Thursday, December 22, 2011

In Memory of Joan MacLaren, Braxburn Boxers, UK

The following is a tribute written by Dr Bruce Cattanach to his dear friend Joan MacLaren, a noted Boxer fancier who died on November 28 of cancer. As you read Dr Cattanach’s words, you will see that our breed has also lost a dear friend, who honored the traditions established by Frau Friederun Stockmann (see the photo at the bottom of this page), while at the same time, acknowledging and combating “modern-day” Boxer health threats like ARVC. Our deepest condolences to Joan's family and friends.
 “Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.”
Joan MacLaren

Joan MacLaren of the long-established Scottish Braxburn Boxer kennel died peacefully on the Saturday morning, 28th November after a short but fiercely fought battle against lung cancer.  Only a few weeks ago she was hammering away about Boxer cardiomyopathy and the new kidney disease in the breed, while excitedly telling me about a discovery she had made about the origins of the Boxer in some writings of Frau Stockman, perhaps the most important person in the development of the breed in Germany.  But Joan’s main concerns at that moment were for her husband and family.  Such was Joan’s life, and her dedication to everything important to her.

Joan had an intense interest in animals and animal breeding from her school days.  Boxers quickly became her breed of interest, and she started showing in the early post-war period, but when she married Jimmy MacLaren of Viewpark Scottie heritage, Braxburn Boxers were surely set to make waves.  And they did.  Numerous champions and significant winners were produced, but it was really the breeding rather than showing, that attracted Joan.  Any visit to Braxburn kennels demonstrated dogs that never got near the show ring.  They commonly lacked the flashy white markings demanded for the show ring, but invariably were of such excellent type and conformation that one could never help but be impressed.  Presented free-standing as Continental practice, they showed a consistent picture of the archetypal Boxer.

And type was Joan’s watchword.   She was an ardent follower of Frau Stockman, and had absorbed all her teachings on what a Boxer was and what it should be.  Her friendship with Otto Donner, one of the main breed wardens for the German Boxer Club up to a few years ago was also a big influence.  As a consequence of this Joan had very clear views on Boxer type and was quite forth-right in expressing these views which very often were not in accord with those in the British show scene, but she always stuck to her guns.

Breeding animals invariably leads to unwanted defects at some time or another and Braxburn had its share.  It was touched by the neurological disease, progressive axonopathy, in the 80s and Joan did all she could to help the establishment and operation of a breeding controls scheme that ultimately proved totally effective.  When aortic stenosis was recognised as a breed problem, she had cardiologists from the Edinburgh vet school visit the kennels every year to test all her dogs as well as those of colleagues of like minds.  But it was an initially undefined heart condition in some of her dogs that caused her the most difficulties.  This was eventually found to be the heart disease, cardiomyopathy, that the breed is still battling today, but she never denied or tried to cover up anything.   Rather, she was immediately pressing the heart expert of the day, Professor Fisher of the Glasgow Veterinary School, to investigate the problem.    For Joan anything and everything untoward was investigated and not swept under the carpet.

Joan was one of the earliest members of the Scottish Boxer Club and thereafter served the club in various offices.  She and Jimmy were the core to the educational programmes on type and conformation that the club offered decades before current judges’ training schemes were thought of.  Joan was a leading speaker in the British Boxer Club’s judges’ conference in the 80s.  She was also the Scottish representative on the Breed Council sub-committee dealing with the KC’s drive to standardise all the breed standards, much to her total frustration.

While the Boxer was Braxburn’s breed of main interest, the MacLarens also showed a number of other breeds, these including Bostons, Corgis, Pugs, Scotties, and Whippets, and they also had some notably CC level successes with Beagles.  In more recent years bantam chickens became a serious show interest and gave the MacLarens many successes.  Breeding for type was always the key element.

The MacLaren household was unique.  A cockatiel and a free-flying parrot ruled the roost indoors, and collections of the artwork of the multi-talented Frau Stockman as well as many other beautiful models and pictures adorned the rooms, but incubators with hatching chicks could often be found in odd places.  Out of doors, masses of chickens of various varieties and geese were to be found, and in earlier times Joan kept milking goats and ponies and also rabbits, guinea pigs, and even fancy mice.  Joan was the ultimate animal lover and stock breeder and she was a fountain of knowledge on all things concerned with animal breeding and genetics. 

The Boxer breed has lost someone special with the death of Joan MacLaren.  Sympathies go to husband Jimmy, daughter Mandy and son Jimmy.  Joan will be greatly missed.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

DM & ARVC: A Tale of Two Tests

Because I was the secretary of both the ABC Health & Research Committee (HRC) and the American Boxer Charitable Foundation (ABCF) when Drs Joan Coates and Kate Meurs announced their gene discoveries and DNA tests in 2008 and 2009, respectively, I followed the research closely and published updates regularly as editor of the ABCF Messenger (  Although I resigned from both the HRC and the ABCF Board of Trustees earlier this year, I have continued to research and write about Boxer health issues for this blog over the last six months, and have recently made an interesting observation: Even though there are still big holes in our knowledge of how DM “works” (e.g., no one knows what percentage of At Risk dogs will actually develop the disease), the DM test is being increasingly considered by North American Boxer breeders when they make breeding decisions; while the ARVC test seems to have fallen into a PR black hole. How did this situation come about? How did the DNA test that was going to enable Boxer breeders to breed away from ARVC instead become a lightning rod for controversy and disagreement among both breeders and researchers?    

In my opinion, the most important reason for the broad acceptance of the DM test is that even though we can’t predict which or what percentage of At Risk dogs will develop DM, we can be certain that a DM Clear or Carrier Boxer will never develop the disease. (Dr Coates says “highly unlikely to develop DM,” rather than “will never develop DM”; but In the 3+ years since the DM test became publicly available, there hasn’t been a single report of a DM Carrier or Clear dog that has developed DM.)  Furthermore, there have been no reports of Boxers that developed clinical symptoms of DM, without having tested genetically At Risk.** In other words, regarding the most important aspect of a DNA test – the ability to identify both the presence and the absence of the mutated gene that causes the disease – what you see seems to be what you get when it comes to the DM DNA test.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the ARVC test. When the test was first offered to the attendees at the 2009 ABC, breeders and owners rushed to snap up the available test kits, and used the detailed list of breeding recommendations almost as a catechism.

