‘A day to remember’

Image: S Baker

Today we celebrate a recent major achievement in the show career of our old friend, Sebastian, professionally known as Ch Buffrey Incognito By Dalleaf JW. Here he is, pictured in August at the Welsh Kennel Club Championship Show 2018, where he went Best in Show, beating nearly 8000 other dogs of all the different breeds to the title. In order to be in the running for this title, Sebastian had first to compete against all the other entered Dalmatians, both dogs and bitches, emerging as Best of Breed. Then he took on the winners of the other Utility breeds under the experienced and distinguished Sigurd Wilburg, whose response to seeing Sebastian should perhaps be quoted here, as it so vividly expresses his reaction as well as describing the eventual outcome of the Show. In his critique he wrote:

‘When the Dalmatian entered the big ring last Sunday, I could feel my heart starting to beat quicker. He made a huge impact on me and I had to look twice before I realised that he was just as good as I first thought. Here was a Dalmatian which was strong and muscular with a symmetrical outline free from coarseness and lumber. You could see he was capable of great endurance and speed the way he was moving around the ring as a professional athlete. He is probably the best Dalmatian I have ever seen . . . I don’t think I have ever given a group to a Dalmatian before . . . ‘

Then Sebastian beat all the other group winners, the gundogs, the hounds, toy, pastoral, and the rest, before finally going head to head with West Highland White Terrier bitch, Ch Burneze Our Marnie, who was given the Reserve. Big thanks to world-famous BIS judge, Peter Green, and hearty congratulations all round!

Sebastian as a puppy

Sebastian’s winning ways continue; the week after, he was Reserve Best in Show at the SKC in Edinburgh and this last weekend, at City of Birmingham, he went Best of Breed and Group.  Other Dalmatians may look up to him in awe but, to us, he is simply Sebastian, whom we see regularly when he calls by.  Although we can never hope to emulate his achievements – the way he dominates the show ring and powers his way into the judges’ hearts – he is in all the fundamental doggy ways just like the simple spaniels and Dickens Dogs of this world: loved and looked after and keen to go home after a busy and tiring day, somewhere at the other end of a motorway! See you soon, Sebastian!












Dog days?

20180715_092554Jeoffry’s hut, as it is called, has really come into its own lately. During the last few weeks of sweltering heat I have taken myself inside, rearranged the bedding and made myself a nest, much to the consternation of all. I don’t know which was worse: the unremitting intensity of the sun – something to which none of us up here is accustomed – or being forced reluctantly to accept that we simply would have to take notice of what the England team was up to in the 2018 World Cup! For, amazingly, England’s young team astounded us all with their achievements and, as always, the media’s attentions swerved from initial cynicism to unrealistic expectation in double-quick time. No one could ever have predicted we would come fourth, and that one of ours would win the Golden Boot. As a great believer in the power of the ball to bring folk together, I can only applaud. But the summer temperatures have been a trial for us all and, despite the fun provided by young Nico’s apple-shaped paddling pool, we Dickens Dogs are glad that at last things are beginning to cool down. Today we even had some much-needed rain.

DSCF1049But dogs want to keep going, their routines uninterrupted, no matter how hot it gets, so it takes loving owners to intervene and make sensible choices on our behalf; to allow us our fun, but prevent us from hurting ourselves. On a very hot Sunday, when we thought the event might be called off because of the heat wave, Nico’s sister Tiggy still enjoyed winning the Weiner Race during the Dachshund Walk and Fun Day at Musselburgh Racecourse. Astonished to find she was allowed to chase something for once – a fake squirrel  – she blew the opposition out of the park.  Afterwards, though, she was showered with cool water and she and Freddie left soon afterwards, as the heat intensified, her prize left unclaimed. Better safe than sorry. Yet still we hear every day about dogs dying locked in parked, airless cars in soaring temperatures while their wanton owners idle in the shops, ignorant or careless of their fates, whatever is more reprehensible.

