Rauch, a passionate advocate of rescuing dogs from shelters, is seen here with Zoe, her seven-year-old Bouvier. (Photo by Gallery Saint Martin)

by Lou Mancinelli

If you have ever seen a dog competition on television and wondered how folks got interested in such a competition, local resident Carol Rauch can satisfy your curiosity. It was almost 25 years ago when she and her husband decided to purchase their first dog.

“I knew nothing about dogs then,” said Rauch at her home in Chestnut Hill last week. “We had just moved into this house, and I said, ‘We need a dog.’ So I got a Simon and Schuster book about dogs, and I read about a lot of different dogs and what they were like, and I decided we need a Bouvier.”

One may recognize the name as the type of dark long mop-haired dog that Jacqueline Kennedy and later Ronald and Nancy Reagan led around the White House lawns.

Since then, Rauch has owned five Bouvier des Flanders, a breed that was developed in the Flanders area of northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands during the 19th century to drive cattle on farms and carry milk into town.

Over the years, Rauch’s affinity for Bouviers developed into a wealth of knowledge about the breed. She edits the Dog Writers’ Association of America’s (DWAA) National Club Newsletter, a magazine that last year won The Maxwell Medallion for Excellence in the category of National Club Newsletter from The National American Working Bouvier Association (NAWBA).

And last year, Rauch, 65, self-published “The Artful Bouvier,” a story about the dogs based on her reinterpretations of classic paintings like Van Gogh’s “Vincent’s Bedroom” or Matisse’s “La Boudoir,” where she has painted a Bouvier into each painting. This year “The Artful Bouvier” (Tri-Ad Litho, 2009) was nominated by the DWAA for an award in the children’s book category.

In 2002, Rauch, a retired marketing consultant, found herself at a standstill until a friend suggested that she repaint some old classics and add a Bouvier. “After that, another friend suggested I put them into a book,” she said. Rauch painted her interpretations at home during sessions that lasted a few hours. She has sold enough copies of the book to cover the cost of publication by contacting people she has met in the Bouvier world and introducing the book to them.

Her love of Bouviers has also led her to compete in and be awarded distinctions in obedience competitions. Different types of dogs compete in different types of contests, Rauch’s husband John, 80, explained. Bouviers des Flanders can compete in working dog (its original purpose) or conformation (appearance) contests or one that combines both. There are events like athletic courses and herding challenges. One obedience challenge in which Rauch competed and earned disctintion with her Bouvier involves heeling with one’s dog. You pronounce the “down” command, which should cause your dog to lie down. However, you continue walking an additional 30 paces and stop with your back to the dog. The entire 10-minute routine is done with another dog in a down-stay at the side of the field, and the competitors then switch places.

In addition to competing with and training Bouviers, Rauch is an advocate of rescuing dogs from shelters. She got Zoe, her seven-year-old Bouvier, from a Main Line family who did not like the puppy chewing on baseboards along the floor in their home.

And though she enjoys the competitions, Rauch is “cynical about pure bred dog-breeding … A lot of pure bred dogs in America face serious health issues,” she said as she went to her bookcase and produced a book, “Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution,” by Raymond Coppinger.

If a dog is successful in a competition, a behavior called line-breeding can occur, her husband explained. This is when breeders want to use the female or male dog winner to breed with their own dog. The same dog could breed with a number of different dogs, leading to health issues.

Zoe is mostly deaf, a byproduct of what Carol thinks is breeding Bouviers to be less of a working dog then was originally intended in order to be fit the needs of American families. She is also a fawn-colored Bouvier (think rawhide baseball glove), a coat that is a result of showpeople breeding for appearance.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Bouvier, known for its strength, agility and ability to make decisions, was a much shorter-haired dog. It was used in World War I to haul medical supplies to the front line and to sniff out the living wounded. The Nazis were so aware of the dog’s importance that they were ordered to shoot a Bouvier on site, Rauch explained.

When western Europe became more industrialized, the Bouviers’ role shifted from working on farms to working as police and military dogs, to pets for people around the world.

“The Bouviers’ ability to work has been watered down through breeding and the confirmation practices of the show world,” said Rauch. “Its current longer coat was developed by show people in the 20th century.”

Still, despite setbacks created by show breeding, the NAWBA and its members are committed to the advancement of the Bouvier in its traditional role as a working dog for police, farm and family.

“Nicknamed the ‘Dirty Beard’ by the Dutch,” writes Rauch in The Artful Bouvier, “a Bouv is likely to take a drink of water and then —with chin dripping like a huge wet mop, rest it in your lap.”

For information or copies of ‘The Artful Bouvier,’ contact Carol Rauch, 620 W. Gatehouse Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19118 or email carolrauch@comcast.net. To order note cards or reproductions of the prints, all proceeds of which are donated to the NAWBA, contact Kathy Jensen at jensenbouvier@earthlink.net, or call 360-866-0528.