On Thursday, after the annual Macy Day's Thanksgiving parade, two firsts will occur during the airing of the Kennel Club of Philadelphia National Dog Show: a woman wearing a hijab will showcase a new dog breed that will be introduced to the hound category.
On Nov. 16 and 17, a former Philadelphia police officer, Aliya Taylor, showcased the only new breed at this year's National Dog Show, the Azawakh. The 47-year-old dog handler was also the only person wearing a hijab, as she is one of just a few Muslims in the dog show world.
"I have never, to my knowledge, encountered another Muslim woman while competing — at least, not another covered Muslim woman who was showing dogs," Taylor, a mother of three, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "I believe I am the only one in the northeast."
This moment has been years in the making.
"I’ve always loved dogs since I was a little kid. I’ve always loved animals, period," Taylor shares.
As a child, Taylor's love resulted in her finding injured animals and bringing them home to nurse them back to health. It was a hobby her mother wasn't particularly fond of, but it showed Taylor had the natural ability to nurture animals even at a young age.
Around 12, she got the "dog show bug" when her mother began to breed and show boxers. Taylor was given a miniature schnauzer as a pet; however, she had learned to "hand-strip" the dog's coat, meaning she would remove the dog's dead hair at the top of the coat from the root to ensure the animal's coat remained bright. Eventually, Taylor started to show her pet on her own, taking home a few wins, while also accompanying her mother to her shows.
"My mother stopped showing, actively, when I was around maybe 15," Taylor says. "Life just happened. I got older. I moved away; I became a police officer."
Taylor eventually purchased her first home and decided to get a dog again.
"My first dog that I had in my house was a Borzoi,” Taylor says.
Following the Borzoi was a standard poodle that she received from a "backyard breeder." She showed both while she served as a police officer, planning her vacations around the National Dog Show. But following her poodle's death, she decided she wanted a well-bred dog, and she started researching.
Her love of sighthounds lead her to the rare bread, Azawakh.
"There was a prominent breeder in Georgia that would go to Africa to pick up these dogs because he is a preservationist breeder," Taylor explains. “He had a litter with two puppies left. The litter was a half desert bred, meaning that one of the parents was from Mali, Africa, the other parent was born here in the states. I friended him. We talked. I fell in love with the dogs, and [the breeder] offered me a puppy. The rest is history."
Eight years later, Taylor currently owns six Azawakh and bred her first litter in 2016. Her second litter ensured that her dogs had a three-generation pedigree, meaning she would be able to compete with them in the hound group if the American Kennel Club (AKC) would accept the breed.
In January of this year, the AKC sanctioned the breed. Viewers of the National Dog Show will see Taylor's dog, named Bahir, compete for the first time in the hound group on Thursday.
Having the AKC sanction her breed of choice wasn't the only challenge Taylor had to face when it came to showing her dogs. In 2014, Taylor suffered a stroke. Prior to her retirement from the police department in 2018, she also experienced a herniated disc. Now, her main focus is breeding and showing dogs, but when she first returned to her dog show career, she was warned by others about her appearance.
"I had somebody tell me when I was first starting to show dogs, again, that nobody would take me seriously with [my hijab] on," Taylor tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "I didn’t listen to them, obviously."
"This is who I am, this is my faith," Taylor, who also makes custom collars under the name Mother of Hounds, says. "I said, if people don’t accept me for who I am, then they can take it or leave it. There’s a lot of people who are curious, a lot of people looked at me strangely, especially when I walked into show games, but I held my head up high. I went and I competed with my dog, and that was that."
She adds: "You have to be comfortable with yourself. I had to be comfortable with myself in order to put myself out there."
The National Dog Show is filmed in advance, so the results are kept under wraps. But being able to share her experience — and the breed she loves so much — has already meant the world to Taylor.
"I would love to inspire everybody to follow what they love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Atheist — it does not matter," Taylor says. "You need to be yourself. Be proud of yourself... In the end, the only person that really matters is the person looking back at you in that mirror."
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