As test results began to trickle in, many breeders in all corners of the globe were horrified to discover that their beautiful new litter – bred before the test was available – was full of Homozygous Positive puppies (two copies of the ARVC gene) that were going to be impossible to sell as show and breeding prospects and presented an ethical dilemma even when placed as pets. Outstanding stud dogs became pariahs overnight, and breeding arrangements that had been in place for months and even years were canceled. But no one questioned the need to adhere to those stringent breeding recommendations; after all, this was a dominant gene, which meant that even dogs with only one copy of the “bad” gene had the potential to develop ARVC, and would pass it on to an average of 50% of their offspring.

Only a few months later, there were reports of ARVC Negative dogs that had been diagnosed with ARVC by board-certified cardiologists; and a noted UK geneticist announced that the test results on the 22 DNA samples he had submitted to WSU were not consistent with the disease status of the dogs whose samples he had submitted. (A subsequent test of DNA samples from 84 UK Boxers, submitted to WSU by several leading UK cardiologists and prepared to Dr Meurs’ specifications, produced the same inconsistent results.)  In the face of growing evidence that WSU’s announcement had been premature, unquestioning belief turned to skepticism, and ultimately, to disbelief.
Fast forward through the next two years: In the January 13, 2010 issue of the ABCF Messenger, Dr Kerstin Lindblad-Toh wrote “…the current testing [for ARVC] is not comprehensive…but we are working to make it better.”

In the May 2010 issue of the Purina Boxer Update (Vol. 9, No. 1), Dr Meurs wrote, “…While our test is a valuable tool, it is clearly not predictive in all Boxer populations.”

In the November 22, 2010 issue of the UK “Veterinary Times,” leading UK researchers in genetics and cardiology published an informal paper in which they concluded: “From the UK results, it can be seen that cases of boxer cardiomyopathy occur in dogs without having the striatin [ARVC-1] genetic mutation. Conversely, some genotype-positive dogs lead a normal life without ever manifesting the disease. Both the UK and USA data indicate that the search for genes implicated in boxer cardiomyopathy should continue.” [Emphasis mine]

Finally, in the September 2011 issue of the ABCF Messenger, Dr Meurs was quoted as saying that she stands by her findings and believes the ARVC-1 gene she discovered is the major cause of ARVC; but because of the current controversy over the test, she is working on other aspects of canine cardiology and has discontinued her study of ARVC, at least for the present. [Emphasis mine]

At this point, I think it’s obvious that the ARVC test is not a reliable means of breeding away from this truly horrible hereditary heart disease that is so widespread in our breed. And though my opinion can be easily discounted because I have no scientific or medical qualifications, I haven’t heard any endorsements of the test from prominent NA board-certified cardiologists, either.

What really distresses me about this situation, though, is not that a definitive test wasn’t produced right out of the gate – given the complexity of present day genetics and this disease, that is perfectly understandable. No, what I find most frustrating is that ARVC research – at least in the United States – hangs in limbo while we ignore the clear evidence that there is still much more research to be done before conscientious Boxer breeders have a way to breed away from ARVC. 

Surely we can do better than this?

** Correction: Jennifer Walker just pointed out to me that the DM DNA test site now states, "of those cords submitted for evaluation, and where the cellular changes have been consistent with a diagnosis of DM, the dogs have had a DNA test result of A/A in all but 2 individuals." 
The quoted test is in the 4th paragraph under "Understanding the DNA Test for Degenerative Myelopathy."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Move to the Middle or Rove: The Last Word

Are We There Yet?

This is the last installment in our series on whether a move to the center of the country or a roving ABC National would be the fairest and most “doable” way to make the ABC accessible to the greatest number of ABC members and exhibitors.

When we started the series, I had already pretty much made up my mind that a roving show was an idea whose time had come, especially in view of restrictive and outrageously expensive new airline policies on flying dogs. (I hope everyone saw the recent SB-L post from the military vet who had just been transferred from Hawaii to Ohio and was unable to find an airline that would accept his two “snub-nosed” Boxer pets as excess baggage.)

Now, however, although I still think a roving national would be the fairest solution, making the ABC easily accessible to everybody in the lower 48 states every few years, I’ve come to believe that we need to take care of unfinished business first – the move to the center of the country that a two-to-one majority of ABC members voted for back in 1998 – before we start trying to implement the exponentially more difficult task of establishing a system of roving specialties. At this point, it should be obvious to everyone that if the ABC hasn’t been able to implement a simple change of venue in 13 years time, gaining acceptance for a more complex system of roving shows isn’t going to happen in this century.

Of course, saying, Ok, let’s forget about a roving national and just move to the middle of the country instead isn’t magically going to put the ABC in Topeka or St Louis next year; or even in three years, considering that our national is contractually scheduled to be back in Ft Mitchell in 2012, and then in Indianapolis in 2013/14. Fact is, it’s going to take a lot of intelligent planning and strong leadership to get the ABC to the middle of the US even by 2015, 17 years after we voted to make the move. And the planning is going to have to start now, not next year.

In the last three parts of this series, Karla Spitzer outlined the huge problems our westernmost ABC members/exhibitors face when they set out to drive thousands of miles through mountains or bad weather conditions to get themselves and their dogs to *their* national specialty. The weather issue could be alleviated by moving the ABC back a month or so to late March or early April, considering that the prime time for tornadoes in the plains states is the month of May. In fact, a change to an earlier date should probably happen regardless of what happens with the location. But that will just make the drive from the west safer…not less time-consuming.

Next, Jennifer Walker suggested a very detailed plan for how members could make a motion to propose a membership-wide vote on a system of roving shows at the annual ABC membership meeting. But in the end, Jennifer acknowledged that because of the way the ABC By-Laws are written, the final say on any change of venue ultimately belongs to the ABC Board, no matter how the general membership votes. (Keep that fact in mind as you read on.)

Finally, Carole Stein reported on the roving Frenchie National, held this year in Atlanta in September. Carole described how impressed she was by the dog show specialty planning business used by the FBDCA and other parent clubs (Goldens, Labs, etc) to plan their roving specialties (  I’ve often wondered myself why the ABC didn’t contact a professional event planner about locating a suitable centrally located site for our annual specialty; but I suspect that even a business that derives its income solely from planning specialty shows for breed clubs would find it nearly impossible to find a place that would fulfill all the very specific criteria that the ABC demands of a show site and still be located equidistant from either coast.   

