In the American dog show scene today only a handful of people can be classified among its most elite journalists. Indeed I count fewer than a half-dozen who can lay claim to that title, and one of them stands above even his closest peers. Bo Bengtson’s longevity and experience, coupled with an unwavering passion for every aspect of the world of showing dogs, makes him a singularly unique icon in the sport of dogs. Best In Show Daily is thrilled to announce that he has joined its team.
Bo is perhaps best known today for founding the all-breed magazine Dogs in Review, which he and his partner, Paul Lepiane, owned from February 1997 through the spring of 2003, and for which Bo served as editor-at-large until only recently. But prior to that, he and Paul owned and published Afghan Hound Review, which Paul started in 1974, Poodle Variety, which Paul started in 1977, and Sighthound Review, which the pair founded in 1984 and published until 1996, and which continues today. Even prior to that, Bo was show editor for the Swedish Kennel Club magazine and later for an Australian dog publication, and began writing for English Dog World in the late 1960s and Kennel Reviewmagazine, in America, in the early 1970s.
In a 2002 interview in Dogs in Review, Bo explained that he “had always wanted to start a good all-breed magazine, and when Kennel Review folded in the early 1990s there was just this big void.” Bo and Paul already had their publishing office and staff in place, putting out the Afghan, Poodle and sighthound magazines. They had inherited the Kennel Review archives, which included thousands of photographs covering many decades in the sport, and Bo had his own personal collection of nearly 100 years of old dog magazines stored in his garage. They had everything they needed to put together the kind of magazine Bo had envisioned: a serious publication that would provide a forum for people involved in breeding, showing and judging purebred dogs all over the world.
In that 2002 interview, Bo said he wanted it to be “the kind of magazine I would have liked to find when I started out in dogs many, many years ago,” which he felt was lacking. The result was a wildly successful magazine embraced by dog fanciers worldwide.
In addition to his life as a magazine founder, publisher and editor, Bo is an award-winning author, having written both “The Whippet” (the breed monography that has been published in three revised editions, most recently in 2010) and “Best in Show – the World of Show Dogs and Dog Shows,” the most comprehensive book in existence covering the sport of dogs from its beginnings through 2007.
But Bo’s life in dogs has been much more than dog magazines and books. He’s been as successful as a breeder, owner-handler and judge as he has been in publishing. Since his first litter of Whippets in 1966, Bo has bred or co-bred 130 champions, including more than 100 Whippets. Many of those became specialty and all-breed Best in Show winners. He has handled his own dogs to numerous champion titles as well as Group and specialty Best in Show wins, although he seldom shows anything but class dogs at regular all-breed shows these days. Since the 1970s, he has judged all over the world, and his assignments have included, on multiple occasions, such prestigious events as Crufts, World Shows, Westminster Kennel Club and National Specialties in various countries.
The question is, from where did this man come? In the most fortuitous circumstance of my own life in dogs, I went to work for Bo and Paul at Dogs in Review in 1999. I learned almost everything I know about publishing from them, and I’m now fortunate to bring to Best In Show Daily readers my two-part interview with Bo.
CM: Bo, you were born in Sweden. When did you get your first dog, and how did you become involved with purebred dogs?
BB:When I was growing up in Sweden, we had a Cocker and a Dachshund, both purebred but not show dogs. I was always crazy about animals, something I’m sure I inherited. My grandmother and her family had dogs and horses, one of my aunts had some of the first Welsh Corgis in Sweden, and a great-uncle was one of the founding members of the Swedish Kennel Club in 1889.
I clearly remember my first experience with the sport of showing dogs. In September 1958, when I was 14 years old, there was a dog show in town. My sister and I went, and it was so fascinating that we spent the entire day there. When I got a copy of the EnglishDog World Annual for Christmas that year, I knew that was it. Dog shows were what I wanted to be a part of.
I started going to shows in England in the early 1960s. I would write reports for our local Swedish dog club paper, and then I became the show editor for the Kennel Club magazine.
