The pandemic may have hampered the Metro’s annual dog show, but in doing so it has also given him virtual legs to ‘cross’ the world
— The Madras Canine Club dog show can’t be divorced from the warp and weft – if you’ll pardon the pun – of underground social life in January. Along with the Marghazhi music season and book fair, he formed a trio of engagements that made January shine with pride as he sat alongside his 11 cousins on Chennai’s social and cultural calendar. . The Madras Canine Club dog show had a particularly broad appeal, which extended beyond the fraternity of show dogs to even dog lovers eating from their paws. It was a day out for the whole family – and often just one dog lover in the family could manage to organize a family get-together with dogs. It was a photo op – in the age of selfie-enabled cellphones, that equals a truckload of memories. Now the question is: in these times of pandemic, in all areas, efforts have been made to keep the faithful engaged, virtually. How can you fit an entire dog show – with hundreds of dogs of varying sizes, and thousands of spectators, dozens of judges – on a six-inch screen?
When Siddhartha Sudarsan and Jaisimha KB considered engaging with regulars online, the idea of a virtual dog show didn’t even reach the furthest recesses of their minds.
Siddharatha, honorary secretary of the Madras Canine Club, remarks that beyond the logistics, it would be an experience disaster. Dogs are judged on a variety of factors, some of which – such as sociability and obedience – would only come into play in a lively, thrilling environment. Additionally, for viewers, the true sensory experience of watching a dog in action from a few feet away cannot be replicated.
The duo decided to connect with the community through a matrix of online knowledge-sharing sessions. “The pandemic has opened up a new avenue for content delivery,” notes Siddhartha. It would have been a shame to close this path to fellowship, not least because the scope of canid knowledge sharing is as vast as the globe itself. Geographic boundaries having collapsed, if they spoke to the right resource people, they could show off ‘n’ number of dog breeds.
“Our first session – April 18, 2020 – focused on common behavioral issues with dogs and it was handled by canine behavior specialist Manjunath from Bengaluru. It was the only program we did on the Instagram beach run by the Madras Canine Club; all the others would be on the Club’s Facebook page,” says Siddhartha.
Madras Canine Club committee member Jaisimha adds that the sessions, which have been recorded, are also freely available to everyone on the Club’s YouTube channel.
“Our end goal was to reach the common man who didn’t know dogs but wanted to start somewhere. New breeds not seen in India would be something very different for them. We also featured many breeds regularly However, somewhere along the line, we decided not to just focus on breeds and instead moved towards a comprehensive dog offering that included how to care for them, i.e. say for any dog,” says Siddhartha.
The race focus was an eclectic offering, and the duo seem to have scoured every nook and cranny for experts on the subject.
“We had a session with Australian Shepherd breeder Judy Flynn Vandersteen from the United States. One of the top Australian Shepherd breeders, Judy had exported a dog to Australia, which won Best in Show at Sydney Royale, one of Australia’s top shows, with over 4000 dogs taking part. The presentation of the Jack Russell Terrier was extremely detailed: the contact person, Dr. Candice Lundin, is a veterinarian and one of the first people to have the Jack Russell Terrier correctly recognized by the American Kennel Club. She did a lot of defining work in terms of standardizing the breed,” says Jaisimha.
“The Border Collie session – hosted by Heather Turner, one of the UK’s top breeders – explained how this breed evolved, with differences defined by where a border collie was bred and how they were all merged in. We had a session with Vicky Collins-Nattass, who is credited with helping to organize a day called Bull Dog Day in the UK, and has created tremendous awareness of breed standards. She explained why a bull dog shouldn’t be too heavy – too heavy isn’t too good.
When can we expect the dog show?
- Somewhere in 2021, at a time when the third wave was still in the speculation zone, did the Madras Canine Club come up with the idea of having an in-person dog show in January 2022?
- Madras Canine Club committee member Jaishima KB has this to say: “We had a calendar ready for the first week of January, and then we all made a careful decision as a committee that we were going to postpone it. If we were to have the show in January, we should notify the Kennel Club of India, three months in advance, as it is to be published in the Indian Kennel Gazette. We did all the planning and in October we asked for the dates and they were assigned. And then, as a committee, we got together and discussed the pros and cons of moving forward with the plan. We wondered if we were going to allow spectators to attend the event, and how would we ensure the safety of spectators and exhibitors, and how would we enforce all regulations. Looking at these things, we have decided to postpone, not cancel the event, and see if we can hold it in September 2022. At the time, the third wave was a matter of speculation. But we’re not taking any chances – and finally, the third wave has arrived.
- Most likely, our event should take place around September.
The duo note that the sessions on Popular Breeds in India from Top Expert Drawer ensured enthusiastic attendance. Jaisimha remarks that these sessions have helped to demystify notions around certain races; one of which concerns “the Siberian Woolly Husky, which is often touted as a desired rarity, whereas a Siberian Woolly Husky is a departure from the breed standard, because it is the wrong type of coat for the Siberian husky”.
“When it comes to pugs, we called on Jenny Whitney, an Australian breeder, who was able to debunk the misconceptions that have accumulated around popular understanding of the breed. There is the notion that the black color is unique – which is not a fact – it all depends on the predisposition of the breeder to bring two specific colors”, explains Jaisimha.
Siddhartha adds: “A session on German Shepherds by Sanjit Mohanty (who has the prestigious Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde — in short, the SV certification from Germany turned out to be a monster session, which lasted two to two and a half hours. Usually, a session lasted an hour or an hour and a half. There was also a session on the Dobberman, hosted by Tammy Rabold of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America.
Siddhartha draws attention to the number of veterinarians and canine care specialists who came on the scene as the initiative broadened its approach.
Jaisimha highlights this side of exercise: “Speaking of nutrition for dogs, Charley Gray from the UK was able to give an overview of naturally available food – it’s called Bone And Raw Food (BARF) – for dogs. There is a school of thought that, as descendants of the wolf, dogs should be able to digest naturally available foods. It has provided a lot of information on how this food can be personalized and made more beneficial to the dog How to manage food allergies How to exercise caution about BARF itself, being very careful about naturally available food that is given to dogs For example, grapes cannot be given to dogs – few people know this and they persist in their ignorance We contacted doctors who could answer a variety of dog lovers’ concerns about their a Pets: We called in GP Dr. Catherine Rebecca, then Dr. Nagarajan, skin specialist, who retired from veterinary college, having served as HOD of her dermatology department.
He observes how these sessions on veterinary medicine made the initiative more inclusive, as it was relevant to anyone lovingly attached to any dog.