The beauty of the beast

Khaled El-Ghamri, Tuesday 8 Mar 2022

A beauty contest for dogs is more than a catwalk and is an opportunity to improve the physical and psychological health of future breeds, writes Khaled El-Ghamri

The beauty of the beast
The beauty of the beast

Jina was my first furry friend. She was a German Shepherd I had bought for a meagre LE50 back in 1987 for protection purposes. I didn’t know Jina was capable of giving so much love. She was a loyal and true friend.

Jina became family, and throughout the years she taught me about commitment, caring for others, and patience. I became dedicated to her feeding time, cleanliness, psychological and physical health, and daily walks. She would wait impatiently for my return from college every day to receive me with a wagging tail and endless enthusiasm and joy.

From then on, I grew to learn that dogs are family and not security guards.

Two weeks ago, I was happy to receive an invitation from Khaled Ramadan, head of the Egyptian Organisation for Dog Pedigree Preservation, to attend one of its shows. I was surprised by the large turnout, with the attendees including dog breeders who are now close friends and honest competitors. They cooperated in a professional manner to show off the best qualities of their dogs. Before I knew it, eight hours had passed in watching the magnificent pooches. 

Ramadan said the pageant was attended by 200 contestants, ranging from breeders of dogs of all kinds, breeds and ages, to about 500 people who love these beautiful beasts. The organisation aims to improve dog breeding in Egypt through proper arbitration and the clarification of the proper specifications for each breed, thus preparing contestants for international competitions, he added.

Contests of the sort I attended double as exhibitions for dog breeders where they can showcase their work on improving pedigrees, Ramadan said. The more dog pageants are held, the more breeders form a community and increase cooperation. The contests enrich knowledge about the qualities of each breed and help new buyers to understand that dogs are not a commodity for sale. They can pick the dog breed that best suits their lifestyle, he noted.

The organisation is also working on trying to register breeds of Egyptian origin, such as the Armant herding dog which has its roots in the city of Armant in Upper Egypt, as well as the Pharaonic dog. Its endeavours have not always been plain sailing, however, as Egypt is new to the field while many European countries have long experience in this arena, Ramadan said.

Russia and Germany export pure breeds in large numbers, for example, while some Egyptian dog breeders export to some of the Arab countries, albeit on a small scale. This is because it was only recently that dedicated associations were established on a professional and scientific basis in Egypt, Ramadan said.

Moataz Ibrahim, a veteran German Shepherd breeder and member of the organisation, said he referees in competitions and that the selection of the winning dogs is not based on their features, size, or weight, but rather on the character, health, and specifications of each breed. 

Each breed has different specifications regarding the shape, physical composition, and hair colour and length of the dogs in question. There are physical defects that may appear in each breed. The fewer such defects and the more a dog exhibits self-confidence, courage, and non-aggression towards other dogs and people, the more likely it is to land one of the top three spots in competitions, Ibrahim added.

Refereeing in such pageants requires extensive knowledge of each breed’s defects and the specifications of pure breeds, he noted. Although Ibrahim specialises in German Shepherds, he is also knowledgeable about other breeds, including their physical competition and character traits. There are about 360 internationally registered dog breeds. 

Al-Ahram employee Sameh Kamel is a regular participant at such contests, and in the show I attended his American Akita snatched second place. Kamel said that despite his dog’s physical superiority, it had been violent with the judges and other dogs, dropping it from first to second rank.

Kamel said he takes part regularly in the organisation’s pageants because they allow him to see new breeds, compare them with his own, and benefit from the judges’ comments. The contests also help Kamel to promote his farm among pageant attendees, get to know other farm owners, and introduce his dog to pedigree females to have better new-generation pups. 

He noted that the dog trade has flourished in Egypt in recent years and that the majority of international breeds are now either imported or bred in the country. This multi-million-dollar trade has paved the way for other businesses to boom, such as those involved in contests, exhibitions, accessories, and dog food, in addition to veterinary equipment and pet medicines, whether locally produced or imported. 

The new awareness about healthy pedigrees has made people appreciate the high price of certain breeds more, and these can sell for up to LE40,000, especially smaller breeds such as the Pomeranian, mini Poodle, and Beagle, that do not require strenuous care or large spaces, Kamel said.

One of the things that can be learned at such contests is that improving breeds is not meant as a way of boasting about a dog’s specifications. Instead, it is about raising a physically and psychologically healthy friend with strong immunity in a problem-free environment.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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