2011-03-16 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

The search for Sensation Continues: It’s a good thing dogs can’t read. Celebrity canines have never been able to escape poison pen criticism. Over a century ago, the dog scribes had a field day with the champion Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) Pointers residing in Babylon. “Sensation” and his Pointer successors were the targets of scathing attacks, especially at the quill of “Porcupine,” the pen name James Watson used.

Born in Scotland, Watson (1845-1915) was a formative figure in America’s fledgling sport of purebred dogs. He was a journalist, breeder, show judge and a founder of the American Kennel Club. He influenced many breeds, especially Collies and Cockers. He brought the first Irish Terrier to the U.S., and is responsible for giving the Boston Terrier breed its name. Watson’s 1912 volume The Dog Book became a quintessential work of dog history. Thus, he was a critic to be reckoned with.


Does Bang Bang’s tail really look “faked?” Does Bang Bang’s tail really look “faked?” As mentioned in Pets many times, “Sensation,” still the WKC trademark, died in 1887 at age 13 and was buried under the flagpole in front WKC clubhouse on the west side of Southards Pond in Babylon Village, precise spot yet to be confirmed, even though I can feel in my bones where his bones are.

As late as 1885, Westminster was still exhibiting senior Sensation in dog shows, and as late as 1886 there was a litter in Babylon sired by the old fellow. Sensation’s win at an 1885 show in Boston caused quite a scandal, stirred up by Porcupine.

At the time, the American Kennel Club (better known as “AKC”-formed after WKC under the auspices of WKC) was new; regional kennel clubs were constantly changing and rules were still being ironed out. In the April 22, 1885 edition of Sporting Life, Porcupine wrote that Sensation should never have been entered in the champion class because he did not have three prerequisite first places from clubs belonging to the AKC. He insisted that WKC return Sensation’s ill gotten prize. Westminster seemed to ignore him.

His biting remarks then spread to “Bang Bang,” one of the up-and-coming Pointers at the Babylon kennel. Take a look at the rebuttal to Porcupine written by James Mortimer, also born in the British Isles, superintendent of the WKC Babylon kennels and superintendent much longer at the WKC dog show, until his death the same year as Watson (1915). His letter titled “Mr. Mortimer Makes a Denial” in the July 8, 1885 edition of Sporting Life reads:

“Westminster Kennel Club, Babylon, LI, June 25- Editor Sporting Life- Dear Sir: Will you permit to say in refutation of the statements made by your correspondent “Porcupine” in your last issue that the WKC’s pointer Bang Bang…was not “snatched out of the hands of an attendant and dragged from the ring, ” that Bang Bang’s tail was not “faked”, but there was a bare spot on the upper side of it caused by the braided edge of the blanket he wore during the winter; that Bang Bang is not, nor has he been, suffering from mange or any other ailment since his return from the Field Trials last fall; that since I have been connected with the WKC since December 16, 1884 to the present date, the dog has been in perfect health, with an exception of an overheating of the blood at the Philadelphia Kennel Club show at which time he weighed 54 pounds, and was a trifle above himself in condition, and since the above date, not one drop of mange cure or any other preparation has been used, either externally or internally, for his benefit. He is today in the most perfect health and condition.

Will you be kind enough to give this explanation as much publicity as you have the willful misstatements of your mysterious and misguided contributor?... Jas. L. Mortimer, Supt. W. K. C.”

The jousting continued. These were two esteemed dog men. In the July 15th edition, Watson (Porcupine) disputes Mortimer’s assertion of Bang Bang’s fine shape. He adds comments from the show judges, and then says that perfect health was a “stretch of the imagination” because he heard (hearsay?) that mange and blood purifier meds were used on the dog. He declares Bang Bang’s “blood was in a fearful state.” Huh? This sparring was par for the day. In one sentence they would be calling each other “gentlemen;” in the next outright “liars.”

[In defense of Mortimer, I have mentioned in past Pets that other writers of the time praised his kennel skills, complimenting that even though the WKC kennels had up to 200 dogs, all were free of ailments and the scourge of mange. In 1899 Mortimer revealed his back-up remedy in a pharmaceutical paper where his secret WKC cure for mange was detailed. One of the ingredients was genuine whale oil, not the “cheap” stuff.]

The insults didn’t end. You aren’t supposed to mess with Mother Nature before a short-haired breed like a Pointer enters the show ring. No haircuts or trims are allowed. Watson insisted Bang Bang’s tail was not a blanket blemish but “faked” via a botched shaving job, citing an earlier Field Trial where a nameless gentleman noticed Bang Bang had a fluffy Setterstyle tail-bad news for a Pointer. Porcupine quipped that “possibly he rubbed his tail on the sides of the baggage car, or perhaps the cat had been licking it.” Ouch- that sarcasm stings. Poor Bang Bang.

For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Sweet “Trixie” #93345 is joining the “St. Pitties’ Day” party. Hope it is OK to borrow the name of Brookhaven Shelter’s clever adoption promotion. “Trixie” has been at the shelter since June, but her feline counterpart “Claudius” #20281 has her beat. He’s been waiting since May.

Male: “Ciggy” #93919-handsome Chow/Shepherd; “Marley” #93920-Lab/Border Collie; “Valentino” #93877-Akita mix pup.

Female: lovely American Bulldog #93929; “Bernice” #93851- Lab/Sharpei; “Lydia”- another St. Pitty.

** Please join the Friends of Babylon Animal Shelter on Facebook.

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