It’s obvious that those criteria were designed to fit a large, self-contained hotel near a major airport, rather than just a suitable show site with other facilities nearby. That was a viable option back when non-stop direct flights were usually available and dogs were routinely shipped by air – for breeding, to buyers and to shows like the ABC and Regional – but now that the airlines have made flying our dogs difficult if not impossible and prohibitively expensive for most people, we may need to rethink that criterion. As Jennifer Walker pointed out, if ABC members were willing to compromise on just one requirement – having a hotel directly adjacent to the show site – Purina Farms in St Louis, MO, would be an ideal venue in every other way. But as it stands right now, those are the onerous requirements the Show Site Committee has had to work around in trying to find us a centrally located site.


Times have changed, but I sincerely believe that if the vote were cast again today, a majority of ABC members would acknowledge the fairness of a central location for our national specialty and would again vote for a move to the middle of the country. But you know the old saying: Heaven helps those who help themselves. In other words, the West Coast members and exhibitors who would like to be closer to the ABC than a three or four days’ drive, one way, need to take the initiative and not depend on a board of directors that changes every year to keep pushing for a central location just because it’s the “fair” thing to do. 

The success of the ABC Herding Petition was due to constant pressure from the ABC members and member club members who wanted our breed to have the opportunity to compete in AKC Herding Trials. It was also due to countless hours of work on the part of the board members who comprised the ABC Herding Committee, and who were committed to making the petition succeed. This didn’t happen overnight: the proponents of Boxer herding kept the pressure on from the time the issue was first raised in 2009 to when the final vote to send the petition to AKC took place at the May 2011 board meeting.    

The same thing applies to moving the ABC. Get to know your current board members and start emailing them (with a cc to the ABC Secretary) to let them know you want the entire membership to vote on the prospective locations next time the ABC makes a move or considers renewing the current contract with the Wyndham Hotel in Indianapolis (in effect through 2014). A decision on a renewal or new location will probably be made in May 2014 at the latest, so it’s not too soon to start making your feelings known now.

Most importantly, vote!  There are 15 members on the ABC BOD. Ten directors are elected by the ABC membership, each to a 3-year term, and five are appointed by their local member club to a 1-year term. So every year, 5 brand new regional directors come on the board; and every year 3 or 4 new elected directors come on the board. That means that every year there are at least 8 new directors on the board, although many of the “new” elected directors will be "old" directors who are serving second terms. The next board election will take place early in 2012. That gives every ABC member plenty of time to nominate a candidate; and plenty of time to call and email the nominees to ask them what their positions are on the issues. (Full disclosure: I am not running for a second term on the board this year.) 

In my opinion, the biggest push we need to make as a club – on this issue and any other issue – is to hold the ABC Board accountable. Yes, the by-laws are set up, at the AKC's suggestion, so that the board has almost complete control of the club; but the club members have control over who is on the board. It's long past time for us to demand that the board members' decisions represent the wishes of the majority of the membership, rather than of the board. If we can't do that with motions at the annual meeting, we need to do it with votes in the annual board election.    

Sunday, November 13, 2011

DM Again

Recently on the Facebook group, Boxers – Form & Function, a group member asked whether it would be possible to eradicate the DM gene from the breed in just a few generations, or whether trying to do that might result in unfortunate unintended consequences. Naturally, everyone who joined the discussion had his or her own opinion on whether or not we should always? sometimes? it depends? avoid making breeding combinations that might produce at risk puppies. It was a very interesting discussion and is still ongoing. If you’re interested, go to FB and sign on to the group. Because Dr Joan Coates is still researching unanswered questions about DM, she has wisely avoided making hard and fast breeding recommendations and instead has urged caution and that we take into consideration ALL our dogs’ virtues and faults when making breeding decisions. Below, UK geneticist Dr Bruce Cattanach offers his own opinion, previously published in a post to the SB-L. Dr Cattanach is currently engaged in research on ARVC and JRD.


I too have concerns about DM and these are mainly centered on the lack of information available to help breeders.  The 45% homozygote [at risk], 38% heterozygote [carrier], and 17% clear figures offered may be skewed, but testing has been conducted for a number of years now so I suggest the incidence of the gene in the breed must indeed be very high.

Now, clearly, this does not mean that the incidence of affected dogs [at risk dogs that actually develop DM] is anywhere near 45%.  There is the penetrance problem; only a proportion of homozygotes develop the disease.  I think it is time some figure is offered to breeders to get the problem into perspective.  If the penetrance is about 50%, then based on the above information, about 20% of Boxers might become affected, and I think this is still far too high to be believable.  So, how about a 10% penetrance, such that maybe only 4% of homozygotes would develop the disease?  This is slightly more credible but would still represent a mammoth problem.  I therefore think breeders need to have some idea of the magnitude of the risk so that they can deal with the problem more appropriately – not so severely as to wipe out essential breeding stock, but still in a way that exerts some selection pressure to reduce the incidence of the gene.  Caution perhaps should be the watchword for the moment.

And then there is no information whatever on the distribution of the gene across the breed.  Some information on this could help understanding.  Some sectors might be free of the gene but I suspect these may be few and far between.  There is no official DM testing in the UK but from the very few tests that I have heard about I know the gene is around in UK dogs too – but on enquiring at the major vet schools, I have not found any evidence of the disease being present.  Here we have the penetrance issue again. Should UK breeders be testing and selecting against the gene when we have not seen any cases?  This is not an easy question to answer, but I am sure most UK breeders would offer an answer in a flash.

Complicating matters further, Joan Coates told us in a recent talk at our genetics lab [Harwell MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, UK] that the gene is to be found in quite a wide number of breeds but this is far less evident when one considers the disease. Pembroke Corgis, GSDs and Ridgebacks, with Boxers tagging along, seem to be the affected breeds, but I am sure Joan said that the disease incidence across breeds did not relate well to the gene incidence.  Thus I think there is one breed with a near 100% incidence of the gene (homozygotes?) and yet without any trace of the disease.  What can be expected of breeders in this situation?

