Home from Africa

by Clayton Heathcock

In April of 1993 I was invited to be Plenary Lecturer at the Frank Warren Conference, an annual event of the South African Chemical Society. The visit included a two-week tour of South Africa for the purpose of visiting and lecturing at most of the leading Universities. In the course of planning the trip, my host wrote to ask if there were other things I wanted to do while in South Africa. He thought, of course, that I would want to visit Kruger Park to see the wild animals. He was somewhat taken aback when I replied that I wanted to visit a Rhodesian Ridgeback breeder. However, to accomodate my unusual request, he called the Kennel Union of South Africa and asked them to recommend a breeder of Rhodesian Ridgebacks because a crazy American was coming to visit and was more interested in seeing dogs than lions! The KUSA official recommended a breeder who lived near Cape Town, and this information and a phone number was passed on to me in due course.

This was how I became acquainted with Janet Wang. When I called her from my Cape Town hotel, the first thing she said was "I don't know why you would possibly want to see a South African Ridgeback; you have done much better with them in the United States than we have in this country!" However, she invited me to visit her home and there I met her dogs. She had six at the time, as I recall, two males and four females. She showed me two of them and proceeded to be brutally frank in evaluating them, calling attention to a number of perceived faults. She then said, "Would you like to see my best dog? He is an American import." When I replied in the affirmative, she went back in the house and brought out `Clay',

BIS S-Af/Zim Ch Globe's Roving Red Regent, a handsome livernose that Janet bought from Nelda and Ginny Vaughn in 1990. (You can see a picture of Clay in the most recent issue of The Rhodesian Ridgeback Quarterly, as part of the interview with the Vaughns.) After a pleasant afternoon of conversation and tea, I departed and returned to my tour of the country, which eventually did end up in Kruger Park to visit the animals.

About two years later, the participants of RR-FOLK, the internet Ridgeback discussion group, were engaged in a spirited discussion of how new breeds are created and the question of a `closed stud book' came up. (When a breed is recognized by a kennel club, it must be shown that pedigrees are `clean' for a certain number of ancestral generations. At some time after recognition, the stud book is `closed' and thereafter only dogs can be registered who are the offspring of dogs whose names appear in the stud book.) One of the participants in the discussion posed a fanciful hypothesis:

" Suppose you discovered in some African village a group of Rhodesian Ridgebacks that had been bred true for decades for use as farm dogs, and suppose you found these dogs to be `perfect' examples of the breed. Just because they are not the offspring of dogs in some kennel club stud book, does this make them less `purebred'? And wouldn't this be bad for the breed?"

I proceeded to post the story of my visit to South Africa and recounted Janet's views of the strengths and weaknesses of the South African Ridgebacks. A few days later I received an e-mail post from Janet, who is not a member of the RR-FOLK discussion group, but who had received a copy of my post mentioning her from Nelda and Ginny Vaughn. Janet was amused by the original hypothesis, which she soundly poo-pooed, and pleased to hear from me again. Some weeks after the events of the previous paragraph, Janet contacted me again by e-mail and asked if she could import frozen semen from our five-year old dog Ch Camelot's Technical Knockout (`Bruiser').

Bruiser was a member of the very first Camelot litter, son of Ch Calico Ridge The Warlord and Ch Deer Ridge Morganna. He was born on August 25, 1990 and got his name because he was the 8th puppy of the litter and made his appearance more than three hours after we thought Morganna was finished whelping. He was the biggest of the litter and caused his mother to issue a pronounced yelp when he popped out into the world. He got his name at that instant, when Cheri said "Boy, this one is a bruiser!" With Karen Kurtzner as his handler, Bruiser achieved his AKC Championship at Long Beach in December, 1991, going Best of Breed from the Open Class and defeating two top ten dogs in the process. As a Special, Bruiser maintained a high national ranking for three years (#2 in 1993, #3 in 1992 and 1994).

In her e-mail post asking about importing frozen semen, Janet also advanced an audacious proposal. I have kept copies of her messages, so I will quote verbatim:

" I know this is a major proposition, but one that I make honestly and in all good faith--what are the chances of sending Bruiser to stay with me for a two-year period, in which time I would undertake to make him into a South African Champion and, in that time span, a Zimbabwean Champion and then use him as stud on selected bitches with the intention of improving the breed and then sending him back to you with two African titles to his name and an illustrious career in Africa. I know this is a bold suggestion and I won't be upset if you say no, but if you agree I guarantee that I will guard him with my life and fulfill all promises that I make. So what do you say?"

Well, this put Cheri and me in a bind. How could we send one of our dogs away for two years; not just away, but to a different continent half way around the world? On the other hand, how could we refuse the opportunity to send our boy back to the country where the breed originated for the purpose of "improving the breed?" In the end, after some considerable soul searching and talks with trusted friends, we decided to do it and e-mailed Janet that we could probably get things in order so that he could get to her by October 1, in time for the last few weeks of the 1995 South African show season. (Because South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, their seasons are opposite ours and because of the heat there are no championship shows from mid-November through February).