IMG_20180715_153315This week we also caught sight of our new friend, Honey, the Shar-Pei pup, who has arrived in the family of our old friend Bailey, who died earlier in the year. Being only three months old, she needs her final inoculation and another week before we get to greet her properly; we only saw her through our car window very early one morning, taking in the cool sea air and the magic of her new environment. She was like a kind of exotic piglet, with tiny, trotty feet.

Molly and Annie on B's 8th birthday
Annie and her daughter Molly on her and Barnaby’s 8th birthday

And now to something sad but also something wonderful. We heard this week that Annie, Barnaby’s wonderful mother, had died, having never properly recovered from the removal of a mammary tumour. In her first litter, from which Barnaby came, there were ten puppies, including the inscrutable Scriggins (whatever became of him, destined as he was for an older couple?) and Molly, who was chosen for future breeding and thus remained with her mother and the older girls who now, one by one, have trundled over the rainbow bridge, over the years. All have gone except Rosie, who was only a puppy herself when Barnaby and Molly were born.


Annie and Wren, now Mummy Tilldawn’s shadow

Now these two Tilldawn-bred girls alone remain with their inestimable Mummy, whom we all love and respect so much for the care and intelligence she has brought to her decades of breeding such gloriously well-adjusted Golden Retrievers. Though she must indeed have thought her puppy days were over, Uncle Johnny was looking out for her as, not long before Annie died came Wren, a Goldie-cross with a long story behind her. Annie’s last few months were distinguished by providing little Wren with the loving mother she never had and now she grows apace, happy and well-adjusted in her warm and loving new home, with her adoptive sisters, Rosie and Molly. It just goes to show, as someone famous once said, ‘Thou met’st with things dying, I with things newborn’.

‘Out of this wood do not desire to go . . . ‘

20170618_174941.jpgTiny achievements and homely happiness have done their best to counterbalance the awful uncertainty from which this country as a whole has suffered over the past several weeks.  When we learnt that young Frederick had won his class at the Border Union Championship Dog Show (beating his own breeder’s splendid young dachshund to boot); that the very next hannah rccday at the same show our dear Dalmatian friend, Hannah (Buffrey Hanky Panky by Dalleaf) had won her class, having only recently won the reserve Dalmatian Bitch CC and Best Puppy at the Scottish Kennel Club Championship Show; that our blue tits have, as we suspected from the silence surrounding their now-abandoned box, successfully fledged – a deep feathery mattress being all they’ve left behind; that Kemo Sabe has decorated the 20170401_105338circumference of our pond with fossil-encrusted swirls, and paved under the garden bench and made the composter more approachable as a result; that we are, as of now, all well and free from medication (a daily benison – good health – and we thank God for it); when we catch sight of the soaring martins chasing dreams across the whitewashed walls, gobbits of mud in their beaks, charged by the sun’s intense rays to build something and build it now, now that their tummies are full and the time is ripe; when we welcome friends and laugh with them, and choose 20170618_174857.jpgnew tiling and consider floors; close the new shutters against the beating afternoon sunshine, and cut the fragrant roses, pale and creamy, for beside the bed; feed Hammy spindly pea shoots and fresh basil, which he dips into day long. All these things and many, many more. Well then the strife, the discord, the amazement of recent events begin to diminish in intensity, becoming merely part of what there is, the ‘remote continents of pain’, as someone famous once said. So, you that way, we this way. Remember: I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee.


From this . . . . to this!

Sebastian with his siblings

It’s a wonderful feeling when you begin – at last – to feel the pulse of life returning (ever so gradually, it has to be said) to your veins. After a winter which has drearily defeated us with its dullness and drizzle, today at last the sun has beaten back the clouds and, collectively, we are all feeling that bit more positive. Though the back grass is still far too wet to cut, it feels as though we have turned a corner at last.  It’s been nearly three weeks since my operation and I am back to my usual routines: the morning run, the mad retrieving, the constant presence at Kemo Sabe’s right hand. We know the puffins have returned to the Islands; when, we wonder, will our martins arrive? Above us on the dunes, as we trundle along the beach each morning now, the skylarks and warblers are in excellent voice. The tits are checking out Christopher Wren’s nest box whenever the sky clears, picking at the boys’ golden fur we’ve left for them under the rose canes, so perhaps today they’ll commit to a new home and begin nest-building inside in earnest. What a joy it is to look beyond one’s own little world. As someone famous once said, ‘Minding your own business is like minding your own health: the surest way to make yourself sick!’