The bottom line is that we should be cautious until we know more.  Selection is still possible, and justifiable, without going to extreme.  A simple approach would be to test the better pups in litters to help choose which pup(s) one should keep.  The DM status of stud dogs is what everyone wants to know, but even if the incidence of the gene was even half right the exclusion of all homozygotes for breeding might decimate the breed.

A cautious approach until one knows more seems essential, but please don't just ignore.

Bruce Cattanach

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MOVE OR ROVE – The Penultimate Blog

Report from a Roving Specialty
by Carole Stein

Longtime boxer fancier Carole Stein recently returned from the Frenchie National, a roving specialty that was held at the Hilton Hotel NE in Atlanta from Sunday, September 25, through Friday, September 30.  We don’t know what Carole decided about adding a Frenchie to her household, but she did bring back some interesting ideas on how an ABC roving national might work. At the end of Carole’s report, we’ll provide some stats from the 2011 Frenchie and ABC Catalogs; and as always, a few opinions. J 

I spent the last 4 days in Atlanta at the Frenchie National.  I think it’s always interesting to share different ideas, so here goes:  For entries, the Frenchie people considered this show to be very large (317 to 325 dogs at each of the 2 parent club sponsored shows held during the week, including 110 – 119 specials; also 147 entries in a mid-week sweepstakes.). It doesn't seem to be a "handlers’ breed," like boxers. It was fun to reconnect with Boxer folks who have downsized J.  But let's talk about the show.

First, there is a company called This company only does specialty dog shows, and all I can say is Wow!! From the catalogue to the premium list to the judging schedule and rosettes, they know how to put the SPECIAL in “Specialty.” They are good enough to do large shows like the Golden National. I of course asked about their pricing versus that of the regular show superintendents – they claim that they are competitive, if not a bit less expensive.  BUT, you know you are at a Specialty, not just another dog show.

Because this is their business, they know where there are good and bad dog show venues first hand. And because the French Bull Dog Club of America has an interactive website, I could purchase tickets in advance for just the dinners or events I wanted to attend. When I arrived, there was a packet with my name tag to hang around my neck and all my tickets were inside.  Everyone received logo-imprinted coolers stuffed with lots of goodies.  Interestingly, rescue organizations put in things as well as various Frenchie kennels. The whole scene was very welcoming.  Frenchies, like many breeds, have a roving national, and this one was very well-done.  

Their annual meeting was one night, but it wasn't the whole night, it was part of the art auction night. The silent auction to benefit their charitable foundation went on the whole week of the show.  What I liked so much was how it was organized to allow every Frenchie owner to participate and feel like they were connected and involved, whether they were at the show or not.  I don't know how it was put together but there were HUGE baskets from various states, loaded with goodies from a particular state. I would correlate it to a local club building a basket and sending it.  That way, even if you weren't at the National you could still feel like you participated and you belonged and you contributed, either stuff or sweat equity. This is an old club – way older than the ABC and they know how to get things done.

There were also raffles going on.  People were buying tickets right and left and putting the ticket in the jar next to the item they were interested in. A fancier from Louisiana had built a 5 foot wooden whelping box inside of an armoire.  There was some serious stuff and less serious stuff.  But you had the whole week to bid and look and buy more raffle tickets to increase your chances. The club made it very easy for you to give money to all their good causes.

They ended the week by finishing up with the awards banquet and silent auction for their foundation, instead of separating the two events – you can see more on the FBDCA website. Their Top 20 was Wednesday night.

Frenchies are clowns.  Monday night there was a “pupcake” parade. The folks who dressed up themselves and their dogs took it all very seriously.  The judges, well they even hired a local member of the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" cast.  It was very funny.  

The hotel was fine. There was one restaurant and a small bar.  Food wasn't bad. Service was OK – rooms were clean.  The hotel had bus service that took you where you wanted to go within a 5 mile radius. The show committee made sure that there were clean-up materials in every nook and cranny in case of an accident. There were a whole lot of motor homes and not a whole lot of handlers. I very easily got in and out of Hartsfield.

As I have said several times over the years, you can't have a revolving national unless there is a process and committee in place first to make it happen. I personally think that airports are no longer of great importance – having adequate RV space is far more important, at least for a roving specialty, to which many more people would be driving rather than flying. And while the pictures that line the walls of the ballroom at the ABC are awesome, their storage should not be an issue IMHO

The big difference here is that the Frenchie parent club offers 2 shows in 5 days – 2 sets of 5pt majors! The parent club puts on both an independent specialty AND a national specialty.  Instead of a futurity, the club offered a sweepstakes on Wednesday. Frankly, I think the idea of having 2 shows in 5 days would be very appealing to a lot of people.

I know there are boxer folks on this list that are Frenchie Club members - please pass on my thanks for making a perfect stranger feel very welcome.

Just the Facts, Ma’am
Ok, now let’s compare the two shows – the Frenchie Nat’l and the ABC – and see where the twain might meet. As Carole noted, the Frenchie Nat’l offered two separate shows with 300+ entries each, plus a huge sweeps, a health clinic and DNA blood draw, breeders and judges educational seminars, annual awards banquet, foundation auction, Top 20, and several other events, all in the space of 5 days.

At the ABC, there were 752 dogs entered, including 193 in the Futurity, 163 Obedience entries, 97 Rally entries, and a large off-site Agility Trial. Plus all of the “extracurricular” activities mentioned above. Obviously the ABC entry is much larger and so are the dogs (you can’t tuck a 6 mos boxer puppy in a carrier under the seat on an airplane, much less an adult), but the ABC runs for 7 days rather than 5 to accommodate the larger entry, a separate dinner and auction for the ABCF, and the big performance events.

Even so, given the disparity in the size of the entry and the size and purpose of the dogs (Working versus Non-Sporting), I’m not sure we can draw any conclusions about how a French Bull Dog style roving show might work for the ABC. A better comparison would be the roving Dobe or Golden Retriever or Great Dane National Specialty. And in fact, the professional event planner that Carole mentioned above has coordinated in the past and is planning current and future national specialties for Goldens, Labs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Alaskan Malamutes, among other larger breeds. It would be very simple to contact the specialty-planning company and/or the national breed clubs involved to see how the company performed and how pleased the parent club was/is with a roving national system. (I’ve always wondered why the ABC has never considered using a professional event planner.)

