In the beginning the Bouvier des Flandres existed in the minds of the creators. This vision of the bold defender of the Flemish plane, the cobby body and alert expression, enhanced and accentuated by the cropped ears and docked tail, inspired devotion and determination in many souls and several generations. Over the years men and women, such as Justin Chastel, Edmee Bowles, Koen Semler and Caya Krisjne-Locker, devoted a lifetime of labor to the realization of this noble dream.
Now, in Europe, driven by a failure in leadership and social and political evolution, this vision is fading away. In Belgium, over the past thirty years, the breeders, in some cases pandering to the American dollar, gave up on the character of the breed. A decade ago Justin Chastel left the Belgian club, having been a member for fifty years and president for twenty, over the issue of character and the tests for select designation. The last notable Bouvier to work in the Belgian ring sport was in the sixties, and since that time the Belgians, who should take leadership, have devoted themselves to pathetic temperament tests, excuses and fairy tales about "le character le Bouvier des Flandres…"
In the Netherlands the Bouvier became two breeds because the national club fell under the control of the show breeders and abandoned the original vision. The real Bouviers in the Netherlands, the old Dutch Police lines, were looked down upon and abandoned by Netherlands Bouvier Club as they created their own version of ponderous, over built "Bouviers" with the elaborate fluffy coats.
In France a few true believers have struggled to train for the French ring, and by use of the old Dutch working lines have achieved some success. But it means nothing, for the club is still in the hands of the old guard show breeders, such as Francis Romano, who have a vested interest in the failures of the past which constitute the "French heritage." Unfortunately, these French men and women who share the vision are a small minority, unable or unwilling to stand up to the entrenched establishment.
Over the past twenty years there has been increasing pressure in Europe from the far left environmental and green political movements to ban ear cropping, tail docking and serious training. When the greens came in with their litany of demands, the politicians, pockets stuffed with money from the agricultural interests and pharmaceutical houses, threw the animal rights winnies a bone and let them have their way on cropping and docking, because the dog people were too slow and complacent for effective resistance. Thus in Norway we still have the baby seals clubbed to death to harvest their coats, and animals used in experiments for cosmetics, but the world is safe from the simple, relatively painless procedures of cropping and docking. This cancer has spread from the Scandinavian north until it threatens to sweep across Europe, and sweep away forever the remnants of many once noble breeds such as the Bouvier and the Doberman. Cropping and docking are now banned in Germany and the Netherlands. Ear cropping is as of now banned in Belgium, and tail docking will be forbidden in five years. For the moment the French hold out.
In the Netherlands the Bouvier Club did not resist. Ultimately, the real enemy turned out to be the Raad van Beheer, the Dutch Kennel club, which has led the way to the enforcement of the emasculation of the Bouvier. They jumped in to be assistant police men by forbidding the exhibition of cropped and docked. dogs. I am told that the president of the Raad van Beheer remarked to a Bouvier handler at a conformation show that she was giving the dog only "very good" rather than "excellent" because it barked and showed spirit, and "that's not the kind of dog we want in the Netherlands."
The Dutch club could have resisted, could have conducted their own shows, could have maintained their own stud book. Yes, they perhaps would have failed. But they did not have the courage to try, gave up their breed without any real resistance. We will never know what the fate of the Bouvier des Flandres might have been if there had been men of courage, vision and wisdom at the helm of the Dutch, Belgian and French Bouvier clubs.
Is it not fascinating that this "mind your neighbor's business" has evolved in the cold North ? This is democracy running out of control, with all power to regulate the minutest details of every life going almost by default to the pathetic little ciphers that make up the ever expanding government bureaucracy. We read in Finland of the man fined over one hundred thousand dollars for going ten miles an hour over the speed limit. Who could imagine a Spaniard, where the bulls still run, a Greek or an Italian having such an empty and pointless life that the only pleasure was trying to pass laws to insure that everybody else was miserable too? Perhaps we should all send money to Scandinavia so that they could spend the long winters drinking themselves into oblivion rather than using the political process to make misery the norm rather than just something they have chosen for themselves.
