MISTAKES IN THE DOG WORLD
ARTICLE ON THE COTON
Robert Jay Russell, Ph.D.,
Coton de Tulear Club of America President, www.cotonclub.org
March 13, 2010. As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once proclaimed: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts." The two-and-a-half page March, 2010, Dog World article “Coton de Tulear” by Alice Bixler created an abundance of new "facts" that contradict published reports on the breed. Some of these new "facts" are merely extremely sloppy journalistic mistakes -- the sort that any conscious editor should be able to Google or reference in a dog book and correct. Others are, well, who knows?
The CTCA sent a letter on February 16th to the editors of Dog World in the hopes that they will publish a correction to their article on our breed. Here are the contents of that letter:
Jackie Brown, Editor
PO Box 6050
Mission Viejo, CA 92690-6050
RE: "Coton de Tuléar" by Alice Bixler, Dog World, March, 2010
Dear Ms. Brown,
I am writing to bring your attention to many errors in the above referenced article about our breed. I and many others would appreciate corrections published in a forthcoming Dog World. We are particularly concerned because our organization, the Coton de Tulear Club of America, has run advertisements in your magazine for more than thirty years (including a full page in the March, 2010, issue) and the errors contained in your article will cause us many problems in the future. Your 2010 article contradicts established facts—both historic and with respect to the breeds’ standards—as well as articles published by your magazine in the 1980s and 1993.
1. Your article states that "In 1976, a Belgian couple, Helga and Leon Lopatin, relocated to Ashton, Maryland with their Coton and started the United States of America Coton de Tulear Club…" (p. 47) THIS IS FALSE.
CORRECTION: The Lopatins acquired a European Coton in 1992 and founded the United States Coton de Tulear Club [USACTC] in 1993, fully seventeen years after I founded the Coton de Tuléar Club of America [CTCA] and nineteen years after I introduced the breed from Madagascar to the Western Hemisphere.
Ironically, the March, 2010, Dog World issue carried a full page USACTC advertisement and a liner ad demonstrating that the article's chronology was incorrect. The CTCA's advertisement noted that it was founded "in 1976" (p. 71) and the USACTC’s ad stated "...Join USACTC as we celebrate our 17th year" (p.72).
2. Your article states that "In 1974, a young American scientist named Robert Jay Russell was in Madagascar studying those aforementioned lemurs for his doctorate thesis in biology at the University of Maryland…" (p.47). THIS IS FALSE.
CORRECTION: I was in Madagascar studying lemurs from 1973~1975 and obtained a Doctorate in Anatomy/Zoology from Duke University. I first met and became enchanted with the Coton de Tulear breed in 1973. I have never even been at the University of Maryland.
3. Your article states: "Tulear, a busy seaport at the island's southern tip, was renamed Toliara after the country became the independent Republic of Madagascar in 1960" (p.46). THIS IS FALSE.
CORRECTION: "Toliara" was always the Malagasy name for what Western map makers called "Tulear," a sleepy village that grew into a town (ca. 1895) some kilometers to the north of the mouth of the Onilaly River. "Toliara," "Tuléar” [French], and "Tulear" [English] are pronounced the same. Toliara is decidedly not located on the southern tip of the island, but rather the south western quarter.
It was kilometers south of Toliara at Saint Augustins Bay that pirates traded and slavers embarked to the Americas. And it was here that the Coton de Reunion dog breed (now extinct) was likely introduced to the Merina tribesmen that ruled the anchorage. There has never been a true, busy port (a deep water anchorage with docks) at Tulear.
The Malagasy name for the town of Toliara was made official not during independence in 1960, but fifteen years later in 1975.
4. Your article states: "Was the Coton really a pirate’s best friend? Probably not. Although daring pirates may have sailed into Tulear, they favored a spot in the northern part of Madagascar" (p. 46). THIS IS NOT ENTIRELY CORRECT.
CORRECTION: "Toliara" was a slave trading port. It was visited by pirates. And some of the most exotic legends of pirates in the Indian Ocean involve Saint Augustins Bay, where pirate Captain Edward England was left in the care of his fellow pirates there and where Robert Drury was taken slave in 1703. Your author Alice Bixler was correct in noting that pirates "favored a spot in the northern part of Madagascar." That spot was the island of Saint Mary, where pirates established a kingdom in the 17th Century (and where I cleared and photographed pirate graves in 1973).
