Breeding the ultimate dog

2007-11-22 00:00

YOU cannot mistake a bulldog, with its pushed-up face, wrinkles and underbite, for any other dog. But never tell bulldog breeder and owner Morgan Naidoo that bulldogs are not beautiful.

“If someone says ‘what an ugly dog', I know that's a superficial person,” he says. “Some people only look on the surface. Bulldogs are unique - the ultimate dog. They have power, they are calm, friendly, quiet. You have to own one to understand bulldogs.”

Naidoo owns seven, and both he and his wife Tracy are passionate about them, which is just as well. After all Rajah, their first bulldog, and Naidoo's first champion, sleeps in their bed as he has always done. And he takes up quite a lot of pillow.

Naidoo grew up with dogs - mostly mongrels - but bulldogs always fascinated him. About 11 years ago, he met Hendrik van der Merwe from Pretoria, an internationally-renowned bulldog breeder, and put his name down on the waiting list for a puppy from his Mervander bloodline.

“I saved the R5 000 for the puppy, and waited - for three years. I kept phoning him and reminding him, and then, eight years ago in December, he phoned me and said, ‘Come and fetch your puppy'.”

Naidoo got into his car, which had no radio or airconditioning, and headed straight off to Pretoria in the summer heat.

“Mr Van der Merwe invited me to stay overnight. I come from a small home, and he has this beautiful big garden. He showed me his dogs, and we sat under a thorn tree and talked about bulldogs for hours. He brought me the little puppy and said, ‘This is yours'. And when I asked him how he would like to be paid, he said he was giving him to me. He just said: ‘Don't tell anyone else.' I think it was because I was so enthusiastic.”

Naidoo named his puppy Rajah, which means king. He promised to care for the dog and show him, although at the time he knew very little about the world of showing. But he taught himself through watching other people and from books, and, in a fairytale twist to the story, Rajah became the South African breed champion.

When a dog wins a championship, both handler and breeder get a certificate, and Naidoo was able to present the breeder's certificate to Van der Merwe, who he describes as his hero, and say: “I have made your dog a champion.”

After Rajah became a champion, Naidoo decided to become involved in breeding, and studied bloodlines and all the other things a dog breeder needs to know. The first bitch he bought also became a South African champion. Over the past eight years, Naidoo has bred several litters - not an easy thing with bulldogs. He has kept some of his own puppies, including the handsome Jimmy Two Times - Rajah's grandson - who was the runt of his litter, but who grew up to be the top bulldog at the Top Dog show in Pinetown.

And being a serious bulldog breeder is no picnic. When one of the bitches has a litter, she has to be watched all the time in the first few weeks, so that when the pups are put to her to be fed, she doesn't roll on to them.

“They are fed every two hours - and I'm on duty at 2 am, 4 am and 6 am. Then I have a shower and go to work. My wife takes over, and my daughter when she comes home.” It is a labour of love.

“There's nothing in the world cooler than a bulldog,” says Naidoo showing me a photograph of Rajah wearing a pair of sunglasses and surveying the world around him with an imperious air. And for Naidoo, there is no doubt that Rajah is the coolest bulldog. He is now eight years old - old for the breed whose life expectancy is only six to eight years. “I promised I would take care of him, and I have. And every day now that I have with him is a bonus.”

As we walk out of Naidoo's office, we meet one of his colleagues. “He's got one of my babies,” says Naidoo. Both men proudly pull out their cellphones to show me photographs of their dogs. Not to be outdone, I take mine out as well and show them a photograph of my schnauzer. They look at her politely, but I get the feeling that, for a bulldog fancier, it is not quite the same. After all, what they have is the ultimate dog.

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