Another good comparison might be the 2011 New England Boxer Regional, from which I just returned. Five sets of 5-pt majors – entries of 140+ to 160+ every day – a plethora of other activities, dinners, meetings, a heart clinic, a 4 – 6 mos puppy competition 4 days in a row, etc; and despite the sudden illness of one of the major organizers, a smoothly-run group of shows with very few glitches and no obvious dissension among the host clubs. 

The big question remains, however: Is an ABC roving national an idea whose time has come? And is a roving show the fairest solution to equal access for ALL ABC members and exhibitors?

This is the next-to-last installment in our “Moving or Roving series. Please tune in to our next blog for the surprise conclusion.  VZ J

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MOVE OR ROVE by Jennifer Walker, Newcastle Boxers

Throughout this series, others have covered the history behind the ABC National, how we got to Fort Mitchell, and the acknowledged difficulty that many ABC members, notably those in the West and Southwest, face getting to ABC each year. I won’t go much into those topics, except to point out, in fairness, that ever since the move to Fort Mitchell, the ABC National has been “centrally located”, as far as the Board and the attorney it consulted are concerned. (The center of the US is 35 miles outside of Springfield, MO; the Board stipulated the show site should be within 100 miles of an airport that is within 350 miles of that location. Fort Mitchell meets these guidelines, as does Indianapolis.) The problem, ostensibly, is not so much that the Board won’t move the show site as that the members weren’t clear enough when they asked for a “central location.”

Some have joked that the fairest thing would be to find a location that is equally inconvenient to as many members as possible – and there is some truth to that. A better plan, however, might be for the membership to vote to abandon the central location, and instead institute a roving National. It could be done as simply as that – at the next membership meeting where there is a quorum, any voting member in good standing can make a motion to send a vote to the membership, to eliminate the requirement for a central location and instead hold a roving National. Any other voting member in good standing can second it. If the motion passes, the Board will be directed to send the issue to the membership for a vote; if it passes the membership, we will begin to hold a roving National. (Stick around to the end of this article, however, for a caveat on that.)

This is the simple way, but also probably the worst way. We’ve all seen how as vague a notion as a “central location” has gone – that motion was made 13 years ago and some still feel we’re nowhere near centrally located. It will serve the membership far better, instead, to prepare a thoroughly detailed and specific motion that leaves no room for interpretation as to the wishes of the membership. Barring any Board intervention, this will need to go to the entire membership for a vote – Dr. Bob Oliver established a precedent in 2001 that any change in site location must be the result of a mandate from either the Board or the entire membership, and not of a vote made at a membership meeting.

The ideal would be for two or three driven individuals, who have time to spare, to work together on bringing this motion to the floor. Several aspects must be considered and included in the motion, to ensure that as many questions and objections as possible are addressed by the motion itself. The primary considerations are a schedule for rotation, show site criteria, show chair and committees, and ABC property that must be transported to each National and stored in between.

Establish A Rotation Schedule
Virginia suggested four regions for a roving National – I’d suggest five, based on the current Zones into which our local Boxer Clubs are already divided. Roughly, these five could be called Northeast (Zone A), Midwest (Zone B), Southeast (Zone C), Southwest (Zone D), and West (Zone E). The most equitable rotation would be to alternate north and south, east and west, both from year to year and within each Zone. Starting with the West, since they seem the most eager to host a National in their territory, one rotation might be the northern part of Zone E (Pacific Northwest), Zone C (Florida), Zone D (Colorado), Zone A (New York), and the western part of Zone B (Missouri); the next rotation would be the southern part of Zone E (SoCal), Zone C (Ohio), Zone D (Texas), Zone A (Maryland), Zone B (Minnesota); and so on.

This also addresses the issue of whether we’ll have enough workers to put on a roving National. While I agree with Virginia that the ABC should be footing the bill for the events at the National Specialty, the workers must come from the local Boxer Clubs – and not just those immediately local. For a National in the Pacific Northwest, for example, the Pacific Northwest Boxer Club would not be the only Club providing workers; the Oregon and Spokane Boxer Clubs would be expected to assist, and possibly the East Bay and Sacramento Valley Clubs depending on how liberal one was with the definition of “Pacific Northwest”.

Adjust Show Site Criteria
The current show site criteria we have is very specific, and unfortunately also very difficult for most sites to meet. That’s one large reason we’ve been in Fort Mitchell for so many years – the several other, more central sites the Site Selection Committee evaluated did not meet our criteria for one reason or another. Virginia listed the “drop dead” criteria in Part II of this series; the more extensive list is posted on the Boxer Nationals Venues Concerns Facebook group and in the Summer 2011 Bulletin. The group making the motion needs to decide which of the criteria really are “drop dead” and on which we are able to compromise. (Can the airport be an hour and a half from the site, if free shuttle service is readily available? Can the hotel not have a full-service restaurant if there’s one right next door? Could we have the show outdoors? [Several breeds do; Rotties and Goldens recently held their Nationals at a National Park in Colorado.] Should we change our show date to allow for better weather conditions, both for travel and for flying dogs?) The minimum room requirement should, I believe, stay – no one wants a repeat of the situation in Frederick, where all the rooms sold out within an hour of becoming available. (Whether we need a hotel at the show site is a debatable topic – but if we don’t, then I’d suggest we move the National to Purina Farms and leave it there. The facility is tailor-made for dog shows and I believe meets and exceeds every other criteria except the on-site hotel.)

Provide for a Show Chair and Show Committee
I don’t mean assigning a specific person as Show Chair; that is the purview of the President with the approval of the Board of Directors. The motion should provide, however, that the Show Chair be appointed several years in advance (be specific here – they say it takes three years to plan a National, so I’d suggest appointing the Show Chair four or five years in advance). It would probably work best to have the same Show Chair for several years, but again that is the President’s decision. The point is to ensure a Show Chair is appointed far enough in advance that there is ample time to obtain a site, so we don’t end up in a situation where we don’t have another site lined up so we’re staying where we are for the next few years.

Likewise, the President assigns the Chairs of the various show sub-committees, with each Chair selecting committee members. The motion can request that certain Committee Chairs be chosen from the local Boxer Clubs: Hospitality, RV Parking, Special Events Coordinator – positions best served by someone in the area who can be onsite relatively easily throughout the planning stages. Like the Show Chair, the motion can also request that the Committee Chairs be chosen in advance.

