Interview with Deb Kidwell & Rhonda Mann

Alberto Rossi

How long have you bred/owned Azawakhs? Have you ever bred/owned other breeds?

I got my first Azawakh,. Reckendahl’s Kiffah, in Spring of 1989 and bred my first litter (A) in late 1990. I grew up with Doberman Pinschers and bred one litter many years ago. My first show dog was a Cardigan Welsh Corgi and I bred one litter of those, but found it just wasn’t the breed for me. I had Dobes in my mid 20’s, then I got a Pharaoh Hound. I was very successful with the Pharaohs and bred three litters over an 8-10 year period, but the barking made me crazy and I placed all of them, except for my first female who lived to be 13 years old. I got Kiffah while I still had the Pharaohs, but never bred another Pharaoh litter after that. I knew from the beginning that the Azawakhs were very important to me, but importing Kel Tarbanassen Etambo and Dayyat ‘n shat-ehad, really sold me on the breed. Their temperaments were so much easier than my Kiffah.
(RM) I acquired my first Azawakh (Kel Soulleret Tezma) in 1992 from Susan Sills/Andy Meier (Kel Soulleret Azawakh). At that time, I owned two Borzois and a German Shepherd Dog. I have only been involved with breeding Azawakhs.

Where do your foundation dogs come from? More specifically, from which kennels? And on which basis did you choose them?

(DK) My first Azawakh was Ch. Reckendahl’s Kiffah (Ch. Mali .x Al Hara’s Hiba) from Gisela Cook-Schmidt. About six months later, I imported Kel Tarbanassen Etambo (C’Babasch x Kel Tarbanassen Bijou) from the Coppés in France and a few months later, Dayyat ‘n shat-ehad (Yaris x Dazol in Chenan), from Ursula Arnold in Germany. I started with the clear idea of my dogs having a strong African influence. Though at that time, I admit, I didn’t know much about Azawakhs! I only knew I’d found the breed I wanted forever and it was important to me to breed excellent Azawakhs with good temperament and health. Though Kiffah and Etambo came first, I consider Dayyat and Yssa (Kel Tarbanassen GuerouGuerou) to be my true foundation.

(RM) Deb was very much in the process of developing the Kel Simoon breeding program when I became involved. She owned both of the foundation dogs. Deb was generous enough to let co-own Yssa, who produced our first litter in the new partnership. At that time, I had more free time for socializing and training puppies. My involvement has always been geared more toward the development of the puppy’s temperaments.

Are you satisfied with your first choice? Or would you make a different choice now when you are more experienced?

(DK) That’s a hard question. I loved my Kiffah very much, but she was very difficult in temperament, and later, not very healthy. I bred her to Etambo (before the health problems started!) and my A litter was born. In my opinion, it wasn’t a very good litter, though the temperaments were an improvement on Kiffah They were a bit short on leg, weren’t very elegant and later, there were health problems. I never bred from that litter, although two other people did. Following the A litter, I started over with the importation of ‘Yssa’ Kel Tarbanassen GuerouGuerou (Kel Tarbanassen Eladi x Cenerentola des Nomades Bleu) who was a full sister to Multi Ch. Kel Tarbanassen Firhoun. She was later bred to Dayyat ‘n shat-ehad (Yaris x Dazol in Chenan), our foundation sire. This produced our very successful C litter, and from there, I continued my breeding program line-breeding on Yaris and Dazol in Chenan with the careful introduction of mostly French line dogs. I like the Yugoslavian line very much, but the line I work with seems to produce better with the French influence in both type and temperament.
(RM) I was lucky that I became a partner in Kel Simoon after Deb had completely changed the breeding program. The first litter I co-bred was the Kel Simoon C litter, of which I am extremely proud.

Have you inserted dogs of direct African origin in your breeding programs, and if so, why?

(DK) I’ve used dogs of African descent from the beginning. I feel it’s very important to breed with the original dogs found in the Sahel for a more calm, rational and original temperament. We have a little female, Tagalas, whose mother was actually bred in Mali, though she was born in Alaska. She has produced two nice litters for us and is very successful in lure coursing. She’s also a very sweet and kind little girl, as many Africans seem to be.
I would prefer that the dogs in Europe and the US retain more of their African phenotype and I feel that the inclusion of the direct African dogs is very important to the breed, especially to improve the general health of the Azawakh.
I also feel that the FCI standard should include all the colors found in the Sahel and the requirements for white markings be dropped, to allow for all color patterns with or without white. Limiting the gene pool to only shades of sand to red and black brindle is detrimental to the breed, in my opinion. In the US, the American Azawakh Association uses the FCI standard, but we accept all the colors found in the Sahel.
(RM) I believe very strongly in using the direct African dogs. In America, we have very little access to different lines. The African imports and their descendants allowed us an opportunity to avoid doubling up genetically on some of the same health and temperament problems that had developed here. The African dogs live as part of multiple family communities where aggression would not be tolerated.

