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The Our Dogs Interview: Penny Williams (Bournehouse)

OUR DOGS Helen Davenport asks the all-important questions
of Penny Williams, owner/breeder of this year’s
Crufts Gundog group winner and Reserve BIS
the English Setter Sh Ch Bournehouse Royal Colours

‘Rosco’ - Sh Ch Bournehouse Royal Colours - on the podium at Crufts 2005
having taken Reserve Best in show under judge Jean Lanning,
pictured with a delighted Penny Williams and KC Chairman Ronnie Irving

Q. Penny, when did you first become involved in dogs?

A. In 1972 I bought an Irish Water Spaniel and an English Setter dog puppy.

Q. Did you grow up in a doggy family?

A. Yes, for as long as I can remember as a family on the Isle of Wight we always had dogs. My mother and aunt bred Irish Water Spaniels and I adored all dogs, cross-breeds included. When I was seven my Father bought a black Labrador for my birthday and from then on I was never to be without dogs.

Q. Who were your mentors and why did you choose them?

A. In my early days of owning my first English Setter, I found his breeder, Miss Margaret Barnes a great help in all aspects of kennel lore and husbandry. When I married Gordon and moved to the Midlands, I was in the hot bed of dogdom with so many great dog people always ready to help by sharing their knowledge and experience, but my greatest mentor for 23 years has been Gordon; I admired his dogs before I even knew him.

Q. What are the origins of the Bournehouse prefix and what year was it registered?

A. The Bournehouse prefix belonged to Gordon, taken from the house he moved to in the early Sixties.

Q. What breed did you start with?

A. My first KC registered dog was an Irish Water Spaniel in 1972, followed in 1973 by my first English Setter. He was to be the sire of my first Show Champion Limestone Liberty, who when mated to Show Champion Bournehouse Dancing Master produced the breed Stud Dog Record Holder Show Champion Latest Dance at Bournehouse.
Q. Are you competitive by nature?

A. Yes I am competitive, I like to give myself the best advantage I can in terms of having the dog looking the part in coat condition and presentation and handling him to the best of my ability.

Q. Your husband Gordon had BIS at Crufts 1977 under Catherine Sutton, with Bournehouse Dancing Master (handled by Marion France) whose great great grandson, Sh Ch Bournehouse Royal Colours, you piloted to Reserve Best in show at Crufts 2005. This must have been a dream come true. Talk us through your preparation.

A. Crufts always seems to be on us before we know it. We hope for dry weather as all our dogs take free exercise every day in our fields. The preparation does not just take a few days but weeks of keeping a close eye on the dogs weight, muscle tone and coat condition.
The day before Crufts after being fed and exercised, Rosco and Dixie were bathed and dried. All trimming had been completed earlier in the week as I feel it is important not to get them fed up before the show. The idea is to keep the dogs calm and relaxed but this did not happen, as once bathed Rosco barked all night. The dogs were exercised in the morning and we thanked our lucky stars that it was a dry, crisp day. We arrived at Crufts without a hitch, little imagining the wonderful weekend we were about to have!

Q. Were you nervous when the 7 Group winners were all assembled for Jean Lanning to go over?

A. No, I was completely focused on showing Rosco and getting the best from him. My one concern was how he would react coming through the curtains into the darkness with the spotlight on him. I need not have worried as he took it all in his stride.

Q. What has been the response to your win, ie cards, flowers, letters of congratulations etc?
A. We have been overwhelmed by the many messages, flowers, and over two hundred cards from friends in all breeds. It’s lovely to know that so many people are so pleased for us.

Q. How many dogs and what breeds do you currently own?

A. We currently own 12 English Setters, six Hungarian Vizslas and my son Richard has six Beagles.

Q. Do they live in the house or are they kennelled?

A. The majority of the dogs live in kennels but we have four house dogs.

Q. How do you keep your coats looking so good?

A. Obviously feeding, grooming, health and well-being play an important part in the appearance of the coat but in my opinion, coat has to be considered in the breeding of the dog. It is inherited in the same way as construction and we are very fortunate that we have been able to maintain a very good coated line.
Q. Do you hip score your breeding stock?

A. Yes we hip score all our breeding stock, in fact all our dogs have been hip x-rayed as far back as 1977 before the BVA scheme was in place for English Setters.

Q. Do you have a breeding policy, ie line breeding with occasional out crossing?

A. Since I bred my first litter in 1975, I have been convinced of the important of line breeding and Gordon shares my belief. We were so lucky that Dancing Master, who was himself an outcross, proved such a dominant sire and we have been able to breed quite closely back to him. Rather than totally out crossing, we have on several occasions bought a puppy in if we have liked the breeding of a particular bitch that has visited one of the dogs. This has given us some different bloodlines but retained the dominance of our male line. If we buy in a puppy and consider it good enough we always campaign it despite the fact that we haven’t bred it. We have had several champions following this pattern.

Q. Would you say that your Crufts Reserve Best in show win has been your biggest thrill in dogs?

A. Yes, very definitely, it’s a day I shall always remember.

Q. Equally, what has been your biggest disappointment?

A. It is hard to say what has been my biggest disappointment in dogs, each time you have one it seems the worst but I suppose it was Show Champion Bournehouse Razzle Dazzle not breaking the breed record. She finished with 43 CCs, just two short of the record and would almost certainly have done it if we hadn’t taken her out for her last litter, However, every cloud has a silver lining and in that litter she produced Royal Colours and Royal Quest and I would rather have them to carry on her name through the generations than a record which will be broken one day.

Q. How do you see the future development of English Setters in the UK?

A. For several years I and many other exhibitors have felt English Setters to be at a low ebb; like other breeds we have lost the stabillising influence of the old established breeders. But lately I can sense some new vitality and interest within the breed and as long as we have a hard core of dedicated breeders who are determined to retain correct construction and sound movement, the English Setter will always be one of the most beautiful of the Gundog breeds.

Q. Have you any advice to pass on?

A. The advice I would like to give is don’t be kennel blind and always be your own most severe critic, for example, a dog that looks magnificent one week can lose or gain weight or drop coat. My advice is therefore to leave him at home and return him to the show ring only when he is back on top form.

Q. How would you like to be remembered?

A. I would like to be remembered as someone who has continually owned, bred and handled dogs that have played an important part in the breed’s history.

Q. Finally, when not involved with dogs what other hobbies or pastimes do you have?

A. Whilst Gordon and I consider dogs our hobby, they play a major part in our lives and so there is very little time for hobbies and other interests. However, we take great pleasure from our family who are with us at weekends, all of whom are dog mad, including our grandson Gregory, who at 18 months old is so confident and assured around the dogs that we have high hopes of him continuing to fly the Bournehouse flag!