Canaan dog owners preserve ancient breed

David Golden showing Canaan Dog Anni at the Kennel Club of Philadelphia National Dog Show | Photos of Sasha Rogelberg

In the 2000 film “Best in Show ”, five dogs and their eccentric owners take part in the Mayflower Kennel Club’s fictional dog show at the Beyman Center in Philadelphia. The pairs of participants run the gamut of personalities: campy to yuppie, silly to intense. And each of their respective dogs is equally demanding and colorful.

Although conceived as a light film, “Best in Show” is less satire and more imitation.

“It’s not a comedy; it’s a documentary, ”said David Golden.

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Like “Best in Show” stars Eugene Levy and Christopher Guest, Golden was a Jew looking for his dog to win the Best in Show, but not at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show, but at the Kennel Club’s National Dog Show. Philadelphia at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, which took place November 20-21.

Much like their owner, Golden’s dogs share a Jewish background, which originated in Israel centuries ago.

Golden is a member of the Canaan Dog Club of America, championing the Canaan Dog, an ancient breed first seen in 9,000-year-old wall sculptures in Ashkelon, Israel, depicted wearing leashes held by hunters.

In centuries past, Canaan dogs herded livestock in Bedouin villages and some dogs were domesticated. In the 1930s, a group of dog trainers immigrated to what has become Israel, seeking to domesticate a breed for general military use in the IDF prototype.

With large, low ears and a flexible, white body spotted with black or tan, the Canaan Hound fits the bill of a devoted protector who could easily camouflage himself in his desert environment.

In the 1960s, Austrian canine experts Rudolph and Rudolphina Menzel brought the Canaan dog to the United States, where they were re-domesticated. However, they remain similar to the likeness of their ancestors.

Golden, who has traveled the world and developed a taste for naturally evolved dogs, has owned Canaan dogs for almost 30 years, increasingly interested in showing them nationally.

He is no exception to host distinctive dog owners at the National Dog Show, donning a full suit and cashmere tie for the weekend competition, with a cooked and seasoned chicken breast tucked away in his pocket. his jacket, which he discreetly fed bites of his dogs Avi and Anni.

Avi has participated in dog shows for six of his seven years of life, winning the Best in Breed award at the National Dog Show five years in a row. As noted in a 2017 Jewish Exponent article, Avi not only won the Best of Breed award that year, but placed third among the sheepdogs in the competition.

Avi is a medium sized dog with long ears and a muzzle.  He is predominantly white with black markings on his back, ears, and neck.  He sits at a grooming table looking away from the camera.
Canaan Dog Avi has received the Best of Breed Award for five consecutive years, but this year lost to his niece Estee.

The breed competition on November 20 was a family affair. Along with Avi and his sister Anni, two other Canaan dogs participated in the show: Anni’s two descendants, both of whom have different owners.

Having only four dogs in the ring for the Best of Breed competition is rare. Of the 195 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, the Canaan Dog is the 184th most popular, losing to dogs such as the Australian Shepherd, which were more recently developed rather than naturally evolved.

But dogs have a small but loyal following.

Thomas Cassel of Collingswood, New Jersey, rescued two Canaan dogs this year after a breeder died. He hopes to start showing his dogs when they are older after learning more about the show process from Golden.

“I didn’t just save a dog; I joined the community, ”Cassel said.

Besides Cassel’s interest in the breed’s appearance, his Jewish identity was taken into account in his connection to the Canaan dogs.

“I started reading about the story, and it’s just an amazing story,” he said.

Jews have a slightly disproportionate interest in the race, Golden said. Prior to coming to Philadelphia, Golden was in Tucson, Arizona to attend the annual National Canaan Dogs Show. Of the 20 Canaan dogs present, about a quarter of their owners were Jewish.

And in true Jewish fashion, Golden, who attends around 100 shows each year, is adamant about preserving the breed and what makes it unique – L’dor v’dor.

“This is it,” Golden said. “All the dogs here are special, but that’s it.”

On the morning of November 20 during the Best of Breed Judging, Avi and Anni lost to Estee, Anni’s seven month old offspring. Standing next to Avi on the post-judgment grooming table, Golden stroked Avi’s long ears up to his neck, kissing the dog’s forehead.

“I’m disappointed,” Golden said of Avi’s broken winning streak.

Still, Golden doesn’t count himself or his Canaan losers. After all, his dog bred the winner of the competition, the next generation of Canaan Dogs to compete: “It’s kind of a passing of the torch.

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