Why Golden Retrievers top India’s VIP list

Using a Golden Retriever for image purposes seems routine today. Their good looks and personality have made them stars of films like the Air Bud and Cats & Dogs series, and also with politicians—US Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan both had Goldens.

In recent decades they have consistently been among the most popular breeds in the world, which explains the wide coverage this month of a gathering of 361 Goldens at Guisachan House in Scotland to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of the puppies who helped establish the breed.This is relatively recent for such popular dogs— others like beagles and spaniels have been around much longer. Exactly how Goldens were created is still debated, but the kennels at Guisachan do seem central to the story. They belonged to Lord Tweedmouth, a British banker and politician who was also one of the last directors of the East India Company before its role was assumed by the British Crown.

Indian Goldens continued to be bred after Independence—in 1954 ToI reported on one winning best in show in Bangalore. But perhaps their reputation as aristocratic, hunting dogs might be what lead the socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia to attack Nehru about his dogs in 1963.In this breeding frenzy retrievers of all kinds are being bred with each other, erasing breed distinctions, with a cream coloured retriever style dog becoming standard. What is worse is that it is spreading breed weaknesses, like the tendency to have bad hips or epilepsy. The temperament of the dogs also suffers, as stressed dogs produce stressed pups, which go on to be raised by families with little idea or ability to take care of such large, energetic dogs.

Retrievers are now among the most abandoned dogs. It is a sad fate for dogs that have given so much love, joy and also practical help to humans since their 19th century creation. Perhaps the politicians who have benefitted from posing with them should consider measures to crack down, with really severe penalties, on bad breeders, and encourage the good one, to allow us to keep enjoying the many pleasures that retrievers can fetch us.

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