I am a white, cis, straight-presenting middle-class woman living in the United States. Why is this relevant to an article on dogs? Because that is a place of privilege inherently. Because that is the lens through which I view the world and it is the lens I must lift when stepping out of my tiny box to understand the broader world. You, the reader, deserve to understand my limitations I also begin in this fashion so that you may opt out. If you look at word like cis and immediately argue that it shouldn't be a word and that it's human default then this is not a post for you unless you open your mind.
The history of domestic dogs is one that is irrevocably intertwined with human culture - I have spoken before of the impact of colonialism on many breeds including Azawakh. They support and amplify each other in a manner that leaves us perpetually searching for words to adequately describe the almost mystical nature of the human-canine bond. It is why people in minority groups search for a breeder who supports and upholds them as people, because our dogs have become a truly notable part of not just our cultural heritage but our personal identity as well and finding a breeder that thinks you have the right to exist is the bare minimum success condition.
Our personal history is something that colors our perceptions and personally my own privilege must be mentally addressed every time I discuss the cultural heritage of Azawakh. I have spent the better part of the past decade doing a deep dive into the history of Azawakh. I feel I have in depth, practical knowledge and experience of how the breed functions both temperamentally and structurally. I've tested the breed in performance in a broader way than anyone. And, I do feel I have a fluent grasp of the history of the breed. That statement necessarily comes with the caveat that this understanding is limited because I did not live through the majority of the history of the breed outside of Africa (there are people around who have) and understanding the history of the breed within the Sahel is limited because records are limited.
That being said as a friend of mine said: you can't have this conversation without including breeders who have actually been to Africa. You don't have to utilize imports. You don't have to prefer the more common indigenous phenotypes but people who have experienced the breed as they are in their region of origin must have a seat at the table.
I was recently having a discussion with a friend of mine who breeds Sloughis and she mentioned that even in their countries of origin the breed is uncommon. If you were to visit Morocco, chances are solid that you may not see even a single Sloughi during your stay unless you intentionally sought them out. I found this an important point. Just because a dog is native to a country does not mean they are ubiquitous. Certainly in some cases, for instance Phu Quoc Ridgebacks are quite rare outside their COO but within Vietnam, that is not the case. In contrast Sloughis are still quite rare in their COOs, as are Azawakh. You could not simply visit a city in Mali and see Azawakh. Firstly, it's incredibly difficult to get into the areas of Mali where Azawakh are located. It's simply too dangerous. Secondly, even if you did, chances aren't high you would see an Azawakh. Thus, when speaking to people from the region reflection upon the depth of a source's knowledge is a necessity.
Additionally, history is written by not just the victors but by the powerful. The upper class is going to give you one history of the breed. They have the luxury and privilege to speak of the elegance and aesthetics of their breed. Those at the poverty line will tell you another, if they could even spare the time from simply trying to survive to speak with you in the first place. The utility and grit of the breed are far more likely to be valuable listed qualities by those individuals.
There is a narrative within the Azawakh community that elegance is the key hallmark of the breed. I argue that the haunting, unique elegance is driven exclusively by the pressures of their environment, of their function, of their necessary keen intelligence and without those you have an empty porcelaine statue. The history of this breed is one of function and utility. It is the history of a harsh life. It is the history of a nomadic pastoralist people. It is the history of the working class. Even the dogs of the Kel Kumer tribe of the Menaka Circle, so extolled for their virtues by some breed fanciers, were still working dogs and that bloodline has at no point ever represented the entirety of the breed.
It is a crime that as pastoralism within the region has faced a painful death that the public narrative surrounding Azawakh has been shifted away from that of the people who rely on the dogs for their livelihood.
Expeditions to the region are few and far between and full of danger. As I mentioned before, it is very difficult to get into areas of the region where the dogs are found and expeditions are a tricky affair of planning, security, and actually locating the dogs. Since they live primarily with nomads, where the dogs are found on one expedition may be quite different the next expedition. Most of the imports from the last decade plus have been out of Niger rather than Mali or Burkina Faso because it is the country with the most accesible dogs.
Some in the breed go so far as to argue that dogs from Niger and Burkina Faso cannot be Azawakh because they are not countries of origin. In reality, dogs from Burkina Faso have been in the breed in Europe in both the Yugoslavian line (Darkoye Sidi) and the French line (Targui) from the very beginning. Dogs from Niger were utilized within those foundation dogs' lifetimes (Yaris and C'Oska). Even in Europe, Azawakh have never been solely of the privileged in the Menaka Circle. They have always been a breed of diverse origins.
I have spoken of this document often but Francois Rousseau published his field study on the breed in the mid 1970s. In it he documented a diversity of regionally dependent styles. These styles were specifically adapted to their specific terrain while still maintaining the unifying hallmarks of the breed (lean, taller than long, guarding behaviors, etc). The ideal of the tribes of the mountains was necessarily different than the ideals of the tribes of the Menaka Circle and always those ideals harkened to function. Not aesthetics.
