Black Boerboels in AKC rings
It was bound to happen, eventually.
Late last month, a black Boerboel was entered at a dog show and earned a Best of Breed ribbon — despite the fact that the breed’s AKC standard indicates that black dogs are to be disqualified.
Furious, a Boerboel fancier went on to a Facebook page devoted to critiquing judges, lamenting the win. Predictably, social media erupted into a kaleidoscope of often conflicting diatribes, berating everyone from the judge to the exhibitor to the Facebook poster to those fanciers not perceived as being supportive enough of newcomers.
After several days, a thousand comments and who knows how many spent electrons, the furor died down.
But what many of the posters didn’t appreciate about the Boerboel controversy is that the system worked: Ultimately, a disqualifying-colored Boerboel did not receive any ribbons or recognition from the American Kennel Club.
And that has everything to do with the Boerboel’s AKC parent club.
Hue and Cry
While I use the term "black Boerboel" throughout this article, that really is a misnomer. Since black was never a color historically found in South Africa's Boerboel population, it is technically incorrect to call these dogs "black Boerboels," as they are not purebred. Their black coloring results from a cross made in South Africa with black Labrador-type dogs. For the sake of expediency, I'll use the shorthand of "black Boerboel," but it should be understood that a dominant color like black can only come from cross-breeding, and so these dogs are technically "black Boerboel crosses."
With those semantics taken care of, let’s nail down precisely what happened, minus names and identifying information, as the details are unnecessary for making our point, and I prefer not to give more publicity to this atypical, ahistorical color:
A black Boerboel was indeed entered at an AKC show — the first time this has happened since the breed was officially recognized, as far as I can ascertain. The dog was correctly disqualified by the judge on the first day, and his handler received an explanation from the judge that the color was a disqualification according to the standard. The handler returned the second day, but instead of being disqualified, received a Best of Breed ribbon from that day’s judge, who was presumably unaware of the disqualification. The dog was a single entry, and so did not defeat any other dogs, nor gain any points toward its championship.
Several days later, the win photo appeared on Facebook in a post by the dog’s breeder — presumably to promote the “accomplishment.”
The dog’s entry was later administratively cancelled by the AKC.
Color Me Relieved
Those unfamiliar with the AKC might assume that the black dog’s entry was nullified because he was of a disqualifiable color.
In short: No.
American Kennel Club rules are clear: If a judge misses or opts not to disqualify a disqualifiable fault, too bad. The win stands, because, according to the AKC system, a judge’s decisions are binding and final. Just as a judge can incorrectly disqualify a dog — the hoopla over white-chested Dogues de Bordeaux comes to mind — so too can he or she incorrectly not disqualify a dog. (Standard-related disqualifications are serious business, as, after three of them, a dog can never again be shown in the AKC system.)
While a judge can later rescind a disqualification — we do all make mistakes, and sometimes arrive at that revelation after the fact — a judge cannot disqualify a dog he or she has awarded after the book has been signed and the results recorded.
The introduction of black into the Boerboel breed has resulted in an avalanche of incorrectly colored dogs in the breed.
Instead, the reason the black Boerboel’s entry was later cancelled was because it did not have a valid AKC registration. According to the American Kennel Club’s “Rules Applying to Dog Shows” (specifically, Chapter 11, Section 1), foreign-bred dogs can be entered in AKC shows without an AKC registration number if they are registered “with a foreign registry organization whose pedigrees are acceptable for AKC registration.”
The dog, however, was reportedly entered with a number from another domestic registry that is not recognized by the American Kennel Club.
That’s because the neither the Kennel Union of Southern Africa — and by extension the Fédéracion Cynologique Internationale, or FCI — recognizes the main source of black Boerboels in the world: the breed’s official club in its native South Africa, the South African Boerboel Breeders Society, or SABBS.
