Yesterday we proudly announced that the iconic dog journalist Bo Bengtson has joined the Best In Show Daily team. In Part I of our interview with him, we explored where Bo came from: his early years in dogs, his breeding program and judging career, and the publications he has written for, founded and run the past four decades. Today’s installment focuses on the present, including why Bo recently resigned from the magazine he founded in 1997, how he feels about being part of an Internet publication and much more.
CM:Tell us a little bit about why you recently decided to leave Dogs in Review after so many years.
BB: It’s no secret that things were not working well there for a long time. Paul and I started the magazine in 1997, and when we sold it in 2003 it was huge — the Annual was almost 600 pages that year. We printed a lot of great articles and had wonderful contributors, and everyone loved the magazine. Dogs in Review meant a lot to me, and when we sold it I stayed involved as editor-at-large. I’m grateful they kept publishing it for so many years, but things have not been easy for print publications in recent years. I felt really bad for a lot of contributors, including some that we had brought on board in the old days.
When I resigned recently I offered to stay and help with their next issue, really tried to be as flexible as possible, and I’m very sorry that didn’t work out. (It was in fact the Best In Show Daily people who very wisely feel it’s always best to part on good terms.) I wish them well, and above all I hope those contributors will be treated as they deserve.
I heard today that the company has been sold to another corporation. I’m not sure, but hope that’s good news for them.
CM: Having worked so long in print media, how do you feel about moving to an Internet publication?
BB: Yes, it’s been a long time. As I previously mentioned, in my early days as a reporter I remember going up in the Times building in London to file articles that were then telegraphed to my newspaper in Sweden, and to the Sydney Morning Herald when I lived in Australia. Since I remember I was covering ABBA’s tour, it must have been late 1970s or early ‘80s.
The Internet offers some enormous practical advantages: immediate reporting, no printing or mailing costs — and no waiting around for weeks until the magazine comes in your mailbox. I think there will probably always be a niche market for print publications, but it’s going to be much smaller than in the past.
I found some aspects of the Internet intriguing from the start, especially email and the search engines. I email non-stop and Google dozens of times every day. And I put up a website for my dogs in the 1990s, way before most people did! I still maintain it, even though I don’t breed anymore. And of course, like many people, I’m glued to my iPhone pretty much 24 hours a day.
What turned me off Internet publications in the past was how poor the quality was then. They looked bad, they were badly edited, and they were really hard to read. Let’s face it, after a long day in front of the computer, there has to be something special to keep people staying and reading. The best website magazines today are great, and that’s where Best In Show Daily comes in.
For a lot of people I’m sure the best thing about the Internet is that you can get show results quickly. After more than 50 years in dogs, I don’t feel any great urge to know who won what right away, except maybe from shows like Crufts, Westminster and the World Show. But what made me take this seriously was the realization that you can refer back to articles on a website so easily – provided they are filed properly, of course. I think one of the real strengths of a good website is that you are just one click away from all the information you could possibly need.
Paul and I have a garage full of 100 years of dog magazines and old archives with thousands of photos, and it’s fun to spend time browsing through all that, but it’s incredibly difficult to find what you are looking for. When you have it on your computer, it’s literally at your fingertips! I’m hoping that as a team we will be able to put a lot of the best “old” stuff from my archives on the BISD website, so anyone who’s interested can view it.
Not to use hyperbole or anything, but the Internet really is one of the greatest achievements ever. First we learned to start a fire, then we invented the wheel, and now comes the Internet. The fact that all the knowledge in the world is available in seconds to anyone with Internet access is so revolutionary that I think we have only begun to see the consequences.
CM: Tell me a little bit about what excites you in the dog sport today.
BB: Probably the greatest thing that’s happened in the last 10 or 15 years is that we in America have become much more aware that we are part of a larger world of dog fanciers. Some of this may be due to AKC/Eukanuba and the World Challenge, or because it’s easier to travel overseas with dogs, but mostly it’s probably thanks to the Internet. It’s so much easier to stay in touch with dog people abroad thanks to the Internet, and it has literally opened up the whole world for a lot of people.
When I started in dogs, who could have imagined that Russia would be a major player at the top shows worldwide? The Giant Schnauzer that was Number 1 all breeds here a couple of years ago [Ch. Galilee’s Pure of Spirit] had a Russian sire. Who would have predicted that dogs from Thailand would win at Westminster, or that there would be kennel clubs and international dog shows in countries like Iceland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Slovakia, Turkey, Indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam, to mention just a few?
One of the most fascinating aspects of the dog fancy to me is that it has really become a worldwide obsession. Dogs in foreign countries always intrigued me, but I didn’t think things would change so quickly, and I’m happy they did.
Probably the most amazing thing about the dog sport is that after more than 50 years it’s all still so endlessly fascinating. There are so many different facets of the dog fancy that I just don’t ever get tired of it. Put me at ringside with a good judge and a big entry of almost any breed, and I’ll watch for hours.
CM: What are some of your personal areas of concern for the sport that you plan to address over the coming year?
BB: Of course, I share all the usual concerns about the so-called animal rights extremists (who should NEVER be called just “animal rights” people, by the way: they are “animal rights extremists”!), about our right to own and breed dogs. But I also think some of us feed into the enemy propaganda by having too many dogs, not caring at all what non-doggy people think, breeding too much, not making sure every puppy goes to a great home, not caring about rescues, etc., etc. It’s a huge responsibility to breed even a single litter of puppies, and you should never do that lightly.
I’m much more optimistic than most people, though. We have the greatest “product” in the world: the dogs themselves, and they are so good at speaking for us, even without speaking! The great thing about purebred dogs is the variety of sizes, shapes and temperaments they come in, and the predictability that’s linked to that. We don’t promote those aspects enough. I wish someone would come up with a less politically loaded word than “purebred,” by the way: it’s just an uncomfortable term for most people these days, for obvious reasons. And let’s face it, most “pure” breeds aren’t that pure if you go back a few decades anyway. And it’s important that the world knows we love all dogs, regardless of breed or non-breed.
My main concern for the dog fancy is that dog shows in the U.S. just aren’t a particularly fun place for most people to spend a weekend these days. That’s something AKC must address if dog shows are going to become a major activity in this country again. Nobody has ever explained to me why AKC shows are so much smaller than, for instance, those in Europe: how can they have many shows with 5,000, 10,000 or even more dogs on a regular basis when our figures never even get close to that?
But of course we do have a few fantastic shows, like Westminster and AKC/Eukanuba, which in their different ways are the best in the world and offer a fantastic experience both for exhibitors and spectators. There are a few regular all-breed clubs that really try too, but they are not getting enough support — here in California it’s Del Valle DC of Livermore and Santa Barbara KC that come to mind.
And our best National Specialty shows are the wonder of the world! There’s nothing like them anywhere else. The Montgomery Terrier show is perhaps the best dog show in the world — I go every few years, and I’m not even really a Terrier person, but it’s fascinating. The Poodle Club of America specialty is amazing: I’m going again this year and can’t wait. Our American Whippet Club National is fantastic: about 500 dogs, twice as many entries, a whole week with so many different activities your head spins…and there are lots of other breeds with great National Specialties, too.
Bo will join the Best In Show Daily team in New York at the end of this week, and his first article will appear on the website when he reports on the show next week. We’re all looking forward to what he’ll bring to the table, and we know our readers are as well.