Pup Culture By Bud Boccone
Dogs are everywhere in popular culture. Movies, TV, books, comic strips, songs, viral videos: You name it, dogs have been there and done that. But the sport of dogs? Not so much.
Think of it. How many times have dog sports captured the popular spotlight in a big way? There’s the movie Best in Show. There’s Babe, with its backdrop of competitive herding. Then there’s ... uh ... wait, wait, don’t tell me. There’s ... OK, I give up. I consider it part of this column’s mission to draw your attention to pop culture’s all-too-rare dog-sport sightings, even if they are 81 years old. And that leads us to The Kennel Murder Case, a 1933 murder mystery I read in the AKC Library when I should have been working. Willard Huntington Wright was a Scottish Terrier breeder-exhibitor of the 1930s. By all accounts Wright was a brilliant, sophisticated man of exquisite taste and wide learning. He was also a liar, drug addict and, according to his biographer, "something of a cad." Wright began his literary career as a highbrow art critic, but he became world famous as S.S. Van Dine, author of 12 mystery novels featuring his dapper detective and alter ego, Philo Vance. According to mystery buffs, The Kennel Murder Case is among Van Dine’s best. It’s a classic "locked-door" mystery: A wealthy gent is found dead in his swanky Manhattan townhouse. The room is locked from the inside. Suicide, or murder most foul? As the debonair Vance unravels the almost-perfect crime, he encounters shifty servants, greedy relatives, and the usual assortment of exotics, eccentrics, and flatfoots one expects in a ’30s-style detective novel. But here’s the fun part, at least for us: The entire plot hinges on a runaway Scottish Terrier found in the room with the corpse. This four-legged clue leads Vance into the world of dog shows and the AKC. Luckily for all concerned, the smug know-it-all detective (just like his smug, know-it-all author) happens to be a breeder of champion Scotties. In one amazing chapter Vance, in search of clues, visits the registrations department at AKC headquarters, then located at 221 Fourth Avenue. There he meets several real-life AKC figures of the era, including Secretary-Treasurer Perry Rice, AKC Gazette Editor Louis de Casanova, and famed artist and AKC director Edwin Megargee (who today has a conference room at the AKC named for him). In another passage, Vance expounds for three full pages on the qualities a good Scottish Terrier should possess. "Proportion in all things," he begins. "One must approach a Scottie as one approaches a work of art..." As it turns out, Wright/Van Dine was no different from any dog fancier I’ve known. A real fancier will happily prattle on for hours about what they think a good dog of their breed should look like. The only difference is, this one had a bestselling novel to do in! The Kennel Murder Case is available in several print editions and a Kindle version at amazon.com. The 1933 movie adaptation, starring William Powell, Mary Astor, and some gorgeous show dogs, can be seen in its entirety for free at YouTube.