So the last week of September we packed Bruiser into his size 500 Vari-Kennel and took him to KLM for the start of his new adventure. The first leg of the trip was a flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam. At Skipol Airport, KLM operates a `Pet Hotel' and it was this facility that helped us decide which airline to use for Bruiser's trip. After taking Bruiser to the airport, we loaded the rest of our dogs into the motorhome and drove to Nevada, for the Reno and Carson City shows. At about 5 am on Saturday morning, an hour after Bruiser was scheduled to arrive in Amsterdam, we called the Pet Hotel and spoke to an attendant. He told us that our `big brown dog' had arrived safely, was apparently in good spirits, had been fed and watered, and was out on a walk with another attendant. After a 24-hour layover at the Skipol Pet Hotel, Bruiser was put back in his crate and put on KLM for another overnight flight to Cape Town, by way of Johannesburg. He arrived in Cape Town on Sunday morning, October 1, 1995. In her e-mail post that evening, Janet said:

" The big boy is safe and well. He was very unresponsive at the airport but I didn't expect anything else. Then Ken went to start a program running at work and Bruiser and I sat in the mall and waited patiently. We had bought a Russian sausage for Bruiser (and ourselves) and when Ken left, Bruiser jumped in the front seat and begged for HIS sausage. I explained to him that it was too hot and he sat there looking from me to the packet and back again and every now and then he would lift his paw and hold it out to me. Eventually, when the sausage was cool I gave it to him and when he was finished he jumped on me and started nibbling my hair and gave me a love bite on my neck and then jumped into the back again, very pleased with himself. He seems very happy and none the worse for wear."

Thus began Bruiser's sojourn in Africa.

Bruiser's first show was October 13, the South African Rhodesian Ridgeback Club Specialty. The Specialty was held in Johannesburg, which is 940 miles from Cape Town and at an elevation of 7000 feet above sea level. For Bruiser his African debut was an unmitigated disaster! Maybe it was jet lag, maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was the change of water; whatever the reason, Bruiser had diarrhea, was listless, and even fainted on coming out of the ring after placing 4th in his class. Needless to say, we were all disappointed in such an inauspicious start! But the next month Bruiser redeemed himself--in spades! To be a Champion in South Africa (or Zimbabwe), a dog has to win five CCs (Championship Certificates) from different judges. Bruiser got his required CCs in five consecutive shows over a span of just nine days:

  1. October 28, 1995; Breederivier Vallei KC, Judge Mr. E. Hulme (UK)
  2. October 29, 1995; Cape Town KC, Judge Mr. L. Rohmer
  3. November 4, 1995; Kaffrarian Hound Association, Judge Mrs. M. Anderson
  4. November 4, 1995; East London KC, Judge Mrs. P. Scott
  5. November 5, 1995, Port Rex KC Judge Mrs C. Immelman

In 1996 Janet bred Bruiser to several of her bitches and showed him sparingly. Nevertheless, he ended the year as the top-ranked Rhodesian Ridgeback show dog in South Africa, both in breed and all-breed points. The high point of his year came May 25 at the East London Kennel Club All-breeds Championship show when he won the Hound Group and went Reserve Best in Show (an award that counts in rankings). The Reserve BIS award was given to him by a Ridgeback specialist, Mr Michael Hughes-Halls, who is highly respected in Africa for his knowledge of the breed.

During 1996 also Janet began taking Bruiser to shows in Zimbabwe. Getting the five CCs required for a Zimbabwean Championship was a lot harder! First, there aren't many shows each year in Zimbabwe and it is a long way from Cape Town! And even though he was a Champion in the United States and in South Africa, in Zimbabwe he was just `one of the boys' and had to go back to the Open Class in every show. Janet and Bruiser took four trips to Zimbabwe in 1996 and participated in eight shows. But in Zimbabwe, Bruiser met his equal--Vumbamira Demo, a dog owned by Mr. Joe Dooley-Jones. Bruiser and Demo traded wins during the year and when the show year ended, Bruiser had managed to win only four of the five required CCs, with the high point being his Best in Show at the Matabeleland Hound Association Show in March.

After the long summer layoff, Janet took Bruiser back to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe for one last go at the Championship March 1/2, 1997. It was a `triple-show' weekend. In the Saturday show (Bulawayo Kennel Club All Breeds Championship Show), Bruiser failed to win the CC. However, in the first Sunday show (Matabeleland Hound Association) he won the CC to `make up' his Zimbabwean Championship. He finished the weekend off in the second Sunday show (Matabeleland Canine Association All breeds Championship Show) by winning a `bonus' CC, going BOB, and placing 4th in the Hound Group Challenge.

Bruiser came home in April with two new titles to his name and leaving many sons and daughters in Africa. Bruiser sired five litters while with Janet. He was bred twice to Ch (SA) Nomvuyo Nombucla Of Delphia (`Chombie'), once to Ch (SA & ZIM) Nomvuyo Nozuko (`Ruby), once to Ch (SA) Roodedraai Jubane of Tatsfield (`Jayne'), and once to Crosswick Nomvuyo Fan The Fire (`Fancypants'). Two of the puppies from his first litter with Chombie show promise to carry on. These are a dog named Delphia TKO Uppercut Of Nomvuyo (`Flash') and a bitch named Delphia TKO Pandemonium Of Nomvuyo (`Panda'). Both have finished their South African Championships. Flash has already won a Best of Breed and Panda has won two Bests of Breed and a Hound Group at a show in Zimbabwe. From his litter with Ruby he has a son in Germany who is due to debut in 1997. We are proud of Bruiser's new titles, but we are more proud of his African sons and daughters. And mostly we are just happy to have him back home.

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Last updated Monday, September 2, 2002.
The URL of this page is http://camelotrr.com/bruiser/africa.html.