Injustice in the Oldest Sport in America:
“Systemic Breedism” Exposed in the Westminster Dog Show
“From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor’s rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own.” – Carl Shurz
Longtime readers will not be surprised to hear that the longest continuously sponsored sport in the US is the Westminster Dog Show. It was established in 1877. Before the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, and the zipper. Before the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Washington Monument and the establishment of the World Series.
But what is not generally known is that since 1907, when Westminster held its first competition, 30% of the winners of Best in Show have been White Fox Terriers. And there has never been a single win for a Golden Retriever.
“This is a scandal that has been kept under the kennel floor for too long,” argued an editorial in The New York Pravda earlier this year. “Looking at the numbers over the years it’s impossible to deny that dog competition in America has been plagued by a history of egregious classism and breedism – with White Fox terriers winning 12 times and the Golden Retriever never winning a single time!”
For those readers unfamiliar with the lexicon of Breed Justice Theory, a new degree-granting major at Harvard’s Department of Canine Studies, here are some definitions:
Breedism: The belief that different breeds possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.
Institutional/Systemic Breedism: Policies, practices, or judicial judgments, whether intentional or not, that result in unrepresentative awards in dog shows, from local events to regional events and up to and including the supreme court of justice in canine recognition: the Westminster Dog Show.
There is also a third kind of breedism that is more hotly debated: unconscious breedism. This idea was popularized by The New York Pravda bestseller Terrier Fragility, which asserts that the only possible explanation for the exclusion of Golden Retrievers over the years is “an unrecognized prejudice against the Golden by judges and owners.”
Executives at the AMA and Westminster have argued that they are “breed-blind” when it comes to judging dogs. Their criterion is merit, and it is the breeders and handlers of the Golden Retriever over the years that are responsible for their poor performance in competition.
But as has been pointed out in the recent New York Pravda bestseller How to Be Anti-Breedist:
If you believe that all breeds are equal, then Golden Retrievers should be winning Best of Breed at least 30% of the time. But they haven’t. They haven’t even won once! And don’t tell me it has anything to do with merit. First of all, the Golden Retriever is clearly one of the most beautiful, intelligent, and best-tempered breeds among the Canis lupus familiaris.”
We checked the facts. The author is correct:
For at least the last 33 years, Golden Retrievers have been the third most popular purebred dog in the US, after Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. Exact figures don’t exist, but experts calculate the total number of Golden Retrievers in the US at 500,000 to 750,000.
But according to the expert BJWs (breed justice warriors) that we consulted, the concept of merit is in itself a form of breedism. “Merit-based award systems are inherently breedist,” they say, “because they have historically lead to inequality of outcome in dog judging.”
They also assert that the problem began at the beginning, at the first Westminster show in 1907:
“The framers of the Westminster constitution were not the egalitarian dog lovers they represented themselves to be,” said Justice Seeker, founder of the Union for Breed Equality, based in San Diego, California.
“They were clearly biased in favor of terriers. In fact, they didn’t even consider Golden Retrievers as purebreds back then. Who won in 1907? It was a terrier bitch named Champion Warren Remedy that took Best of Show!”
I have to agree. These wonderful dogs of color (there are three shades of Golden) should have had their place on the podium after Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds (numbers one and two in terms of population in the US). And White Fox Terriers should be lucky if they place tenth.
I have to acknowledge that this is a personal issue for me. I once owned a Golden Retriever. And I can tell you: Every time one of those privileged White Fox Terriers won Best of Show, it hurt me and Jefe – our Golden Retriever – to the bone.
Speaking of bones, last year a Golden Retriever did place second at Westminster. But that was clearly a bone thrown to the BJWs. This should not fool us. We cannot accept this sort of chicanery. We need to do something serious to end the inequality now. And the solution can’t be a matter of raising awareness (which this essay, I hope, has done). Nor can it be achieved by firing a few judges. No. We must go all the way to the rotten core of systematic and unconscious breedism. We must reimagine a new kind of dog show, a single dog show like Westminster, but with freedom and equality for all.
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