PREMONITIONS OF A TRAVELER

Jim Engel 1993

Authors notes: In the fall of 1993 I went to Europe, determined to know first hand the real state of the Bouvier as a working dog there. Perhaps my commentaries will be of interest even today..... ____________________________________________________

Although the Bouvier des Flandres is for me above all else a working dog, over the past decade my European Bouvier tours have always been in May or June for prominent conformation shows such as the Dutch Club Match at Hilversum. Never having witnessed the best dogs work at the most important competitions, last spring I went through my journals, made inquiries and found that in three consecutive weekends in October of 1993 one could see the Dutch Bouvier IPO Championship, the German Bouvier Schutzhund Championship and the Belgian National conformation specialty. The fact that there are no annual Bouvier working events in Belgium or France to attend is in itself a foreboding sign of our times and our problems.

As preparations for this journey were under way there was a different aura, a sense of unease. Ten years ago the Dutch specialty winner, Halvar Bretta van der Boevers Garden, had been Schutzhund III, the reports from Germany were of the von der Stadt Homberg dogs, Golf and Falco which we had seen work in America and many others. There was a sense, even a promise, of an emerging era for the Bouvier as a true working dog. In America we felt like pioneers, confident that a new era was emerging.

But over the years the momentum ebbed. Nothing really outstanding had come from Germany since Martha Hochstein's Banjo vom Schwarzen Baren, there were discouraging reports from Belgium and France and in America it had been several years since really outstanding dogs had appeared at our championships.

So my purpose in this trip was to see if my premonitions, my unease, justified outright fear. There was a need to see for myself if dogs, and more importantly people, sufficient in character and courage remain to carry on the Bouvier as a working dog.

Another factor lending gravity to this journey was that in the weeks prior my article "Requiem for a Working Dog" and my annual President's report to the NAWBA membership had gone to Europe. This timing was not accidental, for it is not my style to throw stones and then run home and hide. Reaction was expected, and it was forthcoming.

Perhaps the sharpest response concerned my commentaries on the second Belgian club, the Vereniging voor Vlaamse Koehonden, associated with names such as Chastel, LeLann and Verheyen. The remarks of a number of people can be summarized as "You have been fooled by this second club, which is just as bad as the original. Their purpose has more to do with Belgian quarrels, which no outsider can understand, than with working dogs."

Difficult as it may be, to know the Bouvier des Flandres one must conquer the enigma which is Belgium. The Bouvier is a product of this clash between the French and Germanic cultures, and to attempt to explain him in any other terms is an exercise in utter futility. So I must, out of principle, reject the claim that Belgian quarrels are in some way unique and subtle, for in reality they are as primitive and as based in human frailty as the foolishness the rest of us practice.

Indeed, foolishness is neither a rare nor a unique commodity in the Bouvier world. In America we have two clubs, an AKC that does not even pretend that working dogs should work, the IBBO and Chet Collier. The Germans, even with their late start, already have three clubs. And the Dutch don't even seem to notice that the dogs on the sport field and those in the conformation ring are not perceivable by the public at large as being of the same breed

Concerning the situation in Belgium, I have known the Verheyens and Mr. Chastel for many years, and believe that they and others such as Dr. LeLann share my concerns about the breed. Nevertheless, while some of the people have the right idea, and are trying to change the direction of the breed, it is also true that some of the new club members are driven by social quarrels, that is, conflicts between the Flemish and French speaking Belgians. The leadership of this new club says many of the right things, so time will tell if they can live up to their ideals or if they will become just another club with speeches about "the character of the Bouvier des Flandres" and the same old excuses about the dogs. For myself, I choose to take these old friends at their word and believe that they will indeed seek to restore the classic Belgian Bouvier and that they will make every effort to make Bouvier breeding working dog breeding.