My sister and I considered lots of different breeds when we decided to get a show dog, but we ended up with an Afghan. We were very lucky; the bitch we got did some nice winning and produced a couple of champions that also did some winning. Then, in the ‘60s, I began working at the Bletchingley Afghan kennel in England during summer holidays. I had seen a photo of the Whippet that won the Hound Group at Westminster in 1958, Ch. Laguna Lucky Lad, and in England I saw another Whippet from that kennel that I admired. So I started in Whippets with a puppy from the Laguna kennel.
Over the next decade, I brought some very good dogs – well, good for those days – from England to Sweden, from the Laguna, Fleeting, Shalfleet and Nevedith kennels, and the Badgewood kennel, owned by Betty Fell, who was an American living in England at the time. Because I was still in school, I didn’t do a lot of breeding myself, but people used the dogs I imported, and they did a lot to change the breed in Scandinavia.
I also bred a couple of litters of Greyhounds with Göran Bodegård, who today judges frequently here in the U.S. We bred Ch. Guld, a bitch that had a lot of influence worldwide, and I did some nice wining with her daughter, Ch. Black and White Lady. We also co-bred a bitch that was among the top dogs of all breeds in Sweden.
CM:You actually became involved in writing about dogs during those early years as well. Tell us about that.
BB:In the 1970s, I had a regular column in one of the Stockholm daily newspapers. It wasn’t just about dogs, but I did write a lot about dog shows. The paper’s circulation was about a million daily. I even covered Crufts, and I remember filing my report from my paper’s office at The Times in London after Best in Show in the evening.
In those days there wasn’t a lot of information available in Sweden about dog shows, and we were so eager for any news, dog magazines or anything about the outside dog world. We had some exposure to the American show scene. Ulla Magnusson was a Great Dane breeder who imported some dogs from the U.S., and she once showed some films from Westminster, with Ch. Puttencove Promise, the Standard Poodle, the Afghan Ch. Shirkhan of Grandeur, and the Whippet I had so admired, Lucky Lad. Those dogs were nothing like I had ever seen at the shows I’d been to.
CM:It’s almost a fairy tale story, the people you met and spent time with when you made your first trip to the United States.
BB: Yes, that’s true. In 1967 I came by boat to the U.S., to New York. I purchased a $99 three-month ticket that I could use to travel by Greyhound bus all over the country, and I did. I visited as many kennels as I could. I saw Peggy Newcombe’s Eng. Am. Ch. Courtenay Fleetfoot of Pennyworth, the Whippet that was Top Dog of all breeds in 1964. I visited Doris Wear at Stoney Meadows, and she took me to my first dog show in America, the Chicago International. That’s where I was introduced to Alva Rosenberg, the judge I knew to be America’s greatest. He was so nice – I was amazed he was even willing to talk to me. Mrs. Wear also introduced me to Anne and Jim Clark, and I got to visit Bob and Jane Forsyth’s kennel, when they were still handling, where I saw the Afghan Hound Ch. Holly Hill Desert Wind. I fell in love with America.
Then I went out to California, and I didn’t want to go home. I worked at the Srinagar Saluki kennel for six months while attending some classes at UCLA. But eventually I had to go home, where I finished my degree at the university.
After that first visit to the U.S., two things happened that made me want to return. One year Ric Chashoudian and Peter Green came to Sweden to judge, and probably because I could speak English I was asked to go to dinner with them. It was an unforgettable experience, watching them judge and listening to them talk about dogs. Then a few years later, Bea Godsol and Frank Sabella came to Sweden, and again, talking with them and watching them judge was fascinating. It made me even hungrier to again visit the country where dog people of this caliber had come from.
CM: You visited the U.S. several more times before you finally moved here permanently, didn’t you?
BB:I came back to the U.S. a few times over the next several years to go to Westminster. I had also met Ann and Tom Stevenson when they were in Sweden judging, and I came back to judge their show, Santa Barbara Kennel Club. I spent a year working for an Australian magazine, and then in about 1980 I moved to California for good. By that time Paul had started both Poodle Variety and Afghan Hound Review, and both were doing well, so he needed help with them. I’ve been in California ever since.
