To most owners of pedigreed Chinese Shar-peis--the sturdy dog most noteworthy for its folds of wrinkled, baggy skin--small Shar-peis are just runts, misfits of the breed, cute pets at best but nothing to showcase at a formal dog show.
But Kelly Moore thinks small Shar-peis should be a special breed onto themselves, worthy of a nod of approval by the American Kennel Club: a prize unto themselves, classy compacts.
They're not runts, she grunts. They just not getting the respect they deserve.
And it's time, says Moore, for the owners of other small Shar-peis to come out of the closet and strut their stuff. She has just the place: a miniature Shar-pei dog show Sunday, starting at 11 a.m. at Vista's Wildwood Park, at the corner of East Vista Way and Escondido Avenue.
She hopes to attract miniature Shar-peis from as far away as Utah and Oregon. She knows of miniature Shar-pei owners living in Nevada and Arizona who expect to show up. And she hopes all the owners of miniature Shar-peis in San Diego County will be there.
All 15 of them, give or take a few.
It's not a collection of dogs that's taking over the world, exactly. Not like German shepherds or black Labradors or golden retrievers or, say, the poodle.
But hey, let's consider the poodle, says Moore. First there was the standard, large-size poodle. Then came the miniature poodle, and the toy poodle, and now there's even the tiniest of the bunch, the teacup poodle. All have been formally recognized by the AKC as breeds.
Small Shar-peis should be a breed, too, she insists.
"This dog goes back to 200 BC in China, and it was a cross of the terrier, the bulldog, the chow and the mastiff, a large dog," Moore said. "Over the years, the mastiff influence has come out, and most Shar-peis are large."
But, just as noteworthy, she insists, the terrier and chow influences have become evident with smaller Shar-peis.
"Miniatures have been occurring naturally--a lot, we assume. But the people who own the standard-size Shar-peis considered them runts," she complained. "Now it's time to bring out all the miniatures we can find. We need to stop hiding them. We need to take a look at the base genetic stock of the smaller dogs and breed them among themselves, and get down to a 10-inch dog, and we'll end up with the most fantastic little dog out there."
The national miniature Shar-pei club has about 80 members throughout the country, says its president, June Young, who lives in Yorba Linda in Orange County. Moore heads the 10-member San Diego County petite miniature Shar-pei club. Make that eight, after you discount her and her mother. But she knows of 15 owners of small Shar-peis in the county--and assumes there are more once they get over their embarrassment.
The national miniature Shar-pei club has defined miniature Shar-peis as standing no taller than 14 1/2 inches at the withers--the top of the shoulder. The ideal standard-size Shar-pei stands 18 to 20 inches tall.
The challenge, Moore says, is to be able to breed the smaller dogs among themselves over enough years to identify them as their own blood line, so there is assurance that, when two miniatures are bred, they'll have a litter of other miniatures.
This hasn't been accomplished yet, Moore acknowledges. Indeed, of the six Shar-peis she has bred or bought, one supposedly miniature Shar-pei puppy has grown to 16 inches, disqualifying him as a miniature.
"Miniature Shar-peis won't be recognized for at least five or 10 years," said Young, president of the national group. "The AKC is certainly willing to look at it as a breed, but we're not ready to be looked at yet. We need to firmly establish the dogs as miniatures, versus as simply small dogs bred from large dogs. We need to have uniformity and consistency."
Owners of large Shar-peis continue to scoff at the smaller Shar-peis.
"As far as the Chinese Shar-pei Club of America is concerned, the miniature Shar-pei doesn't exist," Cathi Schneider, the president, says matter-of-factly.
"We have a standard that we breed to. We've worked so hard at developing this dog in such a short period of time, we're not ready for this (miniature) yet.
"I'm not saying some day it won't happen. And, for now, they can breed two miniature Shar-peis and have a miniature, but it's just a freak thing. It goes against the standard. It's just a pet-quality animal. It's too small for our standards."
But smaller is better, Moore says. And that's why she was attracted to the animals to begin with.
"I had a standard Shar-pei for eight years, but it was too big. I love lap dogs, but let me tell you, you don't want a 60-pound dog on your lap for very long. The chair breaks down, you break down. It's not comfortable."
Moore, who lives in Vista, bought her first small Shar-pei from an Orange County veterinarian about four years ago. Then she went to a miniature Shar-pei dog show in Oklahoma and bought another. Since then, she's watched over two litters of her own. There's been Bangles and Fuzzo-do, Gunny Sack and Whipper-Snapper.
Depending on the pedigree, a female can sell for more than $2,000. Others can be fetched for $500. Depending on the stock, breeding miniature Shar-peis sure pays.