Even in our own club, the North American Working Bouvier Association, we have fallen into the practice of conducting conformation shows and giving out trophies to dogs whose owners make no pretense of interest in work. We are in the process of correcting this, and expect to do away with the open class by the turn of the century.

I accept that the division in Belgium is not purely about work, that there are those in both clubs who believe, as do I, that the Bouvier must be a working dog. I congratulate every Belgian who works his dogs and seeks to breed according to character, regardless of which affiliation he may hold. To their credit, the Belgians require the CQN, an elementary working title, as a prerequisite to the championship.

Even though it is commendable that St. Hubert requires the CQN, the fact nevertheless remains that it is less demanding than the Schutzhund I, the minimum requirement for a German Shepherd to be bred. The CQN and the Brevet in France are at a low level relative to the more demanding sports such as the KNPV Police titles, the Belgian and French Ring and IPO. As long as every German Shepherd in the homeland must pass a more difficult test merely for her pups to be registered than the "Champions" in Belgium we will be a second rate working breed. And, of course, the Belgians are much more demanding than the Americans and Dutch who not only don't require their "Champions" to work but launch into a tirade of embarrassed excuse making whenever the subject comes up.

Unfortunately, both Belgian clubs, in a quest for popularity, seem to put larger membership above the welfare of the breed by not taking steps to restore Bouvier breeding as working dog breeding and by not telling their members that they must work and sacrifice in order to be worthy. Both clubs have members who have no understanding, are indeed incapable of understanding, working dog breeding and who will adopt the popular slogans but have no intention of modifying their breeding programs so as to produce dogs capable of serious work.

It is true that the problems of the Bouvier in Belgium can not be separated from the social and historical conflicts, that these things cast their shadow into every aspect of Belgian life. But I would urge all Belgians to give serious thought to what is being done, to ask what satisfaction there can be in gaining transient political or social advantage while the Bouvier of our founders is disappearing before our eyes. What will it mean to have the biggest and the best club for a breed which has become extinct as a working dog?

We are sometimes told that Schutzhund and IPO are not Belgian sports, and thus the Bouvier can not be expected to be proficient, or that training is not available. But in recent months, American German Shepherd enthusiasts have told me that the Belgian trainers are at this moment the best IPO and Schutzhund trainers in the world, predominating at the international championships. Last fall I had the opportunity to see for myself, of visiting the Belgian clubs where these dogs are being trained. Now I can report from personal experience that it is true. (One does wonder if a little Malinois blood is creeping into the Shepherd lines, or if the Belgians are just breeding a leaner, more athletic Shepherd.)

Is it not sad that the Belgians are becoming world famous as German Shepherd trainers, while at the same time ignoring their own Bouvier?

I am told that the new standard was promulgated in Belgium in French and English, but not in Flemish or Dutch. When I made inquiries to club officials the explanation was that French and English are the official FCI languages, and it is not necessary to publish in other languages. You do not have to be a Belgian, capable of great subtlety, to see that this is a transparent pretense, a calculated insult to the Flemish people among whom the breed arose. Incidents such as this make the desire for two clubs, or a club functionally divided along linguistic lines, understandable even for non-Belgians. Who could conceive of a standard not being published in the language of a breed's founders? Who will question that the standard for the Bouvier des Flandres should by right be written in Flemish and only then translated and promulgated?

It is not my place to tell the Belgians whether they should have one club or two, but if they are to lead, to take their rightful place as the Mother country, then they must present a stable and sensible face to the world. Although Cerebus, as three headed monster, is an effective guard for the gates of hell, experience shows that human organizations prosper only under united leadership. If the Belgians can not bring unity of purpose within their own nation, how can they lead the rest of the world? And if they will not lead, who will?

The factor which takes the turmoil in Belgium to a new high, which shatters the Bouvier world, is the exit of Justin Chastel, preeminent breeder for half a century, Bouvier club president for two decades, vice president of St Hubert - from the Belgian club.