What influences your choices in the breeding of your dogs? Are your decisions always scientific? How much do you value the pedigree?

(DK) Sometimes, it’s a whim, but for the most part, Rhonda and I extensively discuss who we will breed. I also talk to Ursula Arnold quite a bit about our plans, and other friends who are familiar with the dogs. I like a dog with a bit more bone, and not so narrow or two-dimensional as some breeders are going for. I value pedigree quite a bit as I said before, since I line-breed on the original African imports of Ursula Arnold and the French line. We’ve also imported a few dogs with a strong African heritage. For instance, Fada Faranda Bohemia (Griss Griss x Djanet Faranda), Rima ak Ilaman (Taikoussou’s Ashak x Jegalah de Garde Epee), Ifalan ‘n shat-ehad(Amanar X Edawi ‘n shat-ehad), and Jeloun ‘n shat-ehad (Biyanou x Kel Simoon Cafya). However, that said, I will not breed to a dog with poor temperament and we health test our breeding stock extensively (eyes, thyroid, autoimmune, hips). I’ve thought about using one of the more popular studs before, but have not, either because of temperament and/or the fact that no health testing had been done on the dog or their ancestors.

(RM) Temperament, health, function and construction, hopefully, in that order. It is my belief that first you must be able to live with the dog. Then the dog must be healthy enough to live. The more physically sound and functional the dog, the better it’s quality of life. But you could have these qualities in a mongrel. It is the format that makes it an Azawakh!

Have you ever done repeat breedings between a pair? What is your opinion of this practice?

(DK/RM) NO! We personally, think the idea of repeat breedings is a waste of time. Your breeding program does not progress by repeatedly breeding the same combination! Once you have puppies from the first litter, it’s only making puppies to repeat the breeding no matter how successful the puppies are in the show ring or in the field. The only reason we would consider a repeat breeding is if the first litter had only one or two puppies, and they were really excellent examples of the breed in every way. However, we would still only repeat it one time, not more.

I think you agree with me upon the relative dishomogeneity of this breed, in Europe as much as in Africa. Would you retain or diminish this dishomogeneity?

(RM) I don’t believe there is a simple answer to this question. As I stated earlier, you must have a certain format or phenotype or you don’t have a breed. There are some variations within a phenotype that gives each dog or line a unique appearance. These variations occur in Africa primarily as a product of function being the number one priority. It would appear that they occur outside of Africa as the result of individual interpretation of the standard. In order to diminish this dishomogeneity, we would basically have to choose one line and have all the world agree that that this line represents the ultimate Azawakh. Then, we would have to make all the breeders line-breed on that line. We have not yet been able to agree on the shape of the chest or the planes of the head. For this reason, diminishing the disparities is impossible.

And on a single breeder’s scales, would it be advisable to seek an inner homogeneity, a sort of kennel trademark? In this regard, how do you handle this in your kennel?

(DK) Of course, most breeders breed for what they find attractive in their interpretation of the standard. However, I don’t feel that one breeder should diverge wildly from the standard or seek to have the standard changed to fit their dogs. I don’t really work at a specific type, but I guess overall, it’s easy to find our dogs, or descendants of our dogs, since I work along the same bloodlines. Some judges seem to like them very well, other judges do not. The two most important things with which I would like to stamp my breed program are Azawakhs that are temperamentally sound and healthy, yet also maintain the essential essence of the breed.

In your opinion, what are the fundamental features of the breed that cannot be missed?

(DK) Format. Without the correct format, it’s not an Azawakh in my opinion. I don’t like the dog’s chest to make up a major part of its height. The legs should be long, and the body not such a big percentage of the total height. The standard calls for the body to be 40% of the total height. This distorted ratio is becoming more common in the show ring today, in my opinion. Movement is also very important. It must he light and graceful; like a dancer. The  »flying trot » has no place in an Azawakh!
Eye shape is also important to me. I like them to look almond shaped or of a Chinese type. Slanted, darkly pigmented and expressive. Another point to consider is underline. When I became involved in the breed, two underlines (or chest shapes) were considered correct; round and angular. I prefer the more angular underline in my dogs, though both occur in our breed program. Both types seem to occur in Africa too. I was disappointed when the latest version of the FCI standard eliminated the more angular chest, in favor of the round aspect. The standard also calls for a chest that does not reach the elbow. I’ve seen many big winners in the show ring with a chest that drops well below the elbows. Actually, I feel that most points of the standard are important, but these are things that I see first when I’m looking at Azawakhs.

Among the features that are not strictly necessary to define the breed, which are those you are working on, and particularly those you are trying to develop?

