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Early Days in Beardies

by Carol Gold

I remember the first time I ever saw a Bearded Collie. 

It was in the mid-60's and I was living in England. Having grown up on "Lassie Come Home" and "Lad of Sunnybank", I thought that the Collie was the pinnacle of canine evolution and had finally one of my own to show. I was at Windsor Championship Show, shadowed by the turrets of Windsor Castle, watching a ring full of majestic Collies when something slammed into me from behind. I staggered, turned, and was nearly knocked over again by what looked like a mop gone mad. Tail wagging furiously, tongue making frantic swipes at my face, front paws clambering up to my shoulders, here was a dog that had obviously fallen in love with me at first sight. 

I was charmed. 

"What is it?", I asked the panting owner, who was desperately trying to haul her dog away from me and into the ring behind us. "A Bearded Collie," she replied as she towed him (her?) across the path. 

Intrigued, I left the cool beauty of the Collie ring and followed my new shaggy friend and owner to the other ring. Judging was just about to start. As the judge left the ring table, I saw him stuff a small towel in his pocket and wondered why. The answer came as soon as the judge bent over to examine the first dog in line, my new-found friend. Surprise! - he got the same enthusiastic greeting I'd received. He pulled the towel out of his pocket, mopped his face and moved on to the next dog. And got the same wet, waggy greeting. There were only a few dogs entered that day, but every one of them acted as though the judge (and everyone else) was their favourite human. Throughout the judging and after, as I, forever entranced, trailed them back to their benches, the Beardies were uninhibitedly happy. 

I knew that while the regal, dignified, majestic Collie would always own a corner of my heart, the tousled, madcap, merry Beardie had taken over all the rest. 

Ch. Wishanger Marsh Pimpernel, CD - Gael - was the first Beardie to be shown in both conformation and obedience in North America. It was September, 1970, the show was Scarborough Kennel Club in Toronto. Of course Gael took Best of Breed - she was, after all, Only of Breed. The obedience trial was less certain. Things went fine until we got to Heel Off Lead. Looking straight ahead as you're supposed to, I couldn't figure out why people were laughing. Even the judge was chuckling! Finally we did a left turn and I glanced to my left to see what Gael was doing. And found her staring back at me.. . at eye level! She disappeared from view. Reappeared. Disappeared. She was happily bouncing along beside me in shoulder-high leaps. Why not? There were curtains around the ring and she wanted to see what was on the other side. 

Oh yes, we qualified. Even won a trophy. When the judge stopped laughing, she said there was nothing in the rules about the number of feet that the dog had to keep on the ground. 

And as another historical note, on that very first show day for the breed Gael made the final cut in the Group (then still the full Working Group) and was placed 5th in the lineup. 

Not a bad start. 

You may have noticed the Irene Leduc Memorial Trophy that's offered at the National Specialty and wondered who Irene was. Irene, who lived in Montreal, was on the first BCCC Executive and many more after that. Like all of us in the early days, she and her husband John worked hard to promote the breed. For instance, as an active member of the Dominion Collie & Shetland Sheepdog Club, she persuaded them to include Beardies in their specialty when we were still too young a breed to have a show of our own. But Irene was special in another way. All the rest of us would arrive at a show dragging crates, chairs and tables. Irene and John brought those, too. But they also would regularly pull in a dolly piled high with food! Irene was a wonderful and generous cook who brought enough food to feed exhibitors, their friends and families and still have leftovers for the Beardies. We'd sit around Irene's food dolly, talking about dogs and nibbling on Irene's luscious "milles feuilles" (my mouth still waters at the memory) and really get to know one another. I often wondered whether Irene's food didn't bring as many converts to the breed as did all our other efforts. 

If I hadn't had to pick up a few things at the supermarket in the middle of the week, Beardies might have had a much slower start in Canada. I'd been trying hard to get other people interested in importing more Beardies. At that time, there were still only two Beardies in Canada, Muriel Ratner's Slippers, in Montreal, and Gael. One person in Calgary was importing a bitch and several other people had talked about importing, but all wanted bitches. No one wanted to bring in a potential stud dog without lots of wives awaiting him. Until the afternoon I went to the supermarket. 

I left Gael tied up outside. When I returned, I found Gael with two new human friends. That wasn't unusual. What was unusual was the first thing the young couple said to me: "We've been waiting for you to come back. This is the dog we've always wanted, ever since we saw one in an old book. Where can we get one?" 

Two months later, Linda and David MacLennan became the proud "parents" of a dark brown Beardie boy puppy, Osmart Brown Barnaby. When he and Gael became the parents of the first Canadian Beardie litter, there were still no other adult Beardie males in the country. 

Showing in the early days was a mixture of fun and frustration. Alice Bixler Clark once entered the ring, only to have the judge ask what kind of cross had produced her dog. "After that, I knew my chances in Group were slim," she joked. 

One time when my Ch. Raggmopp Brass Farthing was the only entry, the judge carefully went over her. 

"I've never heard of these before. Are they supposed to be long-bodied like this?"
he asked.

"Yes," I replied.

"Is the coat supposed to be this hard?"

"Yes."

"This bitch's nose is brown - is it supposed to be?"

"Yes."

"She moves soundly but appears to be close. Is that right?"

"Yes"

"Well, then I guess you have a fine specimen. Best of Breed." 