Can this be written off as the foolishness of an old man? Mr. Chastel is in fact in his mid eighties, and has survived the ups and downs of the breed and an era of turmoil and war in Europe. To find out for myself, together with Alfons Verheyen and Caya Krijnse Locker, I made the pilgrimage to Thuin, crossed the river Sambre and spent an early afternoon in conversation with Chastel. I can report that the Bouviers de la Thudinie still flourish, are in evident robust health and better groomed than many at kennels with proprietors decades younger.

Agree with him or not, Mr. Chastelís reason for association with the new Belgian club is his belief that the existing club had abandoned effective concern for the working character of the breed. Specifically, he openly expresses the belief that the Belgian selections are virtually without credibility, in his own words "a scandal."

Many share the perception that the fundamental problem with the selection process is that the same small, well connected group, closely associated with the Bouvier inner circle, always serve as the jury.

The solution to this dilemma would seem to be quite simple. The Belgians should ask Mr. Eddy ten Grootenhuyzen, owner and trainer of perhaps the last real Bouvier in Belgium, to serve at the selection days for, say, the next ten years. Mr. ten Grootenhuyzen's dog "Itarzan" whelped in 1961 and competed at the Championship level in Belgian ring in the four years from '64 to '67. Clearly, this is a man who could bring validity and respectability to the selection process!

A little fresh air in the procedure would go a long way. Let each dog be presented by an unknown handler, and have Mr. ten Grootenhuyzen "select" only those dogs who prove worthy to stand on the field with the shadow of Itarzan. But what if no dogs could be selected? Then I say let us face the truth and do something about it rather than bury our heads in the sand.

The city of Wavre was the site of the annual Belgian conformation specialty this year, held on October 17th. Felix Grulois evaluated the males and Jean Demierbe did the females. It has never been a secret that the physical type closest to my heart is the classic Belgian Bouvier. I find that these square, athletic, lean dogs provide the physical means of implementing what the Bouvier should be as a working dog: quick rather than fleet, strong and agile rather than bulky, bred for intense, instantaneous action rather than extreme endurance. Although the products in the Dutch show ring have been impressive, they have for me always walked on the edge of too much, that is, too massive, too angulated, too sloping in the back, too big, too coarse.

Joop Pater's influence, especially in his earlier dogs, was positive in that he brought in the best of the available Belgian blood and presented more of a classic Bouvier type in the Dutch show ring. He utilized blood from Rex Keeman's "van het Lampegat" lines, which to my way of thinking produced some of the best dogs of era. (The recent inactivity of this kennel has been a great disappointment for me, for fine specimens of the "van het 'Lampegat" Bouviers could be seen in the Belgian show ring as late as the mid eighties.) In some ways, there was progress toward an international type along the historical lines, but the Dutch tendency toward massiveness, angulation and other extremes persists. Rather than having a vision of the ideal type, related to the working functionality, the Dutch judges have an unfortunate tendency to select the most impressive dogs rather than the most correct dogs.

In the ring at Wavre I saw a few examples of the classic Belgian Bouvier, and also a lot of average quality dogs out of the currently fashionable Dutch lines. My opinion is that when you look only at the "Modern Dutch" type and set aside issues of character, the Americans may over all be creeping ahead of the Dutch and the Belgians lag far behind. To my knowledge, there are only two male champions in Holland with "HD/tc" hips or better and a noticeable lack of direction. The Americans certainly have the best of the Dutch male blood lines, but have not brought in as many top females, and may not be capable of working together and producing comparable dogs. ( The stereotype of the stupid American, with more money than brains or willingness to work and learn, has unfortunately not been put entirely behind us.)

I wish that rather than following the Dutch the Belgians would reemphasize and revitalize their own classic lines, for the very simple and selfish reason that for me these dogs are the Bouvier, and I fear that they may be disappearing.

