It truly was a great pleasure for me to lecture in Estonia in mid-spring of 2007, and to judge part of their Sieger Show. Exhibitors came from all over the Baltic region: Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Sweden, and I believe a few from Russia (handled by Russians, if not). As one of two SV judges, I found the quality to be of a rather high level, on average. (Erich Bösl of Piste Trophe kennel, who felt the same way, did the adult classes, and I did the puppy and veteran classes).
To call the younger dogs the stars of tomorrow is not an overstatement. There were many pups, plus dogs between one and two years of age who have bright futures. A large percentage of these youngsters are Estonian, so I predict the local dogs will be bringing home a lion’s share of the trophies in the coming years.
The two Powerpoint seminars I presented on as many nights following the show were enthusiastically received. One was on Canine Orthopedics and the other was my Analytical Approach to Gait and Structure. These are based on my many years of experience in judging, and in teaching about anatomy and hip dysplasia. It was a little nerve-wracking for a while when we discovered that the laptop would not read the second night’s program on the disk I had brought with me. An I.T. specialist came to the rescue in time, by using an old, slower, three-head computer at his home, which was able to read the apparently damaged disk. He copied the programs onto a USB “stick” as well as his laptop so I could put on the seminar the second evening. Don’t ask me to explain further, since the only stick I’ve previously used in my years in the sport is the one in Schutzhund training! I speak and read a little in four languages (English, German, Spanish, and Dog) but Computerese is too foreign for this old brain to comprehend. In the lecture room and on the judging field, I was ably served by a succession of three translators.
In addition to the show and seminars, my schedule for the May 2-19 trip included tours of the local attractions. At lunchtime one day, I hooked a nearly-5-pound yellow trout at a restaurant on the bank of an idyllic stream, while a jealous otter-type (but mink-size) animal swam past and cavorted on the other side of the wire-mesh barrier that kept him and his kind from stealing my dinner. He had to be satisfied with a piece of fish skin I tossed over the rocks near our table, while my escort and I washed down the striped, golden monster with dark local beer. On another outing, I chanced to meet the “George Washington of Estonia,” as many parochial Americans would likely call him. His name is Mart Laar, and he was largely responsible for the modern, liberated status of today’s free Estonia. Not without a time in a Russian gulag, though, and other persecution.
While Estonia cannot boast mountains, canyons, geysers, or most other natural wonders, it does have a great deal of its “old town” still intact and welcoming tourists, to walk through arches in 12th-Century walls and on its ancient cobblestones. The citizens are also proud of their windswept beach, small museums, extensive protected pine forests inside the city limits, and other pleasant venues. Of course, one of my favorites was visiting kennels. At those belonging to one of the top GSD breeders in the country, I was asked to evaluate puppies and then invited to enjoy refreshments and do a video interview I must not have said much bad about the pups, because I even got second helpings of the pastry. The Estonian fanciers, like those of the neighboring countries represented at the show, are friendly and warm (unlike their version of spring weather!—I kept looking over my shoulder the first few days, to make sure a polar bear was not sneaking up on me). If you think I’m exaggerating (as the Finns and Swedes did), you should realize that the capital, Tallinn, is about at the same latitude as Anchorage Alaska, the Baffin Bay, and the southern tip of Greenland. They claim the Baltic is warmed somewhat by the remnants of the Gulf Stream, but I got the impression that this only affects climate a few days each summer, and only on that far-western part of the sea around Denmark. It’s my warm Alabama blood that makes me believe so.
They make nice desserts there, but I had to bring a bottle of Tabasco with me to meals. I have learned that, generally, the further you get from the tropics, the less spice will be in the food. At one group dinner, I passed the little red bottle around the table and was amused to see the eyes open wider than thought possible, and the throats tighten as some of the diners obviously experienced capsaicin for the first time. Even a few drops tastes like a mouthful of fire unless you are used to it. For me, it’s almost a daily condiment, but I had to kid the hosts about their being used to a bland whale-blubber and seal-meat diet. I found the fun-loving Estonians to have a great sense of humor in spite of the short time lag some needed while the interpreter caught them up with my jokes.
I know that besides looking at the pictures, many readers of these reports on my international judging want to know my impressions of the competing dogs. First, a few general comments. Overall, the level of quality was very good, with perhaps the most impressive being the 12-18-month youngsters and the working-class males. Other classes had their stand-outs, too, but not as numerous. Other than the local dogs, the biggest impact on the trophy table was made by the Swedes, winning or overwhelming in many classes.
I would like to mention some notable puppies before a few comments on the older dogs. The 4-6 month male class was won by a son of Margman Torsten (whom I have seen at German Sieger Shows), and who in turn is a very handsome sable son of VA2 Timo Berrekasten. Another Torsten son from Fest Kiefer kennel nearly won the 9-12 male class but did not have quite the stamina and drive that the eventual winner did, Mischaland’s Mandel from Anders & Susanne Eriksson of Sweden. Mandel is sired by the important producer Mischaland’s Joaquin, who was also the sire of the 6-9 month and the 9-12 month female winners. Joaquin is a son of Flipp Arlett. Other successful producers represented included Endrefalva Michigan (Pascha Jahnhöhe son) and Arko Butjenter Land (another Flipp Arlett son, but ex a Baru Haus Yu daughter). Arko also was sire of the 12-18 month male SG-1 winner and the SG-2 female from the same age group, as well as other high-placing entries.
