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(Updated 8/5/01)

Reading - a substitute activity

by Harry Baxter



'Blue Boy'
Photo by Serge Sanches, editor of Vos Chiens

I HADN’T thought of myself as a tourist. Fifty years ago, taking families from downtown Birmingham for a week’s holiday - sleeping on schoolroom floors - in Ramsey, Isle of Man, seemed like work. Later, as junior in a team of three drovers herding secondary schoolboys around Paris, I was convinced that I was every bit as much a worker as the driver of the coach.

True, in the days when travelling - to work in East Africa - by the Union Castle line was the norm, my berth was several decks down, and since then I have never sat in front of the curtain by which airlines divide our allegedly classless society between ‘business’ and ‘economy’, but still I had not labelled myself tourist. Nor had I thought of the land’s tourist attractions as more important to the national well-being than the fulfilment of its primary purpose. Perhaps that is because I can’t forget the years when food could only be imported at the cost of lost convoy ships and the deaths of their crews. Now, under the daily outpourings of politicians and their puppet-master agents, I’m reviewing the situation.

Will there be Welsh Hounds at the Midland Game Fair or the Masters of Mink Hounds Show at Ragley this year? Will they be hunting again?

The countryside is open, they say, but for my kind of tourism the summer looks bleak. I have written off journeys through the Trough of Bowland or on the road to Hawes in North Yorkshire. Sheep graze either side, unfenced, and invariably some find the roadside verge more palatable than fell or moor. Most of my attractions are found north of the M62, most in the heart of farmland. Few appear in the Kennel Club calendar. At many, dogs are shown and my own are not excluded from any.

Bane - Fires

First postponements saved me an embarrassment. I had agreed to stand in for a judge who was ill without appreciating the show would be held on March 18th, the appointed day of the Countryside Alliance march through London. Show and march were both postponed. Originally bonfires, which were to mark the countryside’s discontent, were bane fires, great fires in which banes (bones) were burned in the open air. Next they were defined as funeral pyres. How soon we were to see the centuries old definitions revived on an unprecedented scale.

By April 8, scheduled date of National Terrier, news commentaries had changed their tenor. Emphasis was on Gross Domestic Product and the minute contribution of sheep farming. Weren’t there too many sheep farmers anyway, over producing, over grazing, too much paid out in subsidies? Suspicions that a phial of virus might have gone missing from a government research station were found in only one or two of the papers. In the wee small hours when worry and imagination roam together my restless mind turned to the how and why myxomatosis had been introduced decades earlier and wondered whether there was material for an industrial espionage novel there.

Alternative Activity

Next came the cancellation of National Terrier. In April I go to Stafford to observe one form of the diversity thatexists within many of the breeds, other forms of which I would normally see again at working terrier shows throughout the summer. In normal years there would be a good collection of Glen of Imaal Terriers at Stafford.
Breed note writers had exhausted expressions of sympathy for farmers and alternative places for walking the dogs. As much had been written about non-events as would have appeared in show reports. Turning to my scrapbook a headline “Gaining knowledge of working terriers through the written word” suggested an alternative activity. I might have chosen “Why has the Smooth-coated Fox Terrier become a forgotten breed?”, “The Current Revival of the Lucas Terrier” or “Why is the Airedale not used to produce Lurchers?” Instead I went with “Is there a Glen of Imaal Revival?” (Countryman’s Weekly, January 8, ‘99). The Glen of Imaal is the only

I'm resigned to not seeing Fell Hounds at kennels on a sheep farm near Hawes’.

one of British and Irish Terriers classed as rare by the Kennel Club. It seems rarer still amongst working terrier enthusiasts.
I cannot remember seeing one at their shows. It may be different further south.

In OUR DOGS, April 6, Liz Gay’s Glen of Imaal column was a starting point. For everyone suffering show critique deprivation she reproduced Peggy Grayson’s Crufts 1992 report, from which some quotes: “Numbers stay limited but type and coats have improved”. “As a strong working terrier they handle and move better when lean and well muscled.” “A coated working breed they look better when not over trimmed.” “Temperaments were great and the sense of humour of this original breed is very endearing.” “The fad of all round judges to demand straight fronts is leading to the demise of the correct Glen front legs and altering action.” Plenty of trailers there to lead to further reading.

Irish Hotchpotch

Before the terriers of Ireland were separated out and identified as the breeds we know now they were a hotchpotch collection. In a long quotation from W J Cotton of Co. Wicklow, Rawdon Lee wrote “You find them still of all types, long in leg, short on leg and long in body, and crooked in legs and of all colours, red, black, blue, brindle, and those with tan legs often have the best coats.” “There is a glen, Imaal in the Wicklow mountains that has always been and still is justly celebrated for its terrier.” Lots there taking in the basset form of the Glen of Imaal.