It was my privilege to present to Mr. Grulois in the open class Caya Krijnse-Locker's "Vzorro Peggy v. Caya's Home." We were rated "excellent" and placed third in this strong class, so it was a successful day from our point of view. Although Zorro was in the open class rather than the working class because he was not titled when the entry went in, he is now IPO III.

It has fascinated me that Caya and a few others can bring forth from the Dutch police lines Bouviers with the classic Belgian type. I am not quite sure how they do it, but when you look back twenty years a lot of the Belgian blood imported by Coen Semler and blended with his police lines has come down. Given this background and my belief that selecting for work will in the long run favor the Belgian type, perhaps it is not as surprising as it would at first seem.

As mentioned above, my personal preference has always been for the classic Belgian lines, especially those of Chastel. Judging from the available photographs, he had the prototype in the mid forties in Soprano de la Thudinie, and the rest of his life has been mostly spent seeking to create a line which would breed true to this prototype.

My chosen profession of engineering no doubt reflects a profound desire to understand how things work, to know why we are the way we are. For many years I have sought out every possible scrap of information on the founding dogs and the process by which the breed emerged. I have entered information on over four thousand Bouviers into the computer, recording the foundation dogs down to the first decade of this century. I have found that the genetic content of many contemporary dogs from Soprano de la Thudinie, a dog born half a century ago, is as high as twenty five percent.

For example, Soprano appears 82 times in the pedigree of Ringo de la Thudinie, with an aggregate genetic contribution of 31.6 percent. Least one think this is confined to Chastel's own lines, Soprano appears 1173 times in the pedigree of Dayan Claudia van Hagenbeek, for an aggregate genetic contribution of 20 percent.

The break down, from my computer analysis, is as follows:

Subject dog: Dayan Claudia van Hagenbeek 
Ancestor dog: Soprano de la Thudinie
Generation Count Percent 
9†††††††††† 5†††† 0.977
10†††††††† 34†††† 3.320
11††††††† 104†††† 5.078
12††††††† 184†††† 4.492
13††††††† 297†††† 3.625
14††††††† 316†††† 1.929
15††††††† 168†††† 0.513
16†††††††† 55†††† 0.084
17†††††††† 10†††† 0.008
Total††† 1173††† 20.026

This enormous focus on a few prototype dogs was not just random breeding, but to a predominant extent the direct result of relentless selection for specific attributes. This is how the breed was created, by careful selection from root stock with the desired characteristics embedded in a sea of genetic possibilities.

My purpose is not to glorify Chastel but to understand what he has created and thus the evolution of the Bouvier des Flandres. He after all survived the terrible war years and the early fifties when there was very little money or glory in Bouvier breeding, carried the torch when the motivation of necessity came from within. If he and the others associated with him over the years deserve congratulations for the maintenance of the breed, then we must know that the roots of today's problems also emanate from this same history.

Chastel and his associates succeeded in many ways, for the very survival of the Bouvier des Flandres from 1940 until 1960 is an everlasting tribute to their raw courage and devotion. But they also failed to bring in, encourage and empower a next generation of innovative breeders and strong leadership, leading to the problems in Belgium we know too well today. And while Belgium became a nation of trainers, it was the Malinois and more recently the German Shepherd which they have taken to the top. As the Belgian community more and more paid only lip service to work, custody of the actual working Bouviers went by default to the police breeders in Holland.

Perhaps the high point of my tour was the Dutch IPO III championships, held near the city of Oss on Sunday October 3, 1993. Historically, the Dutch sport was the KNPV police trials, and the Bouvier IPO or Schutzhund trials began in 1977, when Anton Tokkie won with a dog named Boris. Ria Klep won twice in the early eighties with Donar, attracting international attention. ( At this time, IPO and Schutzhund are virtually the same sport. In the past there were substantial differences, and there are indications that the two sports are again about to diverge. )

The winner this year was Carla van Duijvenbode with Bram Bowie Casa de Mandingo's, daughter of the well known working competitor Marschel v. d. Stadt Homberg. This female is truly an energetic, strong, anxious to work competitor, an excellent Bouvier by any standard rather than "good for a bitch." (Carla tells me that several pups from an upcoming litter are coming to America, so perhaps we will be able to see for ourselves.)