Storage and Transportation of ABC Property
One of the arguments against moving from the Drawbridge was that we had nowhere to store the various items of ABC property used at each show between events. This property includes the large portraits that line the walls in the show room and I believe the Top Twenty archway, lighting, and ring decorations. A motion to institute a roving National should include a provision that the Board of Directors assign one person to be responsible for transporting the ABC property to each National and storing it between shows. Ideally, this person will be someone who is able and willing to drive to the National, regardless of where it is held; who has the ability to tow a trailer in which the property is loaded; and who has the ability to store that trailer in an area where it is protected from weather, vermin, and other damage. An alternative is to pay for storage and shipping each year, which may become prohibitively expensive. The motion should probably leave the specifics to the Board and/or Show Chair to decide; a motion to assign one person who is responsible for storing and transporting the property from year to year should be sufficient.

Clearly, this is a complex motion and as such, should be presented in writing to ensure clarity. The written motion should say something like this:

“That we amend the May, 1998 motion on the site location ["that the National Specialty be held in a central location in the United States of America and that the vote on this motion be put to the entire membership.”] by striking out “in a central location” and replacing with “at rotating locations”, and by adding the following after “America” and before “and that the vote….”:

“that the locations rotate among the current Regional Zones in the order E, C, D, A, B, or in such a manner that the site rotates between North and South and between East and West;

“that the show criteria be amended to exclude the requirement for …… [fill in as/if needed];

“that the President, with the approval of the Board, select a Show Chairperson at least four years prior to the show date;

“that the President, with the approval of the Board, fill the Hospitality, RV Parking, and Special Events chair positions at least four years in advance with someone local to the show site;

“that the President, with the approval of the Board, assign one person to be responsible for responsible for transporting the ABC property to each National and storing it between shows; “

For clarification, the entire motion will read:

That we amend the May, 1998 motion on the site location to read: That the National Specialty be held at rotation locations in the United States of America; that the locations rotate among the current Regional Zones in the order E, C, D, A, B, or in such a manner that the site rotates between North and South and between East and West; that the show criteria be amended to exclude the requirement for …… [fill in as/if needed]; that the President, with the approval of the Board, select a Show Chairperson at least four years prior to the show date; that the President, with the approval of the Board, fill the Hospitality, RV Parking, and Special Events chair positions at least four years in advance with someone local to the show site; that the President, with the approval of the Board, assign one person to be responsible for responsible for transporting the ABC property to each National and storing it between shows; and that the vote on this motion be put to the entire membership.

In parliamentary terms, this is a Motion to Amend Something Previously Adopted and requires a two-thirds vote to pass, a majority vote with previous notice, or a majority vote of the entire membership. Previous notice is a little tricky with a mailed vote – although there’s nothing in the Bylaws stating a specific amount of previous notice, it appears that we’ve used the length of time between mailing the ballot and the voting deadline (30 to 45 days) as previous notice in our past mailed votes. (Alternatively, the vote to send the issue to the membership, or the minutes of the meeting at which the topic is introduced, may also arguably be considered previous notice).

For the membership meeting, previous notice means notice of the motion must be included in the call of the meeting – which means either someone can announce at the Regional meeting that the motion will be brought up at the National meeting, or someone can contact the ABC Secretary and inform her of the intent to bring up the motion before she sends the call for the National meeting. (This can be done without previous notice, again, if it passes with a 2/3 vote; previous notice simply decreases the votes needed to a majority.)

The Role of the Board
Some important aspects of this discussion revolve around the role the Board plays. A key point for the membership meeting is that the Board, as a whole, has no presence at a membership meeting. Since our Board members are also Club members, they are of course allowed to attend and participate in the meeting *as members*, but any additional privileges they have at a meeting can only be granted to them by the assembly. This includes seating arrangements – according to parliamentary procedure, the head table should include only the President, who chairs the meeting; the Secretary, who sits close enough to the President that they can pass papers between them; and the Parliamentarian, who sits close enough to offer whispered advice to the President if necessary. The membership can, if they desire, make a motion to request that any other Board members at the head table take seats with the rest of the membership. Should those Board members refuse – and since we do not have a Sergeant-At-Arms – the membership can move their chairs around the head table. (Clearly this is a dramatic gesture but can be effective when faced with a bullying Board. The motion would need to be made before the site location motion is made, however, because it cannot be made after discussion begins on the site location. It requires a second and must pass by a majority. If the motion-makers feel the Board will be “circling its wagons” or attempting to “flex its muscles”, then dispersing the Board members from the head table may help restore power to the membership.)

After all is said and done, however, the ABC Bylaws state that “the governance and management of the Club shall be vested in the Board of Directors.” In a nutshell, this means that the membership has only those powers which are specifically given to them in the Bylaws. (I verified this with the AKC, since the wording is similar in their sample Bylaws – their response was “The members exercise authority only in those areas in which the bylaws specifically give them that power.”)

In other words, the Board doesn’t have to do anything at all about moving the show if they don’t want to. Even if the rotating National idea passed the membership unanimously, if the Board doesn’t want to move the show, the Board doesn’t have to. Our only recourse in that case is to elect a new Board that will be more responsive to the membership – and that will take some time, since our Board is elected in shifts of three years each.

Of course, we can hope that the Board will endeavor to put into action the will of the membership – and certainly if the Board members want to retain their positions it would be in their best interests to do so. There have been occasions recently, however, when the members and the Board have been in opposition, and in those cases the Board always wins. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

How Good Were the Good Old Days?

The Nostalgia Effect

Were the top winning boxers of the past really better, sounder, typier than their present-day counterparts? Were the leading stud dogs of yesteryear more prepotent, more prolific, more consistent than the popular sires of today? Those questions have been running through my mind ever since I participated in a discussion that took place on the Showboxer List a couple of weeks ago. Some list members (the majority) argued that the Golden Age of Boxers was long past, while a few of us (definitely the minority) argued that the breed was, on the whole, in better shape today than it was 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.

At the time, I accused the proponents of the good-old-days theory of looking at the “greats” of the past through rose-colored glasses. On reflection, however, I believe it’s not so much selective memory as it is nostalgia – “A sentimental longing for the past…for a period or place with happy personal associations” – that affects most longtime breeders’ feelings about what was, and what is, a truly great boxer.