The Back Story
Sadly, the story of the black Boerboel is hardly an original one. The Fila Brasileiro had an eerily similar scenario emerge in that breed: Some breeders crossed to black-colored dogs, because buyers were willing to pay a premium for such “exotic” colors, and very soon the black dogs became so entrenched in the gene pool that they were added to the standard, even though the color is historically incorrect in the Fila, just as it is in the Boerboel.
In the case of the Boerboel, the outcome was even more dire: The breed basically ceased to officially exist — everywhere, that is, except the United States.
As I've outlined in an earlier story, more than a decade ago, bureaucratic snafus and political wrangling ultimately left the breed in the hands of those who had the black dogs, as they controlled the only club permitted by the South African government to issue pedigrees.
The Kennel Union of Southern Africa denounced the black dogs and refused to recognize both the standard and the pedigrees of the newly government-recognized Boerboel club. Breeders who opposed the black dogs found themselves out in the cold, contemplating rebranding of the breed, under a different name and standard, though this has never come to pass.
But the breed was already established in the United States, led by fanciers who had uniformly taken a position against the black dogs, which most believe first resulted from crosses to black Labradors or Labrador crosses, one of whom was named Pet Shop Jim.
Economics underlie the demand for black Boerboel puppies: Uneducated buyers find the incorrect color "exotic."
The American Boerboel Club decided to take a stand: It left its stud book open. If a pedigree issued by the South African Boerboel Breeders Society is sent to the American Kennel Club, it will be rejected. If, however, that pedigree is sent to the American Boerboel Club, and it is free of any black ancestors, it can be sent by the ABC to the American Kennel Club as part of the open studbook, and will be accepted.
This explains why the Boerboel in question did not have an AKC number. It couldn’t, as black is a dominant color — it can’t just spontaneously appear in two correctly colored parents – and its pedigree would invariably have contained black dogs.
In retrospect, it appears that this particular Boerboel’s appearance at an AKC event was not an accident: After the show, the dog’s breeder posted the win photo on his website, encouraging owners and breeders of black Boerboels to do the same, in an effort to “shed light on a marginalized segment of the Boerboel community” and precipitate discussion about changing the standard to include black dogs.
Whether it will even be possible for such dogs to walk into AKC rings in the future is itself a big question mark. Given the uproar and resulting awareness about the black Boerboel controversy, chances are there will be more attention paid to Boerboel show entries. Any exhibitor in the ring with a black Boerboel can protest the dog on the grounds of the color disqualification. (Those outside the ring may not protest, and any one inside the ring protesting must do it within the scope of AKC rules — that is, the protest must be lodged before the last dog in the class is examined.)
Additionally, the AKC’s “Dealing for Misconduct” rulebook allow for an individual to be brought up on charges for “conduct prejudicial to the sport.” Knowingly and repeatedly entering a dog that an exhibitor knows is ineligible to compete falls under this description.
Black Boerboels should not be confused with so-called "reverse brindles": Correctly colored fawn or red dogs whose black brindling is so intense that it obscures much of the base color.
Ironically, the recent black-Boerboel brouhaha — how’s that for alliteration? — has served the breed well.
First, it made fanciers aware of the color disqualification in the Boerboel standard. The AKC Boerboel disqualifies any base color not described, and black is one of those not-described colors. The only disqualifiable color specifically mentioned is “blue colored (powder coat),” which is a reference to dilution.
And just as important, it made the fancy aware of why there is such a great deal of churn in the breed regarding this color.
Today, many breeds are in a state of desperation over the “fad” colors that have invaded their breeds. French Bulldoggers report that disreputable breeders are pumping out so many blue and merle dogs that reputable breeders are having difficulty placing dogs of correct colors such as fawn and cream.
In the end, the American Boerboel Club may not be able to stop the flow of incorrectly colored Boerboels into the States, but it can keep them out of AKC rings using the one tool available to it: the standard that it controls and safeguards. And that, given the specter of so many historically incorrect colors in so many breeds — from black-and-tan Bulldogs to “straw” Cane Corsos — is something to celebrate, indeed.