Although Carla's bitch was clearly the predominant competitor this day, my opinion is that six or seven of the fifteen Bouviers present have the potential to become top level working dogs if their owners are persistent in their training. All in all, an impressive group of dogs by any standard.

The problem, besides the fact that these dogs really have nothing in common with those behind the numbers in Hilversum, is that the working lines are so narrow. Three of the dogs were littermates: Charles Dufornee's Buddy Sandy v Nunc aut Nunquam and two others. The Dutch IPO lines are still heavily dependent on the diminishing KNPV gene pool, and whether they can carry on if the police dogs continue to decline is open to question.

In a lot of ways, the Dutch have been on top of the Bouvier world. Until a few years ago, one might see six hundred dogs at the club match in Hilversum, the police Bouviers were truly respectable in the KNPV trials, American and later the Belgian breeding has been based on Dutch lines and the only real question was how much money an American or Canadian would pay for the next Champion of Holland.

But there were underlying problems, best illustrated by the neophyte American who, having been impressed by the show dogs at Hilversum, asked directions to the fall IPO working championship. He of course came back with a puzzled expression, for although he was sure he followed the directions exactly there were no Bouviers to be seen at the appointed place. It was true that there was a whole group of lean, black, athletic dogs with relatively short coats, which he spent several hours watching work. But, not being able to speak Dutch, he could not ask what breed they were or where the Bouviers were. And none of the show breeders who assured him that their Bouviers could work too if they just had the time were there, so these marvelous black working dogs could not be the Bouviers.

One week after the Dutch championship, we were in Germany for the "Deutsche Meisterschaft fur Bouvier des Flandres", that is, the annual Bouvier working championship. This event began in 1980 when Egon Herrman won with Fido von der Stadt Homberg. This set the precedent, for in the eighties one of Willie Reisloh's von der Stadt Homberg dogs won five times, with Hans Brust and Golf, who had been in America for our first working championship in Missouri, winning twice and Herman Rolke winning twice with Marschel von der Stadt Homberg.

Marschel has been very influential as a stud dog, for his progeny include:

Cayenne v d Pappelranch SchH III
††††††††††† German Championship Winner

Banjo vom Schwarzen Baren SchH III
††††††††††† NAWBA winner

Bram Bowie Casa de Mandingo's IPO III
††††††††††† Two time Dutch Champion

Ben v Sosegrund SchH III
††††††††††† Four Time German Champion

This year's winner, for the fourth time in a row, was Udo Funke with Ben v Sosegrund. This is of course an excellent record for this team. But, unfortunately, I must report that beyond this dog, Cayenne v d Pappelranch and one or two others the quality of the dogs was not championship level. This was a great disappointment for me, for ten years ago the Germans were an emerging presence, a force to be reckoned with. But today their blood lines are very thin, and when these great old dogs are gone, who will replace them?

The German club originally emulated the methods that have been so successful for the German Shepherds, that is, instituted rigorous character and conformation tests for breeding eligibility. Unfortunately, those who wanted to import Dutch show dogs and crank out "winners" just started another club, upheld in the German courts, and then another. The Dutch working people remark "the Germans have the rules and the program, but we have the dogs" and there is a lot of truth in this. The Shepherd people did not just make up their rigorous rules out of thin air, but rather gradually tightened up over eighty years. The Germans need to adapt a realistic set of rules, breed the dogs that work and worry about details like a missing tooth, a slightly out bite or marginal hips when the working lines are solid and vigorous again. I believe that not being able to see the forest for the trees is an epidemic disease in Germany at this moment.