The problem presented when the first show of Irish terriers was held in Dublin, where only dogs with a pedigree could be shown is told in Hutchinson’s Dog Encyclopaedia - “On the appropriate day the doors opened; the unfortunate judge arrived to be confronted with dogs of all sizes and all colours and of various types and coats. He did not know what to do and became utterly confused. As apparently no two dogs could really be said to conform with any similarity he sorted out the prizes as best he could, giving some to one kind and some to another.” As to pedigree, notes were attached to the dogs informing anyone interested that the papers could be seen at the given address.

the Glen of Imaal is a dog which has no pretensions to impressive size or immaculate dress, one, in fact, which is very much a sporting varmint, and, as such, has entirely on its own merits demanded and received the attention and recognition it has deserved.

Licensed Trials

Under the Teasta Mor tests - drawing (not baiting) badger - licensed by the Irish Kennel Club which set the rules, small dogs known as ‘sounders’ were sent to ground, their job to indicate the presence of a badger. After digging, larger ‘strong’ terriers drew the badger. In the accounts I have read it is not clear that ‘sounder’ and ‘strong’ dogs were necessarily of the same breed. At one trial, with 17 dogs entered, one was a Glen, three Lakelands, six Staffordshire Bull Terriers, five Soft-Coated Wheatens, one Bull Terrier and one Kerry Blue. Licensed trials ceased in 1968.

The Glen of Imaal was first shown in Ireland as a recognised breed in 1933 and the breed standard drawn up in 1934 gave the height as “about 14”, much the same as the current Kennel Club interim standard 35-36cm. The weight was given as “about 32lb”. No weight is given in the interim standard.

To Trim or Not to Trim

How fashions change. Barry Clifford’s account of the breed in Vesey Fitzgerald’s THE BOOK OF THE DOG (1948) reads “In addition to the present-day desire for smaller dogs (note how the Mastiff is almost non-existent!) a tendency exists to favour the breeds with coats much as nature made them - untrimmed and unfaked. Thus we find the Border Terrier increasing in vogue each year now, and, in the case of Eire, it is obvious that the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier has certainly received large support in its own country, and a not inconsiderable interest in Britain. This sensible attitude towards these terriers, clothed ‘in the rough’ as they are, reflects advantageously upon the Glen of Imaal too, for this is a dog which has no pretensions to impressive size or immaculate dress, one, in fact, which is very much a sporting varmint, and, as such, has entirely on its own merits demanded and received the attention and recognition it has deserved”.

Fads

Mrs Grayson’s reference to the “fad for straight fronts” demonstrates admirably the persistence - over the decades and generations - of some beliefs, concepts and prejudices. The fad in relation to the Glen of Imaal is all the more surprising because the Irish standard agreed in 1934 read “the legs are relatively short, the forelegs lightly bowed” and today’s interim standard has “Forelegs short, bowed and well-boned”. It avoids the “straight as possible” found in standard of breeds in several groups which display features of basset form in which “straight as possible” should be read as straight as possible having regard for desired width of chest and elbows set above the lower line of the chest.

In the past clearly some less than straight fronts were taken (or rather mistaken) as the product of rickets. In 1889 the South of Scotland Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club was formed and published the points and description of the breed “Bandy legs and flat feet are objectionable but may be avoided - the bandy legs by the use of splints when first noticed.....”.

Glen of Imaal Terrier – checking the front (Right). The standard reads ‘Forelegs short, bowed and well-boned.

I live in hope that one day Leblanc and Miller’s work on the hunting bassets will appear in English and their discussion of why nature has created such a structure and its relevance to other breeds than hounds more widely appreciated. Maybe the aversion to any degree of inward and outward incline in the forelegs stems from the exaggerated ‘Queen Anne’ fronts of some Basset Hounds of the late 19th century.

‘Fad’ was a word employed by Mr Thomson Gray in relation to Scottish Terriers in Dogs of Scotland and quoted by Rawson Lee. “Straight legs may be made a fad as much as any other point to the detriment of the rest, thus spoiling the even balance of the whole dog.”

“While I am in favour of having the legs as straight as possible, I would not sacrifice bone and muscle to get this point or make it a sine qua non in judging, as most if not all of the best terriers of this breed are a little bent and any really straight-legged specimens I have seen have been deficient in bone, inclined to be leggy and shelly in build.” However he did add “I see nothing to prevent these dogs being bred with straight legs” but still could not, it seems, resist the reservation “at least so straight as not to be an eyesore.”

