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From The BSCA Archives

The Division of the Belgian Shepherds into Separate Breeds by the American Kennel Club
By Dave Spang

Dave has been the Historian/Archivist for the BSCA for many years and serves a similar capacity with UBSDA.

This article was written at the request of some of the newer owners of Belgian Shepherds who knew the American Kennel Club had separated the varieties and approved 3 separate standards effective July 1, 1959; but they did not know the background of this change.

It is important to remember that in 1949, when the BSCA was incorporated there were not more than 20 individuals with Belgians (mostly Groenendael). They were primarily in the midwest but there was at least one in Arizona (Vestals- Rio Carmello) and a few on the East Coast (Goris - Beldome; Lutz - de Belgique). The BSCA was incorporated by 3 couples (Browns- Fume de Fleur; Brindels - Beaute Noir; and Rowlands - Roll In). In 1946 there were a total of 20 Belgians registered with the AKC; 1947- 30; 1948- 40; 1949- 46 total dogs were registered, almost all black.

In 1948 a business man from Chicago, Rudy Robinson, became interested in the breed and began to import heavily. He developed good communication with major European breeders, published his own newsletter and advertised regularly in Dog World. His imports also began winning both regionally and at the National Specialties. His stock was in strong demand so that older members started using his studs.

There slowly developed 2 factions based on whether they were in favor of Rudy's imports or not. Then, in 1954, Rudy imported the first Tervuren seen in the US in 30 years. These dogs also did their share of winning, much to the displeasure of the older breeders. In 1957, there was a discussion about changing the constitution and bylaws. There were 18 full members at that time who were the long-term breeders; there was a second class of Associate Members, without voting privileges. Also, two intervariety breedings were done and there was talk of a Groenendael X Malinois litter although no evidence has been found to show that one was ever whelped.

In November, 1956 a letter was sent to the AKC stating, in part, "there is a very concerted effort by a very few to lower the cost of membership ($25), and build our club with names only. This means that the serious breeders and charter members of this club, the folks that reactivated this club, are to be outnumbered by single dog owners."

A letter writing campaign to the AKC began saying that the Tervuren was a different breed and the few Malinois and Laekenois did not look like the other two at all. Letters were received from Mme Aubry (Chemin des Dames) dated 2/17/56, and Felix Verbanck, (secretary of the Royal Groenendael Club in Belgium) dated 10/12/1955, both of which supported intervariety breeding. There is no evidence that these letters were forwarded to the AKC although a letter from the President of the French Club (M. Wassel) was sent directly to AKC.

The AKC on March 12, 1958 sent a letter to the President of the BSCA saying, in part,

"Generally each of the dogs of these other types (L,M,T) has been mated with another dog of the same type, but recently there has been some interbreeding especially between Groenendael and Tervueren, and in at least one case between Groenendael and Malinois. While the breeding standard specifies that dogs of all the different types should be identical except for their coats and colors, the fact is that the Malinois and Tervueren which we have seen bear little resemblance in conformation to the Groenendael, and the Laeken bear no resemblance at all to any of the others."

"What concerns us if that if this interbreeding of the different types is permitted to continue we are likely to end up with a great many registered dogs which even an expert could not confidently identify as purebred Belgian Sheepdogs.... All Poodles, whether Toy, Miniature, or Standard, are registered as Poodles, and all Dachshunds,.... are registered as Dachshunds... Our registration records make no distinction as to variety."

"As I told you in our conference, our Board of Directors considered this problem some months ago, and they seriously wondered whether the interests of the breed would not best be served if we should consider each of the different types a separate and distinct breed, even though we know that originally they sprang from similar stock. Our board asked me to discuss this matter with you and suggested that you get a formal expression of opinion on the subject, preferably by mail vote, from all the members of your club."

The Archives does not have a copy of the letter which the BSCA President sent to the membership of about 90 people. A tabulation of the results, presented to the AKC on June 9, 1958, shows that 8 were opposed, 2 took a middle position, and 32 were in favor of the separation. Of the 32, 3 were not BSCA members.

By July 31, 1958 AKC reached its decision to separate the varieties. The initial intent was to relegate the Tervueren and Malinois to the Miscellaneous Group. After much discussion, the Tervueren were allowed to be shown in the same group as the Groenendael. There were too few Malinois registered at that time so they remained in the Miscellaneous Class until 1965.