The democratic purveyors of righteousness and misery exist in America too, of course. While the men were off fighting world war one, the little old ladies at home were busy making the consumption of alcohol illegal, truly one of the most stupid and pointless exercises in history. And our religious right is always trying to impose quaint moral platitudes on the rest of us, and the left is bringing political correctness to American campuses, which means censoring young people who believe that the first amendment empowers them to think and speak for themselves. In order to live out our lives in peace, we all must be ever viligent against those on both the left and the right who would impose their will and their perception of the correct life upon us.
A Bouvier des Flandres is a concept, a vision of perfection, not merely a dog from a specific gene pool. In Belgium today, you can pick up random dogs off the streets, breed them together to make your own Bouviers. You can take them to the conformation show, get a rating of "good" under two judges and get provisional papers. In three generations you can have your own line of Bouviers with the same registration papers as the dogs who come down from Nic, Soprano and the others. (Admittedly this is a flawed process because there is no working character test, but then none of the Belgian dogs are required to pass a working test in order to produce more "Bouviers" either.)
It is quite evident that the will of the founders is that the Bouvier des Flandres is a dog who embodies those noble aspects of character and appearance, the cobby, athletic body, the alert expression, the courage, the steadfastness which have characterized the breed from the beginning. Only those dogs bred and trained in the shadow of this vision can in truth be called Bouviers des Flandres.
Those who do something else, change or "modernize" the breed, are perfectly free to do so. But honesty demands that they call whatever it is that they create by a new names, and reserve the words "Bouvier des Flandres" to those dogs true to the vision of the founders.
At each stage of this retreat from the heritage we are told "never mind, accept the inevitable, they are Bouviers underneath." But are they ?
In Scandinavia they now have several generations of dogs with long tails, floppy ears and soft character. Are these dogs Bouviers just because their ancestors were Bouviers ? What if the green winnies in Norway pass a law that dogs over twenty pounds are dangerous, and must be put down. Some Norwegians would no doubt breed from their former Bouviers twenty pound, flop eared lap dogs with long tails. Would they still be Bouviers because their ancestors are Bouviers ? I think not, they would no longer be Bouviers any more than the dogs of today are wolves because they are descended from wolves.
If it had just been the ears we could perhaps in wisdom and humility acquiesced, accepted it as a price necessary to pay. But the green terrorists inflicting this humiliation will never be satisfied, will never accept enough as enough. It will be the ears, it will be the tails, it will be public temperament tests in which any dog which can be induced to show aggression to another dog is to be put down. This "temperament test" for the spineless dog is already being promoted in Germany and the Netherlands and recent history says that it is only a matter of time.
In the end, the ban on tail docking will likely prove to be the final nail in the coffin. A number of years ago Jan Janssen, one of the most successful and influential KNPV Bouvier trainers and breeders, under the kennel name van het Heukske, told me that if the tail ban every went into effect that would be the end for him. It did, and true to his word he abandoned the Bouvier and now breeds and trains the German Shepherd, most successfully I might add. Fritz Severens, of v d Statorhof fame, has also given up breeding. These senior working breeders have not been replaced, young people are not taking up the cause of the Bouvier, perceiving it as lost.
The truth is that Europe is on a course where the descendants of the Bouviers des Flandres will be flop eared, long tailed dogs passive in character and devoid of the working drive for which the breed was created.
These dogs will not be Bouviers des Flandres. The Bouvier will be an extinct breed, destroyed by the general moral and political decay in Europe that is sweeping away the heritage and customs that were the wellspring of western civilization.
It would appear that George Orwell was right. It will come to pass in 2004 instead of 1984, but in Europe at least his vision of total control by the state, the stamping out of individual will, freedom and expression, is becoming reality. The Bouvier will not be the only loss to mourn.
Jim Engel, Marengo © Copyright 2002
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