I saw part of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this past weekend—the Super Bowl of well-bred dogs. I am always drawn to the whippets, the Italian greyhounds and the miniature pinschers, as well as the large Russian wolfhounds. Apparently I like the small and chic as well as the big and shaggy.
The Westminster Kennel Club “pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, and the zipper.” The show was started as a way for hunting enthusiasts to show off the dogs that they bred for sport. The show led to the founding of the AKC and the writing of the “breed standards.” The breed standards are the ideal against which all dogs of a certain breed are measured . . . . The standards help those in the know determine which fox hound is the best fox hound and which golden retriever is the best golden retriever. These standards are what make well-bred dogs so exclusive and expensive. The standards are very strict and very specific, listing details about bone structure, temperament, color, coat styles and even eye shape. No mutt has a chance.
I know we have a handful of serious dog aficionados on campus, and many loyal owners of dogs with impressive pedigrees, but I have always owned a mutt. Lovie (named by my sister) was a schnoodle (schnauzer-poodle mix) from Mr. Friendly’s Pet Store in South Bend, Indiana. Bagger was a food aggressive and moody beagle/basset from the Hinsdale, Illinois pound. Tootsie was a crazy whippet/hound/beagle dog with doggie ADHD and some serious speed, even if she was too scared and skittish to run too far away. I got her from my church choir director in Clyde, Ohio. Snickers is a schnauzer/scottie mix from the Lynchburg Humane Society that has been the best dog ever . . . but still a mutt.
Although some may understand breed standards as elitist, I realized for the first time this year how many new breeds have been “let in” the world of pedigrees. For one of the most rigid long-standing organizations, there is really more flexibility to dog breeding than I thought. “Three new dog breeds became eligible to compete this year: The American hairless terrier, known for its intelligence, trainability, and friendly demeanor; the pumi, an ancient Hungarian herding dog characterized by curly hair and high spirits; and the sloughi (pronounced SLOO-ghee), an alert, elegant hound from North Africa.” Apparently, only in New York can an ancient breed be allowed in as “new-fangled.”
Maybe if the Westminster Kennel Club can be flexible, we can be too. Partisan politics flood the radios. For the first time since Hallmark invented Valentine’s Day, media had more commentary about politics and Mr. Flynn’s resignation than love stories and coverage of overwhelmed florists. In a time when popular culture tries to get us to use stereotypes as if they are “breed standard” definitions, we have to remember that relationships are always more important. Not all Muslims are the same, in the way that not all Christians are the same. Not all members of the NRA hold the same beliefs and neither do all supporters of Planned Parenthood. I hear little room in our dialogue for flexibility.
I am as opinionated as anyone, and probably keep my mouth shut less than most, but I still pray daily for a Kindom, a family of God, that can embrace us all and care for all who do not have enough. I work hard to understand the breadth of opinions and experiences that are present just here on campus. LC is an amazing place where we really do care for one another.
So, the German shepherd won Best in Show this Year. Perhaps it is a working dog’s turn to win and we will save the tea cup poodle for less serious times. You may know which faculty member breeds cairn terriers and you may have a mutt, but thank you for being in community with me and for being flexible with your assumptions and faithful in your trust.