Wide World Of Whippets

Wide World of Whippets
Hunt Country Hosts Sixth International Whippet Congress

From the May 2018 issue of ShowSight. CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE.

Hunt Valley, Maryland, was the site of the most recent International Whippet Congress, hosted by the American Whippet Club. Held on April 23, 2018, the symposium was the sixth such event organized for the express purpose of bringing fanciers together from around the world to celebrate and study all things Whippet. This year’s event coincided with the AWC’s National Specialty that also offered ASFA and AKC Lure Coursing, Agility Trials, CGC Testing, Obedience and Rally. A host of Conformation events were offered as well, including Triathlon and Versatility, and Top Twenty competitions. AWC President and Congress Chair Harold “Red” Tatro III welcomed attendees and introduced the US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps that ensured everyone was awake through several rousing renditions that honored battles fought and won by General George Washington’s Continental Army.

Immediately following the revelry, the first of seven sessions got underway. “Balance and Proportions: Mentoring for the Future” was presented by Karen Lee who discussed the importance of getting young people—millennials specifically—interested in purebred dogs. She offered a bit of advice: When talking to teens and twenty–somethings, we should not talk in negative terms and we shouldn’t use horse terms either. (Unless our audience has a background in horses, presumably!) Karen noted that this “old school” approach falls on deaf ears with today’s younger dog lovers. Her understanding of this demographic began through an online message board called Whippet World where breed supporters of all kinds gathered to talk about Whippets. It was through this forum that Karen also came to realize that a drawing of the Whippet—showing ideal balance and proportion—did not formally exist. Through “conversations” with fanciers all over the world, she was compelled to provide such an image. In her presentation, 
Karen introduced the illustration that’s featured by the club’s new Illustrated Standard. She used this (and other illustrations and photos) to compare the Whippet’s silhouette with both the Greyhound and the Italian Greyhound, emphasizing the differences that make each breed unique. Karen also used a live dog as a model to demonstrate the importance of overall balance as well as how to determine angulation. The presentation concluded by acknowledging the risk of going to extremes with the breed’s signature silhouette. “When are your dogs too extreme and how do you know when you are there,” 
Karen asked?

The next speaker was James E. Radcliffe, DVM whose presentation on canine sports medicine utilized a series of memorable—if graphic—images. Dr. Radcliffe began by referencing that although form follows function, injury does as well. His use of photos of Sighthounds taken just moments before catastrophe struck allowed the audience to understand the risks that are inherent with performance events. Dr. Radcliffe used graphic photos to demonstrate the kinds of injuries that can occur on the field and the methods used to determine the extent of an injury and the best methods for treatment. He mentioned a digital thermal imaging camera that’s especially useful to quantify surgical results. In the dog, everything begins at the feet and works upwards, he emphasized. Every part of the anatomy is connected and interrelated. Dr. Radcliffe emphasized that the whole dog needs to be treated following an orthopedic injury. “If a dog is lame, then it’s a complex problem for the entire body,” he noted. Due to the Whippet’s double suspension gallop, the breed knows how to “fly” and Dr. Radcliffe said that this extreme locomotion creates a problem during landing. “The flying is the easy part,” he joked. “It’s amazing that any dog can race more than once.” Dr. Radcliffe made it clear that performance science is not an exact science and he indicated that 100% recovery does not happen. Every recovery is considered catastrophic. Dr. Radcliffe also emphasized that when it comes to Sighthounds, the appropriate anesthesia is critical. It is the owner’s responsibility to ask questions when dealing with treatment for 
any injury.

Russell McFadden next moderated “Whippets Worldwide—International Panel Discussion.” He introduced noted breed authorities from the UK, Europe, North America and Australia who offered their opinions on the various breed standards. Britain’s Pauline Oliver referenced the differences between the UK, AKC, and FCI standards, noting when each was most recently revised. She said that she did not intend to criticize the standards, but only intended to highlight the notable differences in terms of color, height, shoulders, eyes and disqualifying faults. Pauline said that when she judges abroad, she requests a copy of the breed standard and relies heavily on her stewards, translators and scribes to be sure that she stays on point with regards to the standard. Pauline became visibly emotional when she mentioned her judging assignment at the 2015 American Whippet Club. “I’m quite American,” she said holding back tears. Pauline concluded her presentation with a few photos of notable winners in Russia, Finland, New Zealand and America. Australian Molly Rule–Steele followed by sharing photos of dogs that she liked from Sweden and the UK. She reminded the audience that the Whippet was recognized in 1891 and that the first standard was approved in 1904. The original standard, she noted, mentioned an ideal weight for the breed, but excluded height. It also did not reference the breed’s overall make or color. Molly talked about breed hallmarks and mentioned that these are “purely for function” and not cosmetic. She compared the various standards and noted differences in the requirements for head, skull, eyes, bite and feet. “Everybody agrees on ears,” she pointed out. Next up to speak was Thomas Münch of Germany who filled–in for Swede Magnus Hagstedt. Thomas talked about how judging and showing Whippets differs from other breeds, but not from the other Sighthound breeds. He pointed out that when judging Sighthounds, 
gentleness is a prerequisite. If this proves difficult, he suggested that judges find other breeds to evaluate. Thomas said that judging one’s own breed is a great responsibility and warned that good dogs can be shown by the “wrong” people. Regarding fault judging, he warned against judging unfavorably. “Judging is about forgiving,” he confided. About professional handlers, he noted that there are very few in Europe and in the UK. However, where they do exist the bar for the presentation of show dogs is raised considerably. Thomas questioned the degree to which the sport influences society and he reminded attendees that competitiveness should never overrule the dogs’ welfare. He also posited several questions worthy of consideration by all exhibitors. Should Whippets [in the ring] be beggars? Is it preferable to move with a lower and longer stride? Is curvier better? Thomas then mentioned dogs from the US, UK, South Africa, Australia and Sweden that were his favorites. Thomas suggested that based on the dogs mentioned, the clichés that exist within the breed about American-type versus English–type are unreliable. Most, he noted, have international pedigrees based on British and American lines. The panel discussion concluded with Bo Bengtson’s review of Whippet popularity around the world. Bo provided statistics on breed entries in the US noting that the largest exhibition of Whippets at an AWC National was 597 in 2004. (He suggested the actual total of entries at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Specialty was likely 10–20% higher.) Entries at regionals, he said, rarely reach the 100–dog mark today. By contrast, Bo pointed out that in the UK, entries at Crufts can be among the largest for any breed. At this year’s show, 414 Whippets were entered. Bo also presented registration figures for the breed around the world using figures from 2016. The breed ranked #60 in the US with 1,279 AKC registrations that year. By contrast, the breed ranked #16 in the UK with 3,218 registrations. France saw 1,386 entries for the same year, and Germany’s registrations totaled 637 for the country’s many breed clubs. Bo concluded by mentioning the breed’s increasing popularity in Russia, Japan and Brazil. He also noted that Whippets have become popular in unexpected places such 
as Serbia.

