Preserving an Ancient Breed - What Being a Preservationist Means to Me
In recent years, there has a much needed phrase that has come into prominence: preservation breeder. For too long have animal rights activists controlled the narrative and insisted that all breeders are only in breeding for the money (nevermind that I spent 5K on a singelton puppy that I kept (and thus didn't sell)). The term preservation breeder takes back a piece of the narrative. Instead of letting extremists paint us all as egotistical and monetarily motivated, it touches on an aspect that I think has fallen out of favor when discussing purebred dogs - the preservation of dogs as both living history and art.
While the concept of a closed studbook is a new one, breeds have existed (in an albeit looser format) for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Typically, the term preservation breeder is used by someone who is interested in preserving the breed as they have historically existed. Most will assure you that form follows function. And, not only that, but tell you how their breed's function dictates their breed's form.
These are breeders who resist trends in the show ring because a certain style wins. I would argue these are breeders who resist trends in performance sports who favor traits that might make a dog faster, but are not true to that dog's original function. I can think of lots of examples of that, but within my own breed, that would mean only breeding the fastest Azawakh together to get fast dogs. Because the fact is while they are fast, they are not built for speed in the same way a Greyhound is and breeding for only speed discounts the other aspects of both their function (guarding) and their form. To my knowledge, no one is breeding Azawakh simply for speed, but as I love racing dearly, this is a scenario that has occurred to me.
I think in each breed what a preservation breeder is preserving is going to be slightly different, since the function and history of every breed is unique. Within Azawakh, being a preservation breeder is different than with many more modern breeds that have closed studbooks. You also have a contentious breed split within Azawakh. You have those who see this as a breed that was developed in Europe from limited foundation stock and thus to be a preservationist you must breed solely to the image of those original imports. I find this particular argument as "preservation" to be disingenuous and rather imperialistic, to assume that white Europeans took a very small subset of dogs from a much larger landrace population and created a breed from it.
Instead, I find the argument and work of those breeders who are preserving the breed as it has existed in the region of origin far more compelling and authentic. This is a breed that has existed for thousands of years. They come with history and from rich cultures. There are reasons Azawakh look the way they do and those reasons are far from solely aesthetic. To me, Azawakh have been shaped so perfectly by their environment and culture that to wish to preserve them in some other format is nigh blasphemous.
Do I show my dogs? Certainly I do. And I consider myself reasonably skilled at it. I know how to play the game. But here's the deal. I am never going to campaign a dog just because I think they'll do well in the ring. I'm either going to win with a dog that has true type or I'm not. I don't dream of a Best in Show. I dream of having correct, sound dogs who could survive in the Sahel.
What that means to me is that I am going to continue to keep and own dogs with recent country of origin (COO) blood. To me, that means necessarily having some dogs that I cannot show in AKC, which requires a complete three-generation pedigree. To me, that means not simply having those dogs among the foundation of my lines, but continually using them.
Do I hope that someday a dog down from Amalu or Tabiri (who are both F1 dogs (one parent is an African import)) might finish in the AKC ring? Yes, I do. Not because I hope for that glory but because they are lovely dogs and I want judges to see dogs with recent desert blood. But, that is not the end of my goals. I don't plan to breed Amalu and Tabiri's off spring only to dogs with "complete" pedigrees so I can show them in AKC. If there is a good import or F1 or F2 dog, I'll utilize them in my program.
The path I'm walking right now is two-fold. One is to maintain a line that I can show AKC that still is true to COO type. I have a lot of people interested in a show prospect. As I said, I enjoy showing but more importantly, I enjoy educating judges. And good judge's education is something every breed needs, but especially this breed. However, I also plan for at least half (and to be honest, likely more) to involve a dog that doesn't have a "complete" pedigree. This way I can work between the lines and still educate within the show world while working to preserve the breed as they have existed for thousands of years.
I think this work requires that we be honest with how often we as breeders utilize COO dogs. I am not lucky enough to have been on an expedition to the Sahel, though one day I would dearly love to go. I think often Azawakh breeders forget how much we owe to those preservationists who have risked their lives to bring back new blood and the potential for genetic diversity, an opportunity so many breeds don't have. I think it is easy to call oneself a preservationist and forget to honor the hard work and vision of the breeders who have imported dogs themselves.
I am extremely lucky to have the F1 dogs that I have. Breeders trusted me and I'm grateful for that. I am lucky to have met a double handful of COO imports. And let me tell you, they are all incredible. Even the ones who had malnutrition as young puppies, even those with bad ears are incredible movers with incredible temperament. And so rarely can that be found in the ring these days. And my heart aches over that and I want to see that change.
I want to acknowledge that within this breed, the history in Europe is short. Only since the mid-70s. Almost every dog in the breed has an F0 (direct African import) within 5-7 generations. Anubi is from some of the longer established "European show lines". He has an F0 dog only 6 generations back. No one would ever consider that he had recent desert blood. Even for Amidi and Gem who both have multiple African imports only 4 generations behind them, I would not consider saying that they have recent desert blood. To me, unless I am working with a dog that doesn't have a "complete" pedigree by AKC standards, than I am not working very closely with recent COO lineage.
Amalu (Ahimana Amalu) is an F1 dog. Her father is from Niger. Tabiri (Xanadu Farms Tabiri) is an F1dog. His father is from Burkina Faso. The puppy I'm currently raising, Amastan (Xanadu Farms Amastan) has a mother from Niger and his father's mother is also from Niger. All of these dogs have incomplete pedigrees. And they have or will all show in UKC, because again, I believe judges need to see recent COO blood, but I can't ever show them AKC. That is a reality I've accepted. It means I can't use them to make Majors. And I can't even show their offspring. And I have to find puppy buyers who find that acceptable.
All of that is worth it to me though because I wan to see this breed exist as they always have, preserved, not altered for conceit.
Pictured- Tabiri, Amalu, and Amastan