Meet Aliya Taylor, a former Philadelphia police officer who is a breeder, owner, and handler of Azawakh dogs.
• Azawakh attitude: Before Taylor got her first Azawakh, people told her: “‘Don’t get those dogs, they’re crazy. They don’t like anyone. They’re very aloof. They’re very skittish,’" she said. “And I was like, ‘Well, that’s perfect. Sounds like me.’"
• Liver best: In the ring, Taylor uses chicken liver to reward her pups. “It stinks up my house, but all the dogs love it," she said.
When Aliya Taylor first walked into a dog show ring wearing a hijab, people mistook it for a costume.
“They thought I was dressing up like this to showcase my breed,” she said. “No. This is me. This is a Tuesday.”
Taylor, 47, a former Philly cop, is one of few Muslims in the dog show world. While the American Kennel Club does not keep stats, Taylor said she hasn’t encountered another Muslim woman in a hijab at a dog show in the Northeast.
But she’d like to inspire more to enter the ring.
On Nov. 16 and 17, Taylor, of Overbrook, introduced the only new breed at the Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s National Dog Show this year, the Azawakh, a rare dog from West Africa.
Since the show is recorded and airs nationally on NBC on Thanksgiving Day, results are kept under wraps until the broadcast.
But prior to the event, Taylor said she hoped to get a chance to introduce the Azawakh to a wider audience.
“It would be a dream come true to have my dogs be in the hound group and be represented,” she said. “It would be the culmination of 10 years of blood, sweat, and tears.”
Taylor grew up in Overbrook and often brought home injured animals as a child.
“I could always relate to them,” she said. “Animals always seemed to be friendly and I could always sit down and talk to them.”
Taylor’s mother bred and exhibited boxers. When Taylor was a child, her parents got her a miniature schnauzer that she exhibited at practice shows.
But then, life happened and the dog shows stopped. Taylor moved to South Carolina, where she worked as a prison guard. When she came back to Philly, Taylor joined the Philadelphia Police Academy at the age of 27. She was among the oldest recruits in her class.
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Throughout her 19-year career, Taylor worked patrol in South Philly. The most difficult calls for her were domestic disturbances cases, particularly those involving Muslim women.
“I had a unique perspective because I am Muslim, so I would try to advise them the best way to get out of an abusive situation,” she said.
Around 2006, Taylor got back into the dog show world with a standard poodle and wore her hijab while showing the dog, which got her “quite a few looks."
“I said, ‘I’m going to be myself and this is how I am. You can either take it or leave it,’ " she said. “And people loved it.”
But what did her law enforcement colleagues think about her pup passion?
“They thought I was nuts, but I didn’t care," she said.
Eventually, Taylor got her first Azawakh, a dog she’d always found beautiful. She now owns six Azawakhs and one saluki, a breed of hunting hound.
Azawakhs are native to Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, and though ancient, they are rare. Only about 300 are estimated to be in the United States and about 1,600 are estimated worldwide outside of their countries of origin, where records are not kept, according to the American Azawakh Association.
The only dogs taller than they are long, Azawakh frames are so lanky, their skeletons are clearly visible underneath their skin. With strangers, these dogs can be distant, but they’re fiercely loyal to their owners.
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Though they’ve appeared in dog shows before, Azawakh were relegated to the miscellaneous category, a catch-all for breeds not qualified in one of the seven major groups, Taylor said. This year, the American Kennel Club sanctioned the Azawakh, a sighthound, to participate in the hound group for the first time.
Taylor entered five of her Azawakh in the National Dog Show and because nobody else entered any, she’s guaranteed to win best in breed. She thinks her male named Bahir (a.k.a. “Stinky Butt,” a.k.a. “Boo Boo”) has the best chance.
In 2018, Taylor, a mother of three, left policing after suffering a herniated disc, and then, a stroke. She now devotes herself to breeding and showing dogs. She also makes custom collars under the name Mother of Hounds.
Taylor hopes more Muslims will consider becoming dog owners. While she said there’s a belief by some Muslims that dogs are unclean, she and many other Muslims disagree.
“They have helped us live, they have helped us hunt, and they have been our companions for millennia,” she said. “I could never imagine anything so devoted to a human being as being unclean.”
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