The next speaker at the International Whippet Congress was Susanne Hughes, DVM who presented her team’s work on the study of deafness in the breed. Her findings from 1,853 Whippets tested reveals that 98.6 percent of both conformation and race–bred Whippets have a normal hearing function. Of those affected animals, deafness may be unilateral or bilateral and the causes can be congenital or chronic. Late–onset deafness, she noted, can be either 
age-related or hereditary. Dr. Hughes said that late–onset deafness may be caused by infection, tumors or polyps, among other causes. However, it can also be congenital in specific breeds. Dr. Hughes’ work with Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) Testing has proved reliable in identifying deafness in Whippets as young as 3–4 weeks of age. She reviewed several types of deafness including Cochleosaccular Degeneration (associated with the recessive alleles of the spotting pattern gene) and Neural Epithelial which is not pigment associated. Dr. Hughes noted that at this time, the inheritability of deafness is not fully understood. Breeder Phoebe Booth next presented photos of her family of dogs to point out that when it comes to deafness in Whippets, color alone cannot be used to reliably determine a predilection for hearing loss. She encouraged breeders who suspect deafness in their lines to test entire litters at seven weeks of age. Phoebe said that BAER testing her litters has proven to be a reliable tool toward understanding the inheritability of hearing loss in the breed.

The Whippet Cardiac Health Project has been gathering data for more than a decade and Rebecca Stepien, DVM, ACVIM presented her team’s findings to the rapt audience. Dr. Stepien’s presentation consisted of both audio and videos of echocardiograms to elucidate various heart murmurs, Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). She said that moderate to severe heart disease may be identified by auscultation with a stethoscope, but mild to moderate conditions are determined through echocardiogram. Dr. Stepien spoke about heart murmurs due to valve disease and said that murmurs are defined as either innocent, athletic or ejection. MVD and DCM, she indicated, are progressive diseases with clinical signs that include coughing and fatigue. Her study’s findings indicate that heart disease is not at all uncommon in Whippets. Only seven percent of animals tested were free and clear of heart murmers. This figure may seem surprising given the breed’s longevity and athleticism. However, Dr. Stepien spoke about the role diet may play in the prevalence of heart disease. She said that if DCM is suspected, a whole blood taurine test should be conducted since decreased taurine levels are suspected of playing a role in 
the disease.

Lisa Costello DVM MS gave a presentation next on the Whippet Health Foundation Database that, unfortunately, I could not attend. However, the foundation’s website provides a concise introduction to its mission: “The Whippet Health Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit charitable Corporation formed to provide financial and other support for individuals and organizations focusing their charitable, educational and research efforts on dogs in general and the Whippet in particular.” The Foundation’s objective is to further 
understanding and support research of diseases, genetic anomalies, injuries and other ailments. The database has been established for the benefit of the general public as well as for Whippet fanciers worldwide. At this year’s AWC National, the Foundation conducted several health clinics including BAER testing and cardiac echocardiograms. OFA Eye Certification was also available as was AKC DNA testing 
and microchipping.

The final presentation given at the sixth International Whippet Congress was a return appearance by Bo Bengtson whose presentation titled, “More Than a Century of Whippets,” provided a visual delight for both art lovers and Whippet fanciers. Bo’s extensive work included 163 images that kept 
the audience spellbound. Beginning with medieval tapestries and 18th and 19th–century paintings, Bo took everyone on a journey through time to meet the dogs and people who’ve played significant roles in the breed’s promotion and preservation. He presented images of early racing Whippets, Zuber (the breed’s first UK champion), and his influential son, Enterprise. From England to America—and back–and–forth again—Bo introduced images of the most acclaimed Whippets from both sides of the Atlantic. There were dogs from the Tiptree Kennels in England and the Dondelayo dogs in America. Bo mentioned that taller British dogs were frequently sent to the US where their size did not impede show ring success. The dogs of Meander, Stoney Meadows, Flornell, Mardormere and Pennyworth also made an appearance. Bo’s comprehensive presentation demonstrated that although British and American breeders dominated the Whippet world during the 20th century, this is not necessarily the case today. Breeders in Sweden, Australia, South Africa, France, Canada, Finland, Belgium, Italy, Poland, Ireland, Argentina and throughout Asia are producing an international collective of Whippets today.

The next time fanciers from these and other parts around the globe gather together for an International Whippet Congress will be in 2022 at Garda Lake in the Northern Italian province of Brescia, in Lombardy. Non vediamo l’ora di vedervi là. Ciao! 

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