One of the great mysteries of the European Bouvier world is that the vast majority of enthusiasts never venture beyond their own country to see what their neighbors are up to. Although I incessantly ask, I have never met a Dutchman who has seen a Belgian Ring trial or a Belgian who has actually bothered to drive forty five minutes or an hour to see a Dutch police trial. Everyone in Belgium has an opinion on how the CQN compares to IPO, but very few seem to have ever actually seen the sport. On my trip, every event had its own cast of characters and audience. I can't remember seeing a single Belgian or German at the Dutch IPO championship, and only a handful of Dutch people and a small group from France were present in Germany.

After watching many famous ( and infamous ) people judge the Bouvier over the years, one man stands out: Jean du Mont. To my way of thinking, he consistently takes the presented dogs and holds them to the classic Belgian gauge, with no apparent concern about current fashion or what other judges are selecting. If every judge consistently selected as does Mr. du Mont, the Bouvier world would be in much better shape than it is today.

From the beginning, the manner of selecting judges in the two nations has been a matter of controversy. In Belgium, there has over the years always been about ten judges. At one point, these included Chastel, his wife, Grulois, his brother and others closely associated. These men and women were also the club officers and made the "selections," so it was (and is) a tight little world with the old guard in firm control. The problem with this is that newcomers with fresh ideas and energy were effectively locked out unless they won the favor of the establishment, thus leading to declining numbers and a lack of initiative and progress.

In Holland, on the other hand, while the numbers have been about the same, only a few judges have been close to the Bouvier community. The Dutch claim that this is a much more fair and open system, and, indeed, it has been possible for newcomers, such as Joop Pater or Coen Semler, to quickly rise to the top and become influential. The problem with the Dutch approach, and in North America as well, is that the judges become followers and subject to manipulation rather than conservators of type and tradition. In either nation, if enough people show enough dogs long enough with a particular characteristic, the judges come to believe that it must be correct and begin to place the dogs. This can lead to rapid and foolish changes in the effective standard, as evidenced by the fact that the Dutch judges were led by the nose into placing virtually white dogs. If white coats are possible, can pink noses, excessive angulation and judging by the pound be far behind?

After my European journey, and a few months for reflection, my conclusion is that the leadership and the enthusiasts in each nation must face and answer one simple question: Is the Bouvier des Flandres a working dog?

Let those honest enough to say no go their own way, conduct their own affairs and live in peace. Let them indicate their allegiance by calling their dogs something besides "Bouviers des Flandres" and let them prosper, producing generation upon generation of "show champions."

Those who answer yes must expect to be judged by this standard, and it is these people I must now address:

In Belgium, those whose loyalties remain with the original club either need to adopt the name "Belgische Club Belge Bouvier des Boudoir" or do something about the state to which it has descended. If this club is to be worthy to be considered as the mother club, they must conduct working events on the scale of their conformation events, give trophies only to dogs of proven working character and restore credibility to the selection process.

To the members of the new club, I say that tearing down is easier than building up, that even if you win in some political sense ultimately you will be judged by the state of the Bouvier des Flandres in Belgium. You need to seek reconciliation, at least a cooperative working relationship, with the other group and must make and implement plans for the restoration of the classic Belgian Bouvier and thus reclaim your heritage. You must put the Bouvier des Flandres first and defer the resolution of Belgian social problems to other arenas.

In the Netherlands, every true lover of the Bouvier must rejoice at the declining numbers, for the followers of fashion and seekers of money will go on to the next popular breed and those remaining can perhaps find a way to close the decades old gap between the police lines and the show lines. Your betrayal by the Raad van Beheer in the ear cropping matter should serve as a warning, for such people will deny the working heritage when it becomes convenient or expedient.

Coen Semler is for me the essence, the symbol, of the Bouvier des Flandres in Holland. For decades he was the quintessential police dog trainer, producing title after title and through his breeding putting his personal stamp on police blood lines to this day. And in the seventies he redefined the Bouvier in the show ring, melding the Belgian lines of Chastel with the native stock to conquer the show world. Yet he did not live to bring the two traditions together.

