in 1995 and has promoted it ever since based on its looks. In defiance, the main herding registry, the American Border Collie Association, decided in 2004 that it would delist any dogs that won conformation championships regardless of their abilities as sheepherders. Border collie historian Carole Presburg ofTyngsboro, Mass., a 30-year herding-dog owner herself, thinks the ABCA’s tactic is petty. “But herding-dog people take themselves very seriously,” she says, “and they are afraid the herding instinct will go away and the border collie will not be the same breed.” Says Milliken firmly, “The border collie is agriculture’s dog.”
In Vancouver, UBC psychology professor, dog lover, and author Stanley Coren, while admitting that judging certain breeds on conformation alone had ruined them, gets irritated when he is presented with such an exclusive view. “Dogs exist for a whole bunch of reasons,” he says. “We have working dogs, service dogs, pet dogs; we can create whatever the hell we want, and we do.” It is important that border collies be registered with the CKC, he says. If they’re not, “their visibility drops and fewer people get to know about them and that, to me, is a sin.” M
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