Droving

Much of the widespread of Foot & Mouth Disease has been put down to the distances travelled by stock from farm to sale, sale to slaughter, farm to farm. In the past cattle and sheep - and even geese - were driven great distances not by truck but by drovers and their dogs. I wonder how much droving was responsible for the spread of cattle plague which ravaged Europe intermittently for fifteen centuries. In a UK outbreak 1865-66 324,000 cattle were affected. The disease was eradicated in 1877. One of the dogs most used by drovers was the Smithfield Collie, much mentioned, with more about its appearance than its origins. A big, black, square-bodied, bob-tailed dog with a long, rough coat and a white collar, it was the dog most used by early colonists in Australia.

Sporting Lucas Terriers (left) also display less than perfectly straight fronts.

In August 1985 Australia’s National Dog magazine featured the Australian Cattle Dog. George Holloway told how during the early days of colonisation the population was largely confined to what is now metropolitan Sydney. Land holdings were small, distances to stock markets relatively short, cattle quiet, easily controlled. Dogs brought from Europe were sufficient to their tasks. “Eventually settlers began spreading north of Sydney to the Hunter valley, and south. With the discovery of a pass over the Great Dividing Range in 1813 vast grazing lands were opened up to the west. Here landholdings were often hundreds, and even thousands of square miles, and were mostly unfenced. Cattle turned loose on these properties were wild and uncontrollable.”

Meeting a Need

“Like the other working dogs of that time, the Smithfield found the high temperature, rough terrain, and long distances to market, more than it could handle. These early working dogs all had a trait of barking and heading while working stock. This is desirable for working sheep and even acceptable with quiet cattle, but only made the wild stock on the big cattle stations stampede and run off their condition. So began the creation of the Australian Cattle Dog, blue merle collie cross dingo, introduction of Dalmatian and Kelpie blood with rigorous culling and a breed standard, produced in 1902 and still one of the best ever written.

Blue dogs were more popular and known as Blue Heelers. It was one of this year’s postponed events, the Devon County Agricultural Show, that first scheduled breed classes in 1985. At the time an article in the Sunday Telegraph suggested that the breed might find a place with British farmers, rivalling the Border Collie. That has not happened to any notable degree.

Droving Dublin Style

The name Blue heeler cropped up in a long letter from a Dublin cattle drover to Phil Drabble, quoted in full in his One Man and his Dog (Pelham Books, 1985). In the forties and fifties the Dublin cattle market was regarded as second only to the Chicago stockyards in size and throughput. “There were various dogs and types of dogs and different types of drovers, in fact there was a rigid hierarchy existing in the market. First of all you had the Top men. They were retained by the big dealers. They organised the big mobs for the docks and rail and were always addressed as Mister, but only when they were in charge of a mob. They normally only had one dog, generally a blue heeler - this was called a yard dog. This dog only normally worked on a drive when the Top man was in charge. The Top man would not take charge unless the mob was at least twenty-five animals and some considered it was beneath their dignity to take charge of less than a hundred head. “The requirements of a good droving dog are different from a sheepdog, as they say, you hunt cattle and herd sheep. The dog had to be hard, tough, with tremendous stamina, he had to have great courage and at the same time he had to be absolutely obedient. He had to be big enough and strong enough to put a full-grown beast on its back, nine times out of ten the first time (this was done by running a beast and jumping on its neck and knocking it down), but viciousness was not tolerated. The dog was normally, as far as we were concerned, a cross between a Labrador and blue heeler. This gave us the above requirements plus the extra intelligence from the Labrador.” Ten years ago I was asked what was this blue heeler. Ten years on I have still not discovered its identity. Does anyone know?

Feeding and Fasting

From a long and detailed account of the working week I have selected with particular regard to the feeding of dogs.

Monday - cattle start arriving by rail and road for Wednesday’s market. That evening each dog was fed separately.

Tuesday - Droving non-stop from ten in the morning to around midnight. “Each dog got a pint of boiled milk with whisky in it.”

Wednesday - From a 3.30 a.m. start things began to calm down about 11.30. “Half of Guinness for the dogs in summer, rum and warm water in the winter.”

Thursday - “Back home at lunch time. The big copper that had been boiled all morning was tipped into a trough, maybe thirty to fifty pounds of meat and offal. They were trencher fed and did they eat. Within half an hour they would be gorged.

Friday - “A fast day, no food at all, by evening they would be just coming round.”
Saturday - “A day of rest for the dogs. Plenty of grub. Some gentle exercise, a walk rather than a run. That was an average week.”

I am already resigned to the loss of the Yorkshire Bedlington Terrier Club’s show at Bramham - and the Sporting Lucas Terrier Club’s event held with it. I won’t be able to see the Wensleydale Foxhounds shown at their kennels on a sheep farm just outside Hawes. Question marks hang over Broughton Game Fair near Skipton and the hound and terrier shows held with the driving trials at Lowther.

The countryside is open for business, they say, but it’s not business for which I am looking .