So the challenge to the Dutch is to finish the work of Semler, to restore and invigorate the police lines and meld them with the show stock. This will of course require a reexamination of what the Bouvier structure should be and a movement back to the agile, powerful, square, athletic dogs of the founders.

In every nation, Germany and Holland as well as Belgium, the same questions beg to be answered. Where is the leadership and example? Is no one sufficient in courage to lead, to start by openly telling the truth to their fellow enthusiasts? Where are the breeders and owners who care more about the Bouvier, the heritage and the dogs, than meaningless trophies, second rate "championships" and selling puppies?

The leadership of the Bouvier community, the men who have served as president or held high office in our national clubs -- Henk Harmers, Andre LeLann, Peter Van Leeuwen, John DuMont, Leo Goyvaerts, Erik Houttuin and others -- are wonderful human beings. They are without exception intelligent, concerned and dedicated. It is a privilege to have any one of them as a friend, associate or dinner companion. Each has contributed enormously, has many times put the good of the breed above personal ambition.

But they are not what the Bouvier des Flandres needs today. Among the most powerful passages in the Bible is Jesus Christ driving the money changers out of the temple, offended that his father's house could be thus defiled. Most of the time the world needs leadership of peace and reason, leaders who do not over react and turn every bump in the road into a crisis. But there is also a time for anger.

Today the Bouvier needs angry leaders, angry that we are dissipating our heritage, angry that the American Kennel Club repudiates work, angry that the Raad van Beheer betrays the Bouvier community on the ear cropping issue, angry that the serious Belgian trainers can not today look to the Bouvier des Flandres.

What we need today is revolution, and every revolution starts with men and women angry enough to give up comfort, tranquillity and stability to overthrow the established order. We must be willing to suffer any consequence, to look failure in the eye and prefer defeat to passive acceptance of whatever the rest of the world -- the AKC, the Raad van Beheer, the show only breeders -- might choose for our Bouvier.

Finally, I must address my fellow working enthusiasts. What I find is that everyone has plans for failure, a Malinois in the end run and sad tales of how difficult our situation is. Some people tell me they are only trainers, it is not their fault that there are no Bouviers to train, blame the breeders. Others tell me how powerless we are in the face of the Raad van Beheer and the AKC. Everyone loves to sit around after training and drink beer, wring their hands and bemoan the fate of the Bouvier. Even I must confess to thoughts of a Giant Schnauzer or a German Shepherd if the Bouvier finally slips away.

A big part of the problem is lack of contact and communication. Individually we are all isolated in a sea of Malinois or Shepherd trainers on the one hand or show breeders who talk about "the character of the Bouvier des Flandres" and demonstrate by their breeding that they know nothing of it. Although we are few in number, we have the resources, both in dogs and in people, to succeed if only we would find a way to support one another and work together. Ten believers in Belgium, ten in France, twenty in the Netherlands, a few in Germany and similar numbers in America would be enough to succeed if we were organized and had faith in each other as well as ourselves.

I believe that we over estimate the power and influence of the "show breeders" and their organizations, that what they have built is a house of cards which would fall in the face of a serious working Bouvier movement. I see it for myself in the German Shepherds in America, where the "show dogs" are becoming recognized as another and inferior breed in the face of the good German working lines properly breed and promoted.

There is nothing standing in the way of those who believe in the Bouvier as a working dog except our lack of real commitment, of confidence. We can succeed if we will pay the price in terms of work, dedication and courage. The dogs, in spite of neglect, are still there. The heritage, neglected and abused, is still there. We can succeed. So if we fail each of us must share responsibility for the loss of the Bouvier des Flandres. And if we do fail, and if there is an afterlife, a place such as heaven where all the souls that ever existed will be reunited, what will we say to the founders?

Jim Engel, Marengo    © Copyright 1993

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