For example: I will never forget the thrill of watching Ch Scher-Khoun’s Shadrack take the breed at the first ABC my ex and I attended in 1972. What a magnificent dog! What a fabulous temperament! We had already made up our minds that we wanted to begin our breeding program with a Shadrack daughter, and meeting Shadrack “in person” after the show just clinched it for us. 

What’s more, to my mind there will never be a more strikingly beautiful bitch than Ch Scher-Khoun’s Tarantella, our stunning black brindle foundation bitch. And Tara wasn’t just beautiful: she produced an ABC Sire and Dam of Merit in her first litter; a multi-Group winning bitch in her second litter; and put our neophyte kennel on the map. Tara was also my introduction to the thrill of owner-handling, winning numerous BOB’s with this unknown novice handler on the lead, several of them over professionally handled BIS dogs.

Oops!  Sorry. I still get carried away when I start talking about MY good old days. But actually, that’s my point: when we started out in boxers 38 years ago, we were young and wildly enthusiastic; the show ring provided a brand new world of infinite possibilities; and the dogs and bitches that formed our early impression of the “ideal” boxer will forever remain fixed in our hearts and minds as the greats of the breed. I suspect that many longtime boxer fanciers feel exactly the same way.

So just how good are the good new days? Well, for starters, temperament, on the whole, is much better now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Yes, there are still shy dogs in the ring today; and there are still skillful handlers who can inspire enough confidence in their mentally unsound charges to get them through to a championship, and in some cases, even to a specials career.  But shyness is by no means as widespread and severe as it was many years ago, when I watched one “famous” special shrink away from the judge on exam, go around the ring with his tail tucked between his legs every step of the way, get behind his handler when he approached the judge on the down and back, and still go BOB and later on, Group I!  

Conformation is better these days, too. Yes, there are still poor toplines, bad feet, straight shoulders and untypical heads to be seen, sometimes more than occasionally depending on which fault or faults are lurking in the genotype of the stud dog of the hour; also depending on whether the breeders of the day breed his sons and daughters and cousins and nieces and nephews to one another. But with our heightened awareness of the dangers of inbreeding, which serves to double up on recessive faults and health problems, I think fewer breeders are doing the intense inbreeding that was the order of the day 25 years ago. And I believe that overall, today’s breeders are producing more pretty-good dogs and far fewer blatantly awful ones. Or at least, the truly dreadful ones don’t often make it into the ring.J As to the great dogs, I think they come along only once or twice in a generation; and I think that’s always been the case.

Finally, has there been an improvement in breed health?  With only a few caveats, I think boxer health has improved tremendously since the founding of the ABCF in 1995. No, we don’t yet have a treatment for DM or a surefire test for ARVC; and we’re still arguing about what constitutes an acceptable aortic flow rate for an SAS clearance. But we are talking openly about those issues and trying to find solutions; most breeders take Holter results very seriously; and almost everyone clears their dogs and bitches of SAS before breeding. As for hips, it’s been years since I saw a promising puppy enter the ring, limp on the go-round, be excused…and disappear, never be seen again.

Speaking as a breeder who has seen a number of outstanding boxers in my lifetime and expects to see a few more at the Regional in a couple of weeks, I am firmly convinced that these are The New Improved Days.  I can only hope they will keep getting better.


Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. - Sydney J. Harris, journalist and author (1917-1986)  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Move to the Middle or Rove, Part III: A Few Words from the Far West

by Karla Spitzer
Somis, California

 One thing that has not been mentioned, that I can recall, in this on-going discussion about what to do about the ABC National – where to move, whether to move, whether to rove – is 'sportsmanship.'  

Question:  is it sporting to make the ABC members of the central and western half of the US drive to within a couple of hundred miles of the east coast each and every year for the National?  If you've ever driven it (especially from the far west), you know that the trip is hugely challenging.  

Add dogs (usually Boxers) and an RV (usually, if you're driving), and if you're not going east across the far northern tier (the long way to KY), you're going through the Rockies (tough AND slow), or you will be spending 2 - 3 days going through the great American desert (usually hot, windy, truck-filled and, therefore, somewhat dangerous), only to emerge into Tornado Alley in northern Texas and Oklahoma for about 2 more days. This is the usual scenario unless, of course, you have people who can drive around the clock; but some of us are human and can't physically do that.  The only good news about this marathon drive is that gas generally gets cheaper as one drives east.  If you want a chance for a genuine character building opportunity, well, drive for several days with multiple Boxers at the time of the year when the desert tends to heat up and blow hot and dusty and the tornadoes tend to form and whirl.  Good times.  All should share in this. And for some, this drive is the only opportunity to attend the ABC National because some airports in the SW will not fly dogs after May 1 – too hot.  And, of course, more airlines are not flying dogs at all, so that might put everyone into 'drive mode.'  Of course, moving the date of the National to a few weeks earlier would help, if the event isn’t going to be moved.  May is a potentially bad time of the year for driving through the desert and the beginning of tornado season in Tornado Alley.

The AKC (to whom we must bow) is all about sportsmanship...NO ONE likes to be inconvenienced, but wouldn't it be more sporting if there were equal opportunity inconveniences in attending the ABC for all members at some times rather than big inconveniences for just some members all the time?

As for putting on the shows, there are talented and dedicated people all across the country who are show chairs and on show committees who work hard for dog sports in Boxer clubs and all-breed clubs.  So, why not do a centrally located national with roving regionals just like now?  At least that way, there would be at least one ABC specialty within a few days' driving time of all in the continental US, unlike now, when there is none for the west coast when the National is in Fort Mitchell and the Regionals are on the east coast.  That seems to be as unsporting as it can get, and it has happened three to four times in the last seven years.  As for the worry that the job will not be done to the current standard, have a little faith and patience (and sportsmanship!!). Boxer lovers in other parts of the country are as capable or incapable as you are....:-).  