(DK) I feel strongly that health testing should become the norm in the breed and that it should be made public. It’s good for the breed, but not so good for the breeder’s ego, and that is the problem. It’s easy here in US to register your dog for their thyroid function, eye testing (PRA), heart (Cardiomyopathy and other things) and hip dysplasia. One can go to the appropriate registry, enter the dog’s name or registration number and get the dog’s rating for each category. It’s possible to make an  »informed » decision about breeding! Here in the US, it is considered normal and ethical to do this. Sometimes, we don’t go to the added expense of registering the results, but we’ll discuss them openly with people.
Temperament is another area that I feel is extremely important. I know in Europe, you have begun to have problems with aggressive dog laws. Now it’s the Mastiff breeds and the Pit Bulls, but if Azawakhs bite some people, then the Azawakh will come under attack by the press. Then, things will begin to get very difficult for our dogs. In the US, if your dog bites a person, then maybe that person owns your house and everything you have, your dog is in danger and you may go to jail. I think the Azawakh must have a calmer temperament. I like them to be easy with people in public and when we have visitors, but it’s also OK if they don’t want to be touched. However, they must not bite!

As far as I know there is no single kennel club in the USA and the recognition of a breed is a procedure characterized by different steps, with specific morphology and coursing contests. Would you describe to us Europeans the situation of the Azawakhs from this point of view?

(DK) The situation in the US with conformation shows is really bad. There are several rare breed clubs/registries that hold shows, but there is no uniformity between them and no governing body to oversee what they do. The organizations are mostly individuals trying to make money and they come and go every few years. Most of the rare breed shows are very small (under 50 dogs total, some are much smaller), the judges are inexperienced or are Working breed experts. Many never saw an Azawakh before, and some don’t bother to read the standard before they judge them. In general, the entries at rare breed shows are 75% Working (Molosser) dogs, 25% all other groups. Sometimes, there are one or two shows each year where there is an experienced sighthound judge, then I enter my dogs, but sometimes they change the judge after you enter and the club won’t give your money back! Most of the time when you enter, you only get a list of judges that will be there, not when they are judging, so you must enter ALL the shows. It’s very expensive and not very professional! There are usually two shows each day, because the shows are so small. They hold one show in the morning, then another in the afternoon. So a single weekend comprises four shows. A very expensive endeavor, if you enter multiple dogs at $20 – 25 for each dog, in each show! And next month, the Championship you attained with that group may be worth nothing, because the group goes out of business.
We are very active in lure coursing our hounds and we are starting to do other activities (agility, canine freestyle, obedience, etc.) The Azawakh is fully recognized by the American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) for lure coursing as of January 2001, and are supposed to get AKC recognition for performance events starting August 2002. I believe the breed is recognized by the open field coursing organization as well, although we’ve not competed in that venue.
The American Kennel Club (the major dog registry in the US) is starting to take some of the particular rare breeds into their shows, but it’s slow and we don’t know when the Azawakh will be recognized to compete in shows. Even so, they can’t compete for Best in Show with the normal groups. It’s a kind of exhibition-only type of competition. Also, the AKC judges don’t know the breed, so it will be hard to get a fair judging for the Azawakhs or the other rare breeds. It’s important for the breeders to volunteer to give judge’s seminars to educate them on the points of the Azawakh breed standard.
To get full recognition of a breed by AKC is a long process. You must have certain numbers of dogs (600, I think) distributed equally around the country, a strong breed club, and a breed standard in AKC format, as well as other requirements. I don’t understand why the AKC doesn’t just accept those breeds recognized by the FCI countries, but they don’t.

Is there an Azawakh club in the States?

(DK) Yes, the American Azawakh Association (AAA) has been in existence since the mid 1980’s. There was another club that was formed a couple of years ago by Corine Lundqvist (Azawakh Club of America), but it’s no longer active. The AAA has about 50 members and newsletter subscribers from the US and other counties.

Can you tell us whether the American standard will differ from the FCI standard and how?

(DK) The American standard is exactly like the FCI standard, with the exception that we allow all colors found in the Azawakh’s countries of origin.

Several European breeders and amateurs think that blunting the harsh temperament of this breed is a mistake, considering it is a characteristic feature, that was molded – just like physical features – by it’s original environment. On the contrary, in consideration of the welfare of both dog and owners, others find it better to try to modify the dog’s character to suit it to the novel environment where they live. Taking into account the fact that Americans are very exacting about dogs’ good manners and docility, what’s your position in this debate?

