Helen Davenport of OUR DOGS talks to Robin Searle
Robin “Minder” a very naughty Smooth Fox Terrier,
bred by Richard Marples, former owner and editor of OUR DOGS.
If it is not too rude a question, How old are you?
I was 66 years old in November - old enough to know - but still young enough to want to know more!!!
When did you first become involved in dogs?
I was born into the world of dogs, my parents kept dogs, Father had Alsatians (GSDs) which he worked in obedience and working trials when his work permitted. Mother had gundogs which she inherited from my grandparents, as well as Borzoi and Bulldogs, which were shown sparingly, although my father thought show dogs were being spoilt by some breeders, and that not all judges were honest - (and that was over 50 years ago)!
Did you grow up in a doggie environment?
As you can see I grew up in a very doggie environment. In fact Mother wrote Borzoi breed notes in Our Dogs.
Who were your mentors and why?
There were several, I felt extremely lucky that I grew up in an era where there were some great and knowledgeable breeders who were kind enough to impart some of their knowledge to me. I was not only interested in one breed or group, I was eager to learn about as many as possible, - in Borzoi, Mrs Chadwick of the Wynjones prefix was of great help to me.
Showing before the Second world war, she had built up a recognisable strain, only to have most of her kennel wiped out by distemper in the 40s. By the 50s her kennel was back on a high, showing some outstanding hounds. Boy and Cyn Young (Rydens) were going out of Borzoi and building up a large kennel of Pugs, mostly black, Cyn was the niece of Mr Stewart of the Send Great Danes who kept a very large kennel. Her main interest was in breeding and pedigrees and we spent many long evenings going over pedigrees and dogs and comparing their virtues and faults. Boy remembering the dogs vividly, as he did with all the horses he had owned and trained, as for some considerable time before the war he supplied horses to the Royal Family. In GSDs Mrs Barrington (Brittas) was extremely helpful, although living in Ireland I didn’t get to see her too often, so the telephone was used quite a lot!
In Airedales, Mrs Halford (Siccawi) was most open and forthright, explaining on her own dogs the pros and cons of each one, as did Gwen Broadley (Sandylands) with her labradors. In shelties Jimmy Saunders (Helensdale), travelled all over the country from Scotland by train with his dogs, he had one of the great sheltie kennels. Bob Taylor was also of great help to me and both these gentlemen liked their whisky, so we had more than dogs in common!
Later on, Constance and Hook Sangster (Exford) produced so many Champions in shelties, coming from a horse background they insisted on soundness of temperament and construction as well as breed points, so many a late night was had discussing various dogs in great detail. The two sisters Joan & Beryl Herbert (Shelert) had probably the largest sheltie kennel ever, and were great characters. Beryl once said to me, that how she and I had become friends was beyond her as we both had a sharp tongue and a short temper. She took comments from me that she would never have taken from anyone else but!! It proved worthwhile as both of our kennels prospered from the liaison. I must also mention some of the judges, in the 50s I stewarded for many of the allrounders at that time, Leo Wilson had a great knowledge of dogs and explained his decisions in fine detail. Bill Siggers when he wasn’t clowning around knew his dogs and when sometimes I travelled back with him from a show would go over the day’s entry.
Bill Burrows, a man with a phenomenal memory and a great eye for a dog, he could go back to litters he had bred from 1919 and tell you about each one. Unfortunately Bill had an abrasive tongue which got him into a lot of trouble, but he had an enormous amount of canine knowledge, starting as a breeder of Airedales, then becoming a professional handler and finally an allrounder. I could go on and on but I must finally mention Edgar & Vivienne Sayer (Reyas). Edgar was my best friend until his sudden death in Bangkok in 1967 followed tragically six weeks later by Vivienne in an accident riding one of the children’s ponies.
They had a huge kennel of Borzoi, 80 adults, at the time of their death, full of quality and instantly recognisable type. It was Edgar that started me back into Borzoi again in 1963, as my Mother hadn’t wanted to part with any of her hounds when I got married! Edgar gave me a bitch called Reyas Robinetta for a wedding present, she then went on to be my foundation bitch. Unfortunately I was not wealthy enough to be able to buy Edgar’s dogs on the dispersal sale, most of the dogs went overseas, however Miss Murray (Fortrougue) and myself managed to get one bitch, Springbank Lily, the rest going to Japan.
