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Best in show

Richard Meen, MD'63, proves he is a breed apart

by Adela Talbot, BA'08, MA'11

Richard Meen remembers it being a cursory introduction, yet one that perfectly fit his bill.

Decades ago, Meen, MD’63, visited New York City to deliver a lecture for a canine education program. A Toronto-based psychiatrist, he was president of the Canadian Kennel Club at the time. His counterpart at the American Kennel Club, among the world’s most prestigious registries of purebred dogs, greeted Meen and wasted no words in introducing him to the class.

“I remember the introduction being very short. He got up and said, ‘I want to introduce you to Dr. Richard Meen. His father was a heavy weight boxing champion in the United Kingdom. And he is a psychiatrist – it’s the perfect combination for a president of the Kennel Club,’” Meen remembered.

The introduction was enough, he noted. The world of canine affairs – from breeding to showing purebred dogs, activities supported by kennel clubs around the world – focuses not only on the physical finesse, but also on personality traits specific to each breed. It was a world Meen fell into during his time at Western.

“When I was at Western, I used to walk by a house that had two Afghan hounds in the back yard, and I told myself I would have an Afghan hound when I graduated. That was the first purebred dog I ever had,” he said.

What started as an aesthetic interest, formed into a weekend hobby and eventually, became an inextricable part of Meen’s life. He developed an affection for various breeds, including the Russian wolf hound and the Skye terrier, among others. He started to breed dogs and got involved with the Canadian Kennel Club, eventually becoming president, working with international clubs.

“And now, as an old man, I judge,” he laughed. “And I show dogs.”

Not only does Meen judge, he was the judge at the 140th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show last February. He nabbed the top post at the event when he was selected to judge its top category, Best in Show. It was an appointment the American Kennel Club kept secret for about a year “in order to avoid whispering and influence peddling.” It’s all very hush-hush, very serious stuff, he explained.

Meen was the sixth foreign judge, and third Canadian, to make the selection of the top award for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. He previously judged at Westminster on four other occasions, including judging the Terrier Group in 2007.

“It’s exciting. It was a great honour. It’s probably the most prestigious dog show in the world. It’s not the biggest, but dogs come from many different countries and people come to watch from around the world. About 3,000 entered. Different judges selected the last seven, and I got to decide which came closest to the breed standard. You’re not judging dogs against each other; you’re judging dogs against the breed standard, and the one that comes closest to the breed standard is the one you put up.” As top dog, Meen picked a 3-year-old German shorthaired pointer named CJ.

“Dogs have been a great counterbalance for psychiatry. It’s a totally different kind of thinking and a different kind of behaviour,” he said, adding his practice over the years largely revolved around working with vulnerable populations, street youth and individuals in the provincial justice system.

“Jeffrey Masson, a psychoanalyst trained in Toronto, trained in the 1960s when I was also doing training at the University of Toronto. He has written several books on animals, and one of his last books was about dogs. He talked about how dogs humanize people, not the other way around. And I agree with that,” Meen said.

“I’ve been touting for years the important role of canines in our lives, that the reality is, we developed better because of dogs. We got out of the cave, they helped us hunt, helped us guard and protect,” he continued.

“When you look at purebred dogs, each breed has a very specific purpose related to man’s needs, and that’s how they evolved. They’ve always improved the quality of our lives. I’ve always seen it as a great balance, and they’re the only living history of man’s journey on earth.”

This article appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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