2012 Havana Dog Show: Mad dogs & Englishmen

Even an Englishman out for a stroll in the mid-day Caribbean sunshine might be tempted to loosen his tie, perhaps even lose the jacket, and as the humidity rises to 100% and the temperature dial goes past 30 0C, who knows, maybe even to loosen a top button or two. Not the proud owners of Havana’s finest canines as they are put through their paces at Havana’s annual international dog show. Indeed this is probably as impeccably groomed as you will find the human variety on this laid-back island nation. As for the Chow Chow, Dalmatian, Bichón Habanero, Siberian Husky and Rhodesian Ridgeback – they were all about before dawn talking with their hair stylists and getting over last minute nerves…

A great deal of activity took hold of the usually peaceful ecological areas of the Parque Metropolitano de La Habana during April 26-29, 2012. Tents, awnings, boxes, crates, street vendors, photographers…and dogs, all filled the natural environment that is part of the city’s green belt. It was the International Spring Dog Show, which gathers dog owners, breeders, handlers and dog lovers every year. The winners receive the fitness certificate for the Cuban, International and Central American and Caribbean Championships. Every day, there is a selection of Best in Show, which become the contenders for Best of the Best in different categories: Baby, Puppy, Junior and Adult.

I, in particular, am new to dog shows and was pretty much impressed at the variety of specimens that were competing–the majestic and graceful Afghan hound with its long silky coat (some people claim that Noah took a pair of these hounds on board his ark); the tiny Yorkshire terrier, also called yorkie, whose long straight glossy coat of bluish gray and tan make him a beautiful breed of toy dog; the intelligent German shepherd, who is often used in police work and as guide dog for the blind; the heavy-coated blocky dog of ancient Chinese origin known as Chow Chow, or plain chow; the slender, graceful Dalmatian with their sparkling eyes; or the funny little Bichón Habanero or Havanese.

Another thing that caught my attention was the judges’ and handlers’ attire. Under the radiant Havana sun and at a temperature of over 30 0C, they wore jackets more appropriate for the first dog show held in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1859, than for the tropics. As I watched them, I couldn’t help bringing to mind birthday girls or boys who are usually the ones who have less fun at their own birthday parties as they have been forced to wear clothes especially bought for the occasion.

Back to the competition, the successive rounds allow the judges, and audiences, to appreciate the beauty and bearing of the dogs, which do not compete against each other but against something as difficult as the standard of perfection for their particular breed set by the International Dog Federation, some of whose parameters are as subjective as having a “cheerful attitude.” But the dogs are not the only ones being evaluated. The work of handlers and breeders are also under observation and are being judged according to their dog’s performance, to their ability to respond to verbal commands or hand signals.

Following three days of trials and several collateral exhibitions, such as the delightful and encouraging show of children handlers, who conducted themselves with assurance and style throughout the show, the event came to an end with the announcement of the winners. Apparently, many of those present did not share the principle set by the father of modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, that the important thing is not winning, but competing. Once the specimens that would compete for the top award were announced, tents and awnings were cleared and handlers and dogs retired almost immediately. Only a few of us stayed to applaud the Siberian Husky, winner in the Baby category; the miniature wirehaired Dachshund chosen as Best Puppy; the Rottweiler who won in the Junior category; and the Golden Retriever who won top prize in Adult. The winner in the category Cuban Breeds for specimens born on the island was a beautiful Bichón Habanero that competed against a Siberian Husky, a Dalmatian and a Labrador.

Victoria Alcalá writes about Cuban culture. She has won several prestigious writing awards.

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