I think that what is missing in this on-going discussion is a genuine compassion for others’ points of view.  For instance, compassion about how difficult it can be to get there from the west.  Driving east of the Missouri, with the exception of tornado season, is a piece of cake compared to crossing the desert in many months, including May.  The other missing element is good, old-fashioned sportsmanship.  We've all heard all the arguments about how if the ABC moves, people in some parts of the country will not be able to attend.  Well, that issue exists right now. Let's play fair (the essence of sportsmanship) and spread the opportunity to attend our National around a little more.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Boxer Club By-laws… But Didn’t Know Whom to Ask :-)

by Virginia Zurflieh
ABC By-laws Committee

A slightly different version of this article will appear in the next issue of the ABC Bulletin (Kudos to Editor Jeff Phillips on a *super* new ABC newsletter!) In the meantime, though, I continue to receive an average of one inquiry every few weeks from a Boxer club member who’s been tasked with updating his/her club’s by-laws, and needs help right away in order to meet a club deadline. Although I’ve been helping ABC member clubs update their by-laws for three years now, I’m far from being an expert; and I realize that many Boxer clubs are unique and have different reasons for needing to amend their by-laws. Even so, there are several issues that come up over and over again, so for those local Boxer club members who need to change their club by-laws to accommodate the changing times, but are not yet ABC members and don’t get their own copy of the Bulletin, I’d like to share the most common by-laws problems with you here. (There will NOT be a quiz! J)

  1. The AKC rules! I mean that literally:  Although the AKC stopped pre-approving local club by-laws in 2009, the AKC Club Relations Dept still has the last word on any provision you want to incorporate into your club’s by-laws. The ABC Board can’t approve anything the AKC won’t approve.
  2.  K.I.S.S. is the watchword!  By-laws are supposed to be general guidelines for how your club is to be run. They can’t possibly cover every situation or contingency that might arise. If something out of the ordinary does come up, consult the ABC. This link to the AKC’s sample by-laws for specialty clubs will give you a good idea of how to organize your club’s by-laws and which provisions to include:  
  3. The two most common problems clubs encounter these days are meeting a quorum and communicating with their membership. Your club will surely want to communicate with members via email (meeting & dues notices, newsletters, etc, but NOT voting) and may want to hold board meetings (ONLY board meetings) via teleconference or video conference. (Your board can’t vote via email, either!) Provisions to use electronic communications must be included in your by-laws, and your members must agree to them. Your secretary can’t just decide one day to start sending notices via email. The following is a link to the AKC’s new policies on electronic communication:
  4. Meeting a quorum is a more difficult issue. The quorum for your general membership meetings (NOT your board meetings) must be 20% of your VOTING membership, per the AKC. That means that if your club has a number of full voting members who don’t regularly attend meetings for whatever reason, you’re going to have a problem making a quorum and won’t be able to vote on necessary club business.  Many clubs have solved that problem by adopting an “associate” membership category. Associate members are usually entitled to all the privileges of full membership (Futurity nomination, for example), except voting and holding office. Therefore, associate members do NOT contribute to your meeting quorum. Just keep in mind that you cannot arbitrarily change full memberships to associate memberships retroactively. You have to offer your members who don’t attend meetings that option when they pay their yearly dues. Some clubs offer discounted dues for an associate membership.
 Finally, remember that club by-laws are only meant to define the purpose and goals of the club and give the club an organized structure that will allow its members to fulfill that purpose and achieve those goals. If your membership is in strong disagreement with one another about the mission and goals of the club, changing your by-laws is probably not going to change hearts and minds or resolve personality clashes. 

And there you have it!  Revising club by-laws can be a tedious and time-consuming job, but it doesn’t need to be painful and frustrating, too. Questions? Just drop me a line at  Now…Ready, Set, Revise!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Belated Tribute to Louie, THE 9/11 Search and Rescue Boxer

When Kate Schoyer, Louie’s breeder, posted a tribute to Louie and his owner, Michelle Verdell, on the SB-L, I was immediately struck by two things: First, that Louie was the only Boxer that had participated in the Search & Rescue effort at the World Trade Center after 9/11; and second, that Louie’s breeder attributed his working ability to several generations of cattle herding Boxers in his background. This is how Kate put it in a subsequent email: “I think my short story puts across the fact that Louie had a few generations of working dogs on his sire’s side of his pedigree that probably enhanced his ability to grasp the S&R work so well. He was the first dog Michele had trained for S&R, too. She had told me she was just going to do obedience with him. An S&R dog needs to be able to think, have a good prey drive and posses a stable, unflappable temperament.”

As a strong supporter of giving our breed the opportunity to compete for titles in AKC Herding Trials, this blogger wants to thank the overwhelming majority of ABC members and member-club members who responded so enthusiastically to the ABC Herding Survey that was sent to all ABC members and member clubs; and to the progressive ABC Board members who voted in May to send a Boxer Herding Petition to the AKC!

Louie, the 9/11 SAR Boxer
By Kate Schoyer

I was the breeder of “Louie,” whom I sold to Michele Verdell of PA when he was about nine months old. Louie's original name was Ivan and he had working dogs from Austria two and three generations back on his sire’s side. His grandsire was a lovely dog named Danny, bred by Billie McFadden of Flemington, NJ.

Danny was a Famous Amos son who was then bred to a very nice working cattle herding Boxer named Eliza who lived near Billie. I purchased Louie's sire Trump through Billie from her veterinarian, Oliver Elbert DVM, who owned Eliza. Eliza's sire Boris and dam Maude were imported from Austria by Billie's friend and her vet's mother Shirley Elbert. They were also working Boxers used for herding.   So Louie did have some true working dogs behind him on one side and his mother, whom I owned, was a very sweet couch potato with 7 AKC points. I did have an obedience title on Louie's sire Trump and also had worked him in protection training.  I must say out of the many male Boxers I have owned, Trump was very intelligent.

I was fortunate to get Louie featured on the front cover of the Boxer Review with the help of the editor Kathy Cognata. I called Michele a few times to finish her article so Billie McFadden could proof read it, then I sent it to Kathy to be published.  Michele did a great job conveying facts and emotions into what she and Louie had experienced after 9/ll while searching for DNA samples of the victims at Ground Zero. We had many requests from other counties for reprints of Louie's photos and the articles about his Search & Rescue experiences.

Louie was a sweet lovely Boxer.  I never dreamed my little lovable black reverse brindle boy would be such a star after being trained by Michele for Search and Rescue.

I think Boxer people were very proud of the fact Louie was a Search and Rescue dog during 9/ll. I know I sure was when Michele called me and said she was going to NYC with Louie to help. It was such an emotional time for every one of us in the USA and in every country around the world who felt our pain, too.


Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. - Sydney J. Harris, journalist and author (1917-1986)