CM: You created quite a legacy with your Bohem Whippets, down from those first dogs that you admired in your youth in England. As a breeder, of what are you most proud?
BB: The dogs I’ve bred most recently have been only 12 or 13 generations down from Ch. Laguna Leader and Ch. Fleeting Flamboyant, my early imports. My “kennel” has never consisted of more than a few dogs at a time, and I’ve been lucky to have great people who bred Bohem bitches and used my stud dogs to carry on my line and to develop their own lines.
I bred my last litter last year; after more than 50 years in the breed that’s probably enough. I may co-breed, but I’m happy just having a couple of pets now. There’s enough of my breeding out there to last several more years, though, and almost wherever I go in the world I can find dogs that go back to my breeding, and I’m proud of that.
CM: When did you begin judging? You’ve judged all over the world in the past 40 years. Do you still enjoy it?
BB: My first judging assignment was in England in 1967. I judged quite a lot in the 1970s and early 1980s. Of course, it is incredibly enjoyable when you have assignments at shows like Westminster, Crufts and the World Show, and I’ve especially enjoyed judging specialties, here and abroad. I’ve said before that for me, it really isn’t fun to judge a breed unless I know at least as much about it as any of the exhibitors showing to me, and that doesn’t happen very often in American show rings today. I’ll probably have to eat those words now that I’m judging a few more breeds…
Back in the early 1980s, I had to give up AKC judging because we had the magazines, although I was still able to judge special events, sweepstakes, Top 20s and that sort of thing. Then we sold the magazines and AKC reinstated me. Now I’m approved for 12 Hound breeds, IGs and Golden Retrievers. The AKC system doesn’t make one eager to seek approval for more breeds, although it has been suggested I should be put on the “fast track” – if you can call it that, after so many years. I’d like to be able to judge the Hound Group! It isn’t that much fun to judge AKC shows, with all the paperwork and what I call the “nanny state” that exists for judges. Judging is hard work, and I hate that so many people look for ulterior motives when they don’t win. As I said in an interview several years ago, judging is a lot less crooked than most people think, but it can involve a lot more ignorance than most people imagine!
On the other hand, I’ve gotten to see a lot of the world when judging that I might not have seen otherwise, and I really appreciate that. When I moved to the U.S., I was approved by the FCI for about 40 breeds, plus Groups and Best in Show, so I can judge those overseas. I was asked a number of years ago to go to China to both judge and participate in a conference, and that turned out to be a great experience. I went back again a couple of years ago. I love going to Crufts and really enjoy judging there. Several years ago I was able to spend a few days in Venice and Rome when I judged in Italy, and more recently I judged in Russia. It really is a privilege to experience the dog sport and the culture in general in other countries.
CM: You participate in the sport in several other ways, in addition to breeding and judging. Among the great gifts you’ve given to the sport are your books. You also give back as the delegate for the American Whippet Club.
BB: I wrote my first dog book when I was 22. I have really found the history of the dog sport and the people involved in it to be fascinating all these years. I wanted to write my “Best in Show” book primarily to put all the information I had gathered over many decades together in one place. As a community we have been, and still are, very careless about collecting and saving the history of our sport. One of my goals now that I’m at Best In Show Daily is that, working with the current team, we can work toward preserving more of the history of the sport and the dogs and people who’ve been part of it.
I will continue to contribute to English Dog World magazine on occasion if they want me to, and to Sighthound Review, in addition to my work with Best In Show Daily. I have only been a delegate to the AKC for a year, and it’s interesting to see a little more from the inside how it works. I was determined to make a difference, and through my parent club I submitted a proposal for some changes that we think would make dog shows a more pleasant pursuit for most people – but that proposal has languished since last summer without even being discussed, so it’s not easy to achieve anything as a delegate. And it’s time-consuming and expensive to go to the meetings four times a year — all of them on the East Coast!
In Part II of this interview, Bo talks about why he resigned fromDogs in Review after 15 years, how he feels about working on an Internet publication and what things excite and concern him about the sport of dogs today.