Which breed did you own first ?
What attracts you to a breed of dog?
Quality, with the ability to do what it was originally intended to do.
Did you research before purchasing your first puppy?
Yes, I always try to make sure that I have the breed specifics in my mind’s eye, that it is fit in body, limb and temperament, and go back as far as you can in the pedigree, seeing parents, grand-parents etc. Be honest with yourself and see what you see - not what you want to see!
How did you establish your lines?
Line breeding on your bitch line. The strength of your kennel is in your bitches - providing they are sound in temperament and construction, using an outcross now and then, but study your lines carefully, looking at his progeny and studying what he is prepotent in, so you don’t get a nasty surprise.
What are the origins of your prefix and what year was it registered?
Can’t remember, my first one was Francehill which I had with my first wife, and with which she has carried on. The second is Surlson, which my Mother had, but bear in mind that affixes are quite new as before the war very few people had an affix or prefix.
Did show ring success come quickly?
NO. I had an enormous number of res CCs for a considerable period before making up champions, and have made up 29 British champions and many, many more overseas champions -over 200.
What year did you first judge?
1959, I first started judging, and in those days one had to be asked by your elders, and afterwards your judging was openly discussed with you in great detail--- which was very educational if not daunting.
What were your hopes and ambitions then?
To do a good job, without fear or favour and to slowly rise to be an all rounder with knowledge, not just a variety judge.
In how many breeds and groups do you award CCs?
Thirty Breeds, Working, Pastoral, Hound and Best in Show.
What do you feel are the requirements of a ch show judge?
Integrity and knowledge --- not the other way around ---one can acquire knowledge but not integrity. In my opinion having an “eye” for overall balance, whether it be a dog, horse, cow, or cat, and the breed specific points of that breed is a wonderful asset. I always read the breed standards of the breeds that I am judging, I never assume I know it all.
Of your own dogs which have been your favourite(s)?
Several, Ch. Winjones Razluka, a Borzoi of huge size and very powerful movement. Ch. Zomahli Chernila, another Borzoi with good size, all quality and splendid coat. Both these dogs were unbeatable in their day and, did well in the Best In Show ring. My own Ch. Francehill Pimlico, Borzoi full of quality type, and presence who had a tragic accident and died three days after going BOB at Crufts. Ch. Francehill Silversmith, a Sheltie of outstanding quality, type and lithe movement, he hated dog shows! Ch. She’s My Fancy of Shelert. More recently our Great Dane Ch.Sinclair V’T Oenselerheem at Murrayvhayle, a dog of huge size and substance with powerful movement and unmistakably all male, whose lovely temperament and character brought him through a terrible car crash and, a long road to recovery that would have squashed a lesser dog. He is an absolute gentleman to live with. There are others, but to finish I would like to mention the Champion Stakes at Leeds recently, where I had the privilege and pleasure of judging, I thought the three days were full of quality, and do not think one would find such quality in depth anywhere else in the world.
Has any particular dog impressed you over the years?
“Minder” a very naughty Smooth Fox Terrier, which I bought from Richard Marples, former owner and editor of Our Dogs. We decided to meet up and Richard brought all the pups for me to choose one. This puppy’s ability to take control of everything showed through and for the next 16 years we were pals, living up to his name for the whole period. Before him there was “Smuts”, a tri sheltie of great intelligence, who didn’t like the show ring much but preferred hunting with the Borzoi which he did with great enthusiasm. Going back even further was “Joker” a black/white Borzoi of great character and loyalty to myself, who had several accidents that would have killed off most dogs. I supplied the Borzoi for the film War & Peace, and in the hunting scene when hounds took off, one of the horses ridden by an inexperienced extra kicked Joker in the head breaking several bones. He fought for his life, never laying down for a week, but eventually made a full recovery.
How often do you judge abroad?
Five or six times on average per year.
Do you think we can learn from our fellow breeders abroad?
One can always learn. To-day I feel there are few purist breeders left at home or abroad. It is mostly exhibitors world-wide who breed to hopefully produce another winner. Previously breeders were inclined to keep a number of dogs to produce a recognisable strain or type, and then could produce repeatedly, winners upon winners. kennel blindness to ones own stock can happen worldwide, shared knowledge and a broader outlook to ones breed - can only improve breeds - worldwide. To my mind the FCI system of grading stock when exhibited from excellent down is a good system, although our numbers are greater over here, which is prohibitive. The Breeders’ Stakes abroad is a very prestigious class and a big attraction to the big ring. Masterfoods are to be congratulated in trying to establish this event over here. On the Continent it is really a magnificent sight to see the ring packed with teams of different breeds, held before the B.I.S. The ringside is packed with supporters as well as exhibitors.