Not one preservationist is looking at every import from the Sahel and saying "behold the perfect Azawakh!" Not one person. I have sat over dinner with people who have been to the Sahel multiple times, one has even lived there, people who have been in the breed (that has only been in the US since the very late 80s) multiple decades. They have critiqued their dogs for me, imports included and I have given my thoughts on the dogs which have been appreciatively received. I have eagerly presented my own dogs including those of my own breeding to them for critique. We have discussed the challenges of utilizing dogs with largely unknown history and typical practice is in fact to pair such dogs with dogs whose pedigree is intimately known and understood. We have discussed the challenges of generational stunting and the challenges they present in accurately assessing imports. Since neither they nor their parents received adequate nutrition to develop to their full potential, assessing accurate overall size and long bone length becomes unexpectedly tricky. These are the conversations that preservationists are having every time, every dog, every breeding. I certainly am the most public about my decision process but to assume other preservationists are not putting equally as much thought in seems an oversight at best and intentionally pushing a narrative that makes preservationists appear ignorant and uncaring at worst.
Now tell me, I have detailed the plight of the preservationist Azawakh breeder many times, is is not an easy path, so why on earth would anyone willingly choose it? Indeed, why would people risk their lives on expeditions to bring back dogs many hate? It's not the money. Dogs with recent import blood are often harder to place. It's not the prestige when much of the community largely reviles the work they do. Why then? Could it then just maybe be because they are utterly devoted to preserving an ancient landrace and all the cultural heritage they represent? Could it not be because of their devotion to preserving the breed that has never solely belonged to the wealthy, but
to an entire way of life? These preservationists should be upheld. Not relegated to a back corner. The preservationists in both Europe and the United States are putting Championships on their dogs that are down from imports. Both my F1 dogs were ranked in UKC last year, Tabiri took a Best in Show at a large regional classic, Amalu has beaten Anubi (currently the #2 AKC breed Azawakh) every single time they've shown together this year. These dogs are clearly not lacking in type when a wide variety of judges are finding their many virtues. Yet no one is talking about that. Somehow that never garners any attention.
I will be frank. This piece was written in direct response to the fallacies and oversights of the recently publicly shared article "Wokeness in Sighthounds". I have addressed these objections directly with the author before. I politely offered to recommend preservationist sources to the author when the article was shared publicly. My commented was deleted and I was blocked. That is the author's prerogative. My prerogative is to publish a rebuttal.
Perhaps contrary to opinion formed through casual observation, I typically hold my tongue in situations such as these. I have a wealth of information that will never pass my lips because it is not mine to share or because it will only create drama. In this case, however, I do feel it imperative to speak my peace. The author of this article is highly regarded and extremely influential. This is not merely a case of a judge influencing a breed through their choices in the ring. It is a case of a judge explicitly using her observation to shape the future of a breed, one which she has never owned nor lived with nor been mentored by a breeder breeding to the AKC standard. She could easily set this breed on an irrevocable path, one that many breeders who have devoted decades of their entire life to the breed reject with every fiber of their beings.
When the author and I spoke, some time back, she told me a well known story about how Dr. Pecar saw Gao, the original foundation dog of the Yugoslavian line, framed in a door one day and he was struck dumb by his beauty. The author argued that this is the essence of the breed- that Azawakh should not be "rustic" they should be beautiful.
It is easy to get caught up in what is the top winning dog in the show ring and for that to become the ideal, the lens through which you view the breed. From that perspective, I believe it would easy to view anything but an extreme, insubstantial Azawakh as "coarse" or "rustic". Those fanciers usually have not met African imports and often haven't even met an F1 or F2 dog
When you live with those dogs you get to see the general public's reaction every time you leave the house with your Azawakh. Tabiri has literally stopped traffic with people trying to get a better look at him. I brought him to an AKC show for health testing and the moment we stepped in the door, two girls were literally jumping up and down in excitement because I had an Azawakh. Last year at UKC Premier Nationals, we had Amastan with us. Everywhere we walked, if
people knew of the breed they would invariably remark on the beautiful Azawakh puppy. If random dog fanciers at a show can look at a puppy, one out of two very "rustic" parents and instantly recognize the breed, then surely judges should be able to see it. Compared to almost any other breed, even the "rustic" imports have a level of refinement and elegance not seen in other breeds. I think it can be easy to forget that. The imports have such an intense, primal elegance when you meet them in person your breath is stolen from you and you are struck dumb watching. What better homage to the story of Gao could you possibly ask for?
Dogs are living culture. They exist because of community. Research into a breed cannot be conducted in a vacuum with a handful of cherry picked sources. It must conducted in much the manner the breed has always existed- complex and multi-faceted. Why reinvent the wheel when a substantial wealth of sources exist already on the topic? Why indeed, unless you are trying to drive a specific narrative.
The breed is compelling because of the crucible in which they have been forged. They are no elegant noble's pet. They are resiliency embodied. That must never be forgotten.