(DK) As I said earlier, I think a calm temperament is very important! At this point, I’d like to ask, « what would happen if the Azawakh in Africa attacked and bit a guest of it’s nomad owner? » Isn’t it true that once a guest is invited into one’s tent that the person is under the protection of their host? What do you think would happen to the dog that attempted such an indiscretion?
During my visit to Niger and Burkina Faso with Ursula and Reinhard Arnold in late 1997, I never felt threatened by any of the dogs we met along the way; some were obviously friendly with those they knew, some were just plain friendly, and others avoided us. In particular, in the village of Meriza in Niger, there was an older male that was very easygoing and sweet. Think about it; those dogs in the villages receive more socialization than any dog that lives in one’s house, or sits in one’s backyard or kennel run! I don’t think that many of the dogs in Europe or in the US are anything like the dogs in Africa!
Perhaps, some breeders feel that I carry the socialization of my dogs to an extreme, but I don’t want to worry about my dog biting a person and ending up dead by the hand of the animal control officer! I think that in future, you will begin to see a tempering of the attitudes of Azawakh breeders with relation to their dog’s temperaments. The temperaments of many of the Azawakhs in Germany are already much different than they were the first time I visited more than 10 years ago. The laws of dog ownership are changing and with that, in my opinion, the Azawakh will have to change with the times.
Personally, I feel that people should be able to visit our house and be safe in our home. Of course, if an uninvited person entered our property, our dogs would react swiftly and make them leave, FAST! Just because they are friendly and easygoing with people who are invited guests, doesn’t mean their instinct to protect their territory is dead, nor do we discourage this behavior! Those people who visit, that the dogs do not like, are treated with suspicion by us. We trust their instincts, they are rarely incorrect in their opinions.

Are there other American breeders you agree and/or collaborate with? And in Europe?

(DK) I don’t collaborate with many breeders in the US, quite frankly. At present there are only two active and serious breeders here. I do collaborate closely with Ursula Arnold and I’ve purchased dogs from Michael Rackl (ak Ilaman) and Dana Kupkova (Faranda). I converse with many Azawakh breeders and owners by email, of course. We also have a Kel Simoon email list which is open to anyone who is interested in joining.

And finally, what are the achievements of your dogs and with your dogs, officially and unofficially that have pleased you the most?

(DK) That is a hard question! We are certainly happy when our dogs are successful in shows, coursing, racing and such, but it makes us very happy when our puppy people really love their dogs. When they feel that their Azawakh is the best dog they have ever had in their life. This is our best reward, I think. We love to hear that our dogs are visiting old folk’s homes, or doing other activities that show that they are good dogs! We are also happy to hear about the success of the dogs that we’ve rescued and fostered. We are proud of a few particular dogs for success in show/racing/coursing and breeding.
Our old man, Dayyat ‘n shat-ehad, CGC, TT, Therapy dog, is our foundation sire. He has a wonderful temperament and is my dearest and constant companion. The CGC is an AKC title known as the Canine Good Citizen. For this test, the dog must do some basic obedience, be touched and handled by strangers, and several other requirements. This is the basis of the requirements for a Therapy Dog title, which also involves being around people in wheelchairs or on crutches. The Temperament Test involves many of the exercises of the CGC, but with the addition of walking on strange surfaces, being approached by both a friendly and threatening person, stability during gun fire, and tests such as this. Dayyat was the first Azawakh to be awarded the TT title in the US and was the first registered Therapy Dog in the US.
Ursula Arnold’s Kel Simoon Cafya made us very proud when she won BOB at the World Show in Belgium, among her many other titles. Cafya (Nettie) also fulfilled all the requirements to become an International Champion, but it was never awarded because she lacked a three generation pedigree. Nettie’s three litters have been very successful in the show ring and in performance events.
Kel Simoon Chenan, owned by Tobias Josch, won the Hessen-Thuringen cup two years and was the first coursing champion, among his many titles. Chenan was the sire of the Al Hara’s L litter that produced some really nice dogs. Of note, was Al Hara’s Liyat, who was awarded the CAC at the Hunstetten specialty and Bad Homburg in 2001.
Kel Simoon Dayasha, owned by Christiane Bergmann, was the World Racing Champion for two years and is also successful in shows.
Kel Simoon Emecheta, owned by Marion Weislaug, is a German Champion and won the World Racing Championship in 1999.
Kel Simoon Essari, owned by Rhonda Mann is a specialty Best in Show winner and a Field Champion. Essari is the dam of our G litter.
Kel Simoon Cinnamon was a multiple Specialty Best in Show winner and a Field Champion. Cin was the dam of our E litter.
Kel Simoon Celie, a Specialty Best in Show winner from the biggest ever Rare breed show (over 500 entries) in the US under Judge Brody from Hungary, is also a Field Champion.
Kel Simoon Elkem, owned by Andra Walters of Canada, has been very successful in shows and has quite a following at shows and coursing events with his smiling and clowning around.
Tagalas, our little African, has produced two lovely litters and is very successful at coursing. She’s almost earned her Field Championship.
Amastan Kel Air was a Best in Specialty show winner under knowledgeable Azawakh judge, David Miller.
Some of our upcoming stars are Rima ak Ilaman, Kel Simoon Gleti, Hasani and Hanisi and Jeloun ‘n shat-ehad.