The French Bulldog Revolution: A Culture War Over America’s Most Popular Dog

The French Bulldog Revolution: A Culture War Over America’s Most Popular Dog

Goldenberg died in 1936, but his breed standard has lived on. While revised from time to time by the committee of the FBDCA, it entrenched the idea that color is paramount to competitive French bulldog showing. And it fortified the FBDCA’s power in determining those standards.

“The main theme is there’s extreme racism and discrimination,” MacPherson said. “And the attitudes of people where they have transferred the kind of discriminatory behaviors that were once toward people of the wrong color.”

Around 2008, the FBDCA began its “No Fad Colors” campaign. That same year, Terry Huntley began breeding French bulldogs, and he started to compete with them in shows. As a relative newcomer, “I was told that I would probably never win,” he said.

At first, Huntley, who enjoyed the competitive thrill of showing dogs and learning about the breed, didn’t think much of the color standard. He’s owned and bred blue dogs. But for Huntley, who is Black, he grasped that the fissure in the Frenchie community “is not the color of the dogs, it’s the color of the people.”

Determined to win titles for his dogs, Huntley said he began to hire handlers who were white and seen as popular with judges to present his dogs in the ring. “It’s pretty much giving your dog to a person and saying, ‘Hey, take this dog in for me.’ ” He said the same dogs he had shown were now getting ribbons from judges when they competed with a white handler. “Just because they’re a popular person and you hope that their popularity rubs off on your dog and you get to win. Sometimes, it’s not about who you are, it’s about who you can pay to champion your dog out.”

For Sean Thomas, a Black dog breeder based in Colorado who works with non-AKC shows, the color wars surrounding Frenchies “is a witch hunt,” he said. “It’s laughable to me.” Thomas said his focus is on health testing and creating show environments that are family-friendly.

The AKC’s demographics are internal only, but the organization emphasizes it “does not condone any form of discrimination. We thoroughly investigate any reports of alleged discrimination that we receive. We cannot investigate instances of alleged discrimination that are not reported to our organization. AKC clubs have the responsibility of handling reports of alleged discrimination that are reported to them at their events.”

The FBDCA did not respond to questions about discrimination at dog shows.

In 2020, Huntley started his own registry, the Innovative Canine Breeders Registry. “With me being the underdog,” Huntley explained. “I said to myself, ‘Why not open up a platform for someone like me, or anybody that can come into the ring and win honestly?’ ”

The registry, which declares “no drama or negativity tolerated!,” now has 17,000 members and runs 60 shows annually.

Huntley describes a landscape of French bulldog breeding run amok, with “exotic” breeders peddling dogs that may be groomed without health in mind. To him, color is irrelevant. The problem, Huntley said, is that preservationists jump to lump anyone with a blue dog, or anyone who is different, into that category. As a Black man at elite shows, he said, “you’re an automatic target as an exotic French bulldog breeder because of the color of your skin.”

Others have seen the color wars manifest in what they describe as pregnancy discrimination. As a veteran who served with the Army’s 82nd Airborne and is now licensed to fly helicopters, Amanda Roberts wasn’t one to shy away from a challenge.

Yet she said that she was surprised to find veterinarians refusing to schedule a C-section for her French bulldog, Claire, for the pup sired by her dog, Dirty Martini. Dirty Martini had made waves in the French bulldog world when videos of him working out on a treadmill surfaced, part of what Roberts says is her commitment to breeding for health over color.

Roberts said she called five veterinarians in her home state of Washington before finally getting one who agreed to take her. She said that she was turned away because Dirty Martini is a lilac pied. At least one would only take her under the emergency fee, which is more than double the standard rate. The vets told her, “We don’t participate in the reproduction of colored dogs,” Roberts said. “We won’t accept you.”

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