Irene Leduc used to tell one of the best stories. She was (naturally) in charge of the kitchen at one of her all-breed club's shows. Beardies (all 2 of them) had been shown in the morning. The Leduc's specialty-winning Abigael had been handled as always by John while Irene watched from the kitchen door across the arena. Abigael lost to the other entry, a big male, somewhat shorter in body and with a heavy, wiry coat. When the judge came in for lunch, Irene -without revealing her personal interest - asked what he had thought of the Beardies. "I was surprised when they came in the ring," he said. "I didn't think I'd get an entry so I didn't read the standard. But they look sort of like Old English so I judged them by that standard." Irene often said that judge didn't know how close he had come to eating his final lunch. 

When I moved back to Toronto from London at the end of the 60's, Gael and I were on our own in promoting Beardies to Canada. Our first aid and encouragement came from the Collie and obedience people. For instance, since unrecognized breeds could not then appear in the pages of Dogs In Canada, Collie breeder Ariel Sleeth let me use her Collie Breed Notes to talk about Beardies and report on their progress. Through the Collie and obedience people, Gael and I were invited to all sorts of dog club meetings to give a presentation on Beardies. 

I would sit or stand at the front of the room, talking about history, conformation, etc., and showing old and new pictures. But I hardly mattered. The one who made the impression and did the selling was Gael. Like a politician working a crowd of potential voters, she would make her way through the audience, offering her paw to one person, climbing up to kiss someone else's cheek, giving her beloved pull toy to someone else for a short game. Returning to the front of the room, she would strike poses, listening attentively to my spiel and keeping an eye on the audience. She was always "on" and having a great time. Never during any of our presentations, did she ever just curl up and go to sleep. She was the star and she knew it. I was so much part of the background that my name hardly registered and to this day, the people I met then invariably greet me as "Gael". 

When I was working to get the breed recognized - or at least noticed - I faced one particularly thorny obstacle. CKC rules prohibited non-CKC breeds from even entering dog show premises. This made it very difficult for anyone with a new breed to show it off to the doggy world. There was one proviso in that rule, however - non-recognized (even non-purebred) dogs could come into a show if they were part of a performance. The obedience club I belonged to had recently formed a performing drill team and Gael and I were part of it. I was also the booking agent. Along with the many Scout dinners, retirement homes, and parent"kids nights we played, I (naturally) booked us into major dog shows. Although Gael got a lot of attention at the shows and spread the word about Beardies, it was still hard to get anyone to import more dogs because activities were much more restricted then for non-recognized breeds than they are now. We still had only 4 Beardies in the country - Gael, Slippers, Barnaby and an Osmart bitch imported by a couple in Calgary (who soon became active in church work and never did show or breed their Beardie). 

The team's reputation for putting on a good show spread and we were asked to appear for a week at the Canadian National Exhibition. We performed in the Coliseum building, where the Credit Valley Dog Show was held for many years. At the start of each performance, the master of ceremonies introduced each of the dogs. At a show toward the end of our stay, when he got to Gael, he said, as usual, "This is Gael, a Bearded Collie. There are only 4 of them in the country." A voice rang out from the sidelines, "Five! I have one!" 

"Don't let that woman go!" I shouted to the crowd as the music swelled up and we started our performance. Every time I passed her during the show, I called out, "Stay!" She did. 

The woman in the audience turned out to be Alice Bixler Clark. Her Beardie pup Hermione, a lovely black and white descendant of the Bothkennars, could not, it turned out, be registered and so couldn't count toward the numbers we needed for recognition. But Hermione was a great meeter-and-greeter and a terrific promoter for the breed. And Alice, as we all know, caught the Beardie bug and has remained infected ever since. 

The first Beardie specialty was held at the Sportsmen's Show Dog Show. The mid-March Sportsmen's Show was one of the major dog events of the year - seven shows over 10 days, all of them benched. "Benched" meant the dogs had to remain at the show from the time they arrived (or by noon, whichever came first) until the show officially closed at 9 p.m. Benches (raised open pens) were provided and the dogs had to be kept on them instead of in crates. This gave the public a great chance to see all the dogs, so the Sportsmen's was probably the biggest spectator show of the year. It was also a terrific way for exhibitors to get to know one another and the dogs. 

Having our specialty there meant we were showing our Beardies off to the largest possible collection of dog people and potential Beardie owners. 

The Specialty was scheduled for 6, the break before Groups, so we'd be the main attraction. Sometime after noon, the skies darkened, a little early for dusk in March. Gentle snow began to fall. By 4, the gentle snow was piling around ankle level. Then it snowed harder. And faster. The flow of spectators stopped. Worried exhibitors stood by the windows and watched the snow bury their hopes of getting home. At 5, the show secretary announced that benching hours would end at 6 because of the storm. By 5:30 everyone but the Beardies and the Group dogs was packed and waiting by the doors. The show secretary gave in and let everyone leave. At 6 o'clock, in an almost deserted building, with wind howling through every crevice, the Beardie Specialty began. 

This year's specialty will have many more entries, a lot more spectators and (I hope) far better weather. But it will never be as exciting as that first cold, lonely show. Because that was the First and it meant Beardies had arrived.

Copyright © 1997 [Carol Gold].
All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
   


© Bearded Collie Club of Canada 1997 - 2010
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Last revised: November 11, 2010