East Meets West
Photos by Serge Vivan and Yossi Guy
My involvement with Salukis began in January 2021, when I was invited to judge the breed in its country of origin – the United Arab Emirates. Since then, Saluki breeders consider me a knowledgeable judge and flock to enter their dogs when I’m on the judging panel.
This was the case this July, when the French Club for Breeders of Asian, Persian and Afghan Sighthounds (Club Français des Amateurs de Lévriers d’Asie, Persans & Afghans) invited me to judge the breed on the 46th year of this famous show, along with Ms. Mette Morkegaard of Denmark, who judged Afghans.
The entry totaled 99 Salukis and 52 Afghans from eight European countries, including France, of course, as well as Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.
The event included both a regular dog show and a lure-coursing competition the following day. On both days, dogs competed for a championship certificate, extremely important in order to finish the French championship.
“Our show is an important dog show in France because the CACs awarded there have the value of a championship for the prestigious and rare title of ‘French Champion,’” explained club president Ludovic Colas. “I say rare because in France, there can only be two French champions per breed and per sex; this title therefore has a very high value since it is very difficult to obtain. The titles of ‘Junior French Champion’ and ‘Veteran French Champion’ can also be considered for the ‘1st Excellent’ of these classes. To obtain the above titles, the Sighthound must also hold the TAN (Natural Aptitude Test) and two other CACs for a maximum period of 24 months after obtaining the Championship’s CACs. After this time, the title will be lost.”
The site was a park in the picturesque town of Cerilly in central France. The spacious park had well-kempt lawns and lots of shade, which proved useful considering the strong summer sun. Exhibitors arrived the day before, many of them in motor homes; some put up tents, and the atmosphere was extremely friendly even though they were there to compete.
On the morning of the show, Ms. Morkegaard and I waited in front of our hotel for the vehicle that was supposed to take us to the showground. We were wondering whether they would send a tractor, since the town is definitely rural. A few minutes later we saw a luxurious 1976 Cadillac convertible approaching, with our national flags waving on poles. We climbed into it, our hearts beating with excitement, which we tried to hide, and when we reached the show we waved to the people, feeling at minimum like the royal family.
There were two spacious rings, one for each breed, and we were accompanied by English-speaking stewards – something quite unusual for France. Judging went according to the regular international rules; however, we were also requested to single out dogs with beautiful heads and good movement while giving our critiques.
Most of the dogs were handled by their owners, with a handful of handlers coming into the ring. The Salukis were definitely a mixed bunch — different types, different heights, a lot of color variations and even two smooth dogs, which are quite rare in Europe, although there are plenty of them in the Middle East.
After judging all the dogs, the finals took place, each judge picking the Best Puppy, Best Junior, Best Veteran, Best Dog, Best Bitch, and Best of Breed and Best Opposite Sex. Before the BOB we chose the best head and the best mover – two from each category.
My BOB dog came from the working class. He was well constructed and muscular, a dog that could definitely run fast in the field. It turned out he did well the following day when he won the lure-coursing trial, so he came back with a double win.
While there was no Best in Show, there was a generous number of prizes for each of the classes and competitions. The show actually ended at that point, and we were approached by many happy exhibitors.
“I heard about the FALAPA approximately 27 years ago when I had Afghans,” said my fellow judge Ms. Mette Morkegaard, who over the course of her 37 years in Sighthounds has also had Salukis and Whippets. “My breeder told me about the show, saying it’s a very honorable show and has been so for many years.
“When I was invited, I couldn’t believe it was actually true,” continued Ms. Morkegaard, who has been approved to judge for the past three years and has judged Sighthounds in Sweden and Norway, as well as her native Denmark. “I was at a show when the invitation came, and when my friends heard about it, they were in awe considering the honor. I got so many ‘likes’ on Facebook. When you have special shows, it’s a feeling of being in a community with friends who have things in common. I was informed I had an entry from several countries and it was quite humbling."
Ms. Morkegaard found the show to be very well organized, and the site beautiful and spacious. “The overall quality of the dogs I judged was excellent,” she continued. “My winner took my breath away from the moment I laid eyes on her. She was in intermediate class and was a wonderful example of the breed. Her head was particularly correct, and her movement was typical, something we don’t often see nowadays.”
Cecile Danguy of France, who had entered several Salukis, offered her thanks to the FALAPA club committee, its president Ludovic Colas, vice presidents Micky Haloin and Bernard Barjot, and all its members for doing everything to ensure the well-being of the dogs on the day.
“It was a very hot but no less pleasant day,” she noted. “Big congratulations for bringing together so many beautiful Asian Sighthounds and making this meeting such a great success.”
Chantal Minet-Bardot, owner of the BOB Saluki, was understandably ecstatic.
“He did it! Double win! The two titles of French Champion in the same weekend for Merwan Min El Akbar,” she wrote in an email, referring to his BOB win over 99 entered Salukis on Saturday and his high score at the lure coursing even on Sunday in a field of 36. “I cannot believe it. For me, it is important that a Sighthound is well built and beautiful, and darling Merwan has achieved this at a very high level. We are very proud of our ‘baby,’ born and living at home.
“Thanks to show judge Yossi Guy (Israel) for appreciating the qualities of our boy and for his compliments. Thanks to the coursing judge Jean Jean-Pierre Montaud (France) for his praise on the two races of Merwan,” she continued. “What a fantastic weekend full of emotions and also some tears. Thanks to friends for their support, applause and congratulations. Thanks to Ophelie Bouvier, my daughter-in-law, who fell in love with ‘Chouchou.’ Without her, he might not have stayed with us. I love you, Merwanou.”
Martine Falke of Soukistan Afghans in France is a regular exhibitor at the show.
“I have been living with Afghans since 1980 and breeding since 1990,” she explained. “In only nine litters I have pursued my goal of show and performance, paying attention to always have lovely temperaments. I have exported a few dogs — one of them was shown at Westminster a few years ago. My breeding is very selective and rare, as all my dogs live in the house and spend their retirement years with me. I do have a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old now.”
As she does every year, she attended the French Afghan & Saluki Club National Specialty. It was a 900-kilometer round trip for her, “but this event is ‘the place to be’ if you love these breeds!” she said. “The club mostly invites international judges, one for each breed. Many exhibitors come from other European countries.”
Falke entered a champion dog; a young female in intermediate class that she imported from Russia and is currently the top Afghan female in France, and a veteran female.
“I won BIS veteran, and was awarded the Top Breeder trophy for 2020-2021 — due to the many cancelled shows during the pandemic, the ranking was extended over two years,” she said, noting that the Saluki entry was almost double that of the Afghan Hound entry.
This year, the four Grand Winners were:
BOB: UNLIMITED LOVE ONYCHINUS, a female born in Poland and living in Belgium with Stéphanie Lahaut.
BOS: WAY UP FRED ASTAIRE, an Italian male belonging to his breeder Agnese Della Rocca.
BOB: Ch. MERWAN MIN EL AKBAR, a French grizzle male belonging to his breeder Chantal Minet-Bardot.
BOS: Ch. ASHLEY LUMIJA, female born in Slovakia and living in France with Cécile Danguy.
“I would like to convey our thanks to our two judges for their friendliness and kindness,” club president Colas concluded. “We hope that their weekend in France and at our FALAPA Show will remain two wonderful moments in their respective memories.”