Toys Are Us?

The AKC has recently sent a letter to the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club to ask if the Cavalier might be removed from the Toy Group in the proposed realignment of several Groups. In this case, the Non Sporting is evidently being re-named Companion Group, with significant additions and subtractions, and the AKC letter asks “We wonder if the Cavalier might be more appropriately included in the Companion Group.” So when is a Cavalier no longer a Toy?

The Cavalier has historically been considered a Toy spaniel, preferred by ladies and gentleman at Court in England as strictly companion animals. Indeed, as Mrs. Lytton points out in her 1911 history, “Toy Dogs and Their Ancestors,” his progenitors were sometimes called Comforter spaniels, snuggling on their owner’s laps in both sad and happy times, a dog to “bear away the flees,” and  inextricably bound with English history and the royals, especially Charles I and II. So he is clearly BOTH a Toy and a Companion. But should he be removed from the Toy Group?

The Cavalier is arguably among  the largest of the Toys, but a toy nonetheless. At 12-13” and recommended weights up to 18 lbs., he stands out, with the Pug, among the least diminutive in the Group. Indeed, one of the criticisms of Cavalier judging has been that many Toy judges have insisted on rewarding the smallest Cavaliers in the ring, whether or not they were the best specimens—simply because they cannot get their heads around the fact that a proper Cavalier has substance and bone commensurate with his height.  BUT—the Cavalier has long been considered a Toy in the UK, the country of origin, and in earlier times many of his antecedents were far smaller than the breed today. To remove him from the Toy Group would, I think, predispose judges and breeders to equate him with much larger Companion Group members— perhaps with the Keeshond and the Mini Poodle and the Sharpei.  Lord knows it is hard enough to breed a beautiful Cavalier in that recommended 12-13” height range. Would a move to the Companion Group not make it tacitly “OK” to see 14-15” specimens in the ring? And would Companion judges turn a blind eye to a standard that clearly prefers the Cavalier smaller?

In every chronicle I know of that recites the development of the modern Cavalier, he and his ancestors have been referred to as “toy spaniels.” “Toy” is his heritage…it is what he “looks like”, not what he “does.” The first line of the breed standard refers to him as a “toy spaniel.” If he is suddenly labeled as a breed that no longer belongs in the Toy Group, but is to be thought of first as a Companion, should we change our standard and ignore our history books?  While I know he will flourish in whatever Group to which he belongs, it would seem a shame to me to move him from the very Group that defines him--changing his identity as a Toy, which is the very essence of his colorful, complex, and long history, and what has been so carefully cultivated by his breeders worldwide for many decades.

 

--Stephanie Abraham*  P.O. Box 346* Scotland, CT 06264

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