In the world of pedigree dogs what has been your biggest thrill?
Obviously to go BOB at Crufts is a great thrill, however at the basic level, breeding a litter and picking your pup out wet and then making it up into a champion, that one is pleased and proud of, and living a long and healthy life has to be the overall greatest thrill.
Equally what has been your biggest disappointment?
To see the decline and loss of importance of the british allrounder judge overseas. When I started going abroad the majority of judges at all the major shows were from Britain, now they are very much in the minority. Also exports, when you think of a quarter of a million registrations (approx) per year our exports seem rather small by comparison -- I really think that overall we still produce quality dogs. The falling of entries at shows, and the lack of individuals and characters in “The fancy” are really a big loss. One should never lose sight of the fact we do this for fun and enjoyment!!
How do you see the future development of dog shows?
not the way they are going! The highest standard for Dog showing is a Championship show -- there is nothing higher, therefore all general Champ Shows I feel should have CC’s on offer for all breeds. The Judge has a choice to award of withhold the CC’s -- remember the judge has been passed to judge that breed by the K.C. usually after years of studying and judging the breed. Perhaps breeds of 50 entries or less should just have one CC on offer for BOB. i consider it isn’t because the CC’s are on offer that produces “Cheap or unworthy Champions” it is because CC’s are awarded that Champions are made, this is solely and firmly in the Judges hands. Remember the Judges decision is final! In recent times the K.C. have implemented various training schemes and seminars to encourage and educate more aspiring judges, but just like everything we learn in this world, there is no substitute for time and experience --- maybe like the continent trainee judges could accompany a judge at breed club level as well. I personally feel that the 75 year rule for judging new breeds is a backward step, particularly when, after retirement on can devote more time to pursuing one’s hobby, and all the knowledge one has gained over the years can be put to good use.
Maybe Breed Councils or Breed Club’s could sponsor a number of aspiring judges each year that have an interest in their breed and help them gain a greater knowledge of the bred, after all it is the responsibility of the Breed Councils and Breed Clubs to promote their breed, not just now but for the future. I think B.I.S and Group judging could be better supported by exhibitors, afterall if one goes best of breed then one can stay and represent ones breed, and we all enter a show with the hope of winning! maybe putting on a cash draw, the number on your exhibitor’s ticket, to be drawn after B.I.S would ensure that the Big Ring had plenty of spectators and a really special atmosphere. The atmosphere at Crufts is electric and the stands are packed for B.I.S., I think that is the sort of thing we should be aiming for. The way venues are disappearing there may come a time when General Champ Shows may well have to share their facilities with local Breed Club Champ shows in order to increase entries and off-set cost. I really feel that we are in changing times.
Your wife Sue breeds danes under the Murrayvhayle prefix, How much involvement with the dogs do you have?
Chief Gopher, Head Kennel Boy and Banker! But seriously Great Danes are Sue’s passion and although we talk about studs, puppies and all aspects of breeding and showing Sue has the final say, although we are never very far apart on decisions. As a breeder first, and a judge with integrity.
Which dog paper do you prefer and why?
Both weekly papers have different ways in reporting doggy news, so therefore one gets a balanced view overall. Our Dogs has a better list of newsy articles in my opinion. It’s not good just to have one of anything. We get both papers every week!
Have you any unfulfilled ambitions?
Yes - B.I.S at Crufts as judge or exhibitor!
Away from the world of Pedigree Dogs what other interests do you have?
I have a passion for American Cars which I think are marvellous. Comfort, space, air- conditioning and just pure luxury, and when you are driving several hours every weekend one appreciates the comfort.
Finally, do you have any advice to pass on?
Enjoy your dogs and your hobby and keep on learning. In this age of lawsuits and litigation, I think it wise for all breeders to take every advantage of modern technology when breeding dogs, i.e eyes, hips, dna etc;, so that one can prove you are breeding healthy stock.
Thank you Robin, It has been most interesting!