ERRORS REPORTING THE FCI STANDARD
The author of the Dog World article, Alice Bixler, claims to be a judge "for the AKC, CKC, ARBA, Canine Rarities and IABCA" (p.48). It is therefore quite difficult to understand why she has so greatly misstated the Standard for the Eurocoton (French Coton), given that that is the breed population exhibited in these shows.
5. Your article states that "Coton … means cotton in French, and refers to the breed’s dry and silky coat" (p.46). THIS IS FALSE.
CORRECTION: The Coton de Tulear has always been distinguished on the basis of it dry coat. Any form of silky or shiny or oily coat is a major fault.
6. Your article states that "..the FCI Standard stipulates a weight of 12 to 15 pounds" (p. 48). THIS IS FALSE.
CORRECTION: The FCI states that the weight should be 4 - 6 kg for males [8.8 - 13.3 pounds] and 3.5 - 5 kg for females [7.7 - 11 pounds].
Ms. Bixler's reported weight range for European Cotons — the ones she judges — are 112% to 155% of the allowable FCI European Coton standard!
7. Your article states that "The FCI Standard specifies a height at the withers from 10 to 12 inches; …" (p.48). THIS IS FALSE.
CORRECTION: The FCI states that the height should be 23-25 cms for females [9 - 9.8"] and 26-28 cms for males [10.24 - 11.0"]. The French standard allows, under unspecified circumstances, a deviation of up to 0.78" above or 0.4" below these figures.
Ms. Bixler's reported height for European Cotons — the ones she judges — are 10% above and below the allowable FCI European Coton standard.
Thank you for your attention to these corrections. In the past, Dog World has been used as an important reference by dog writers—the authors who repeat the story of breeds in their articles and books. It is therefore a solemn responsibility to get the facts correct in any article about our breed that may have such wide and important exposure.
Robert Jay Russell, Ph.D.
President, the Coton de Tulear Club of America
cc: Kristopher Wardwell, Managing Editor
April Balotro, Associate Editor
Susan Cheney, Group Editor
Bo Ross, Classified Sales Manager
Dr. Russell continues:
So why would Dog World get this article so very wrong? There are several explanations. The magazine was founded in 1916 by famed dog writer Will Judy. It enjoyed considerable publishing success until it was purchased by Bow Tie, Incorporated, in the 2001. Bow Tie gobbled up virtually all the dog and cat magazines of the time (e.g., Dog World, Dog Fancy, Dogs in Review, Dogs USA, Puppies USA, Cat Fancy, Cats USA, Kitten USA, Popular Cats) as well as a lion's share of all the other pet magazines extant. In general, conglomerate, monopolistic news organizations are attentive to only one thing first and foremost: the bottom line. As such, when taken over in 2001, Dog World purged itself of "unnecessary overhead" and eliminated all back issues of Dog World magazine. Hence the staff editors and management had no ready access to all the articles and advertisements they've published in the past about Cotons or any other breed they ever published an article about. That's like discovering that National Geographic, when publishing an article about Africa, say, has no idea what they ever published about Africa before 2001. So, most articles in Dog World -- about training, about health, about breeds, about history -- unfold as if they are re-inventing the wheel.
Second, the job of an editor is to check an article, not just for grammar and spelling, but for facts. There's no evidence an editor was at work on Alice Bixler's Coton de Tulear article. For example, Ms. Bixler placed Tulear at the very "southern tip of Madagascar." A turn to an inexpensive atlas would have shown this to be untrue. Similarly, while I was the subject of much of this article, neither the author nor anyone from Dog World bothered to pick up the phone, dial the CTCA's HotLine (listed in Dog World and sister publication Dog Fancy advertisements as well as all over the web) and check facts. I would have been happy to tell them I have never been to the University of Maryland, that the USACTC was founded in 1993, not 1976, etc. Sloppy journalism.
So what's the harm? Well, from now on until long after I am dead and gone, a bit of this Dog World's misstatements will be found in future characterizations of the breed on the web, in other articles and in dog books. Articles and books whose authors refer to back magazine articles to glean their "facts," information they believe -- falsely as it happens -- to be well-checked and accurate.
UPDATE: March 13, 2010... We received an immediate resonse from Bo Ross, Bow Ties's Classified Ads Manager. Every year, the CTCA spends approximately $3,000~4,000 in advertisements to that parent company of Dog World. Mr. Ross apologized profusely for the sloppy journalistic mistakes and stated he would contact the editors personally about the propblem. He did, and as noted above, we wrote letters to him him and every editor concerned with Dog World magazine. The result? No response as of this date.
copyright 2010 Dr. R. J. Russell & the CTCA
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