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Dog world howling even after prize Pekingese Danny cleared of facelift

April 21st, 2003, 10:24 AM
Dog world howling even after prize Pekingese Danny cleared of facelift

Canadian Press

NEW YORK (AP) - Poor little Danny. All eyes were on the prize Pekingese, trying to see whether the rumours were true: Did the top winner at the world's biggest dog show really have a facelift?

Turns out the precious three-year-old pooch was cleared shortly after beating 22,000 other canines at Crufts last month, over in England. Yes, he'd had surgery, but it was to check a throat infection, not to produce that perfect wrinkle the judges look for.

Still, the dog world was howling, with tongues wagging on both sides of the Atlantic, wondering what lengths some owners might resort to create a best in show champion.

Braces for a beagle? Maybe. A dye job for a black Lab? Perhaps.

And then there's the pet product called Neuticles - artificial testicles for dogs that have been neutered. The solid silicone kind for large breeds sell for $179 US per pair, and are guaranteed to give a natural appearance.

"They're not meant for show dogs, that would be illegal," said Gregg Miller, owner of the company that makes them. "There's always a chance of some abuse in the show ring, but they're not for that purpose."

Any surgery that changes a dog's appearance is strictly prohibited. But spotting it during a competition can be tricky.

"It's difficult for a judge who sees a dog for two minutes in the ring to say, 'What's wrong with this dog? Did he have dental work?"' said David Frei, the popular announcer on the USA Network's telecasts of the Westminster Kennel Club show.

Frei, also the spokesman for the American Kennel Club, said four dogs were disqualified last year for artificial alterations.

But that's out of two million total entries, and even those guilty four were detected later, outside the ring.

There are more subtle things that can be done to improve a dog's look. Whether they're illegal is subject to interpretation.

Some handlers put mascara or liner around a dog's eyes, others use markers to darken the nose. The practice of "chalking" a dog to enhance its colour is not uncommon, either.

"I've seen it at Westminster where a judge in a black tux will run his hands through a dog's coat, then put his hands on his jacket and leave white prints," Frei said. "I've seen dogs excused because of that."

In the pricey world of big-time shows, where owners can easily spend $100,000 a year to campaign a dog, those are part of the tricks.

So are hair extensions, along with tattoos on inner eyelids to add definition.

The AKC, which sets the exact standards for the 159 breeds and varieties that compete, naturally took note of all the buzz around Danny, formally called Yakee A Dangerous Liaison.

Yet with the next big dog show in the U.S. coming up in two weeks, in Bucks County, Pa., Frei said the organization felt no need to make a statement. Especially since there was no violation.

"Our rules are in place. It didn't change a thing," he said.

There is, however, talk on a more sensitive topic.

In the United States, the practice of cropping ears and docking tails - cutting them down, to be blunt - is permitted.

Some breed standards even encourage it, dating to the days when owners thought it would help spare field dogs from collecting burrs when they ran through the bush.

In most of Europe, though, those often-painful procedures are prohibited and will get a dog disqualified from shows.

Whether any changes will be made to the American rules remains to be seen.

"It's an ongoing debate," Frei said.

Copyright 2003 The Canadian Press