Some excellent Veterans were shown under me, and I always appreciate the older dogs, especially when they are of this quality. In Working-class females, the sole VA was a large, beautiful Bax Luisenstrasse daughter named Mischaland’s Lana, and the only VA male was Fest Kiefer Hasper, son of Mischaland’s Michigan and a rising producer in his own right. A Nero Nobachtal son, Mischaland’s Buster, was V-1, and the only SG was Mischaland’s Yashin, probably one of the two best dogs in the show, but without a qualifying breed survey. He will probably become one of the region’s top winners by next year. A nice Ghandi Arlett son was V-2, looking drier and more athletic than his sire.
In the courage tests, there were a bit too many that got “nicht genugend” (insufficient or “not good enough”), in need of more training in various types of environments or perhaps a gene transplant if that were anything other than a science-fiction dream. It must be said, however, that in some of the countries represented, SchH/IPO training has not been stressed as much or for as long as in the USA or Germany. Ireland has just lately taken the step to require character/courage testing, but I was a little surprised that some countries this close to Germany were no more advanced in their requirements for working traits. I was assured, however, that the Baltic and Scandinavian countries are putting more and more emphasis on character proofing. The best-performing dogs were the two demonstration dogs, plus two that were entered in show competition and won the “Best Defense” trophies.
It happens so often that there is a riot or near-war that breaks out when I go to a foreign country to judge, that I and others are tempted to think that I carry a jinx or curse with me—one that notifies local terrorists or hostile forces to take action. Bombs in Pakistan, battles between that country and India, threats by Red China against Taiwan, insurgents in the Philippines, guerillas in Latin America, etcetera, have an eerie way of coinciding with my being in those places at those times. I just wonder when I’ll have to convince governments that I don’t work for the C.I.A., and convince the C.I.A. that I’m not an agent of a hostile foreign power!
On this trip, young ethnic Russians and non-political drunks went on a rampage just before I landed there, and they broke many windows and looted liquor and jewelry stores, especially. The excuse was the Estonian government decision to move a large bronze statue of a Russian soldier (erected in a prominent downtown location during the half-century of Soviet Army occupation after WW2) to a more suitable war cemetery location. My new friends explained the situation to me, and I read a slightly fuller account in the European edition of the Wall Street Journal while flying back to the States after the seminars.
The current population of Estonia includes 69% Estonians, and about 26% Russian (by birth or descent), most of whom have Estonian citizenship by now, and the rest composed of several minorities, mostly from neighboring countries. The people of Russian descent have stayed to themselves, mostly, resisting integration of neighborhoods and assimilation of language. This naturally foments distrust and dislike between individual citizens.
American support for Estonian independence has been shown not only at the end of the Cold War, but also in recent years by such things as Mr. Laar being named the recipient of the Milton Friedman award for economic reform and liberty. This has rankled Moscow, which has lost control over so many of its satellites since 1989. Mr. Putin lashed out at Estonia for moving the statue, and at America for our supportive relations with free Estonia. He has linked us to the Nazis, which does nothing to promote peace and good will. But these are matters of politics, which is not why I went to Estonia. I went there to enjoy the company of fellow dog fanciers and to be of service to these new friends. There were Russians participating in the show, and of course they had no connection with the rioters and should not be painted with the same brush. The dog sport makes brothers of disparate peoples, and we should hope that national leaders could learn to get along as well as dog owners, even though that is not always perfect.
Estonia first declared independence in 1918 but the Soviet “Communist empire” soon made a mockery of that, finally occupying it by force in 1939 as a result of an agreement with Hitler, but then it was occupied by Germany from 1941 to 1944, when the Reds again took control. They again declared independence in 1991, two years after the Berlin Wall crumbled, a demonstration called “the Baltic war” protested occupation, and the Russian bear started backing up. In 2004 they joined the European Economic Union, but were still using the kroon as official currency as of my visit in 2007, with the change to the Euro in 2010. In the Estonian language, the country name is Eesti, the double vowel being pronounced like the English “long A” just as double vowels are modified in the Netherlands and a few other countries. The people are ethnically most closely related to the Finns, and both use a variety of the Uralic/Finn-Ugric language family. To my ears, there are great similarities to Finnish and almost as much to Swedish, and nothing like the Slavic-Lithuanian neighbors’ tongue. They established themselves there after the last major ice age of some 11,000 to 13,000 years ago, it is said. Estonia is truly a Nordic country—even the name of their capital, Tallinn, is said to have been derived from a phrase that means “Danish town.”
An interesting fact is that they have a flat-rate income tax, set initially at 26% in 1994, and dropping annually to the targeted 20% of 2009. GDP is increasing rapidly in their successful economy, with electronic technology (cell phones as only one example) being quite important and catching up to the main wealth-producing industries of oil shale, limestone, and forestry.
Although Christianized in the early 13th Century during the Northern Crusades, and “converted” to Lutheran Protestantism after 1524, Estonians today are the least religious people in the 25-member EEU, with no more than 16% of the population even believing that there is “a God.” I got the impression that most were not hostile to religion; just range from annoyed to indifferent if the topic came up.