177(1)So, in celebration of the coming better weather and a more hopeful time of year, take a look at this charming young man – Buffrey Incognito by Dalleaf JW- better know to us as Sebastian . Though the day of his great success seems ages ago now – illness having taken its toll on our writing routines, and many deadlines having passed unfulfilled as a result of enervation – I can at last put on record the enormous pride I felt when watching dear Sebastian take Best Puppy in the dalmatian ring at Crufts this March. Despite the noise, the crowds and the palpable tension which prevails from start to finish, Sebastian sailed effortlessly through a very long day – one which turned out to be crammed with unexpected incident. It was exciting to be standing next to his very proud owner, The Lady in the Van, at the very moment his future was judged to be the brightest.

Unlike dear Barnaby, I have never before witnessed a friend win such a prestigious award (Barnaby never lets us forget that he saw his cousin win Best Puppy golden retriever a few years ago), so that Thursday will always be special for me. Though Kemo Sabe held me firm and on a short lead, I wanted to join in the noise-making, particularly as all the show dogs in the ring were behaving with such self-control.

Sebastian at five months

Although born in the Midlands, Sebastian lives with his uncle, our old friend Tomas, of whom I’ve written previously, and his grandmother Jasmine in the south of England and, we can divulge, when not on his best behaviour, being all formal and professional in the ring, he gets into a great many scrapes. We must remember that, as well as being a magnificent dalmatian who gained his Junior Warrant within a couple of months of starting his showing career, he is still only a yearling, so transgressions must be treated with forbearance. Or so he tells Tomas and Jasmine (not to mention the ever-patient Lady!).

Buffrey Incognito at Dalleaf                         (Copyright 2016 Anne Hurst)

Here he is on the day of his triumph, with his breeder and handler, Sally-Ann Neath-Duggan. You can read more about him on Sally-Ann’s website: http://www.buffreydalmatians.com

He is competing regularly at championship shows throughout the country and all of us ordinary chaps are hoping to have him up this way in a couple of months. I wonder what it’s like to be a star!




Tom’s big win!

DSC00810On the eve of this years Crufts, it is my great pleasure to celebrate Tomas’s very recent victory. For, at the recent Joint Dalmatian Club Championship Show, held mid-February at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, our distinguished and very handsome friend (appearing under his professional name of Dalleaf Devil’s Disciple) was crowned Best in Show.

Having won another Challenge Certificate when judged Best Dog, after winning his Open class, he went on to take the top prize of the day when he, rather than the Best Bitch, supervened in the last contest of the competition. That Saturday Tomas showed his very finest qualities  and was a deserving winner. Honest and true, strong and fine: well done, Tomas, and good luck at Crufts, where we hope to congratulate you in person on the Sunday you’re due to compete. By the way, old friend, we hear on the doggie grapevine that you are likely to have a little nephew or niece joining your family in the few months’ time: wot larks, Pip old chap!

Beautiful, beautiful boy

20140728_153109Today we salute our special friend Tomas, whom I have mentioned before when considering the heights to which dogs can soar in the world of top-class competition (a world, I should add, unknown to a small spaniel like me but of which dear old Barnaby has had some experience in his youth). Life in the show ring requires training, patience and the ability to show off one’s best attributes when others want and you may not especially feel like it. Success depends on many imponderables, like the taste and goodwill of the judge on the day and which of your adversaries turns up to be judged alongside you. Eventually, however, quality will out and the Challenge Certificate is yours: you are the best of your breed in the show. For dear Tomas this occurred for the first time a few weeks ago at the North of England Dalmatian Club Championship Show in Stafford, where he took pride of place as Best In Show, thus gaining the first of the three CCs he will need to become a champion. He is a magnificent dalmatian and one day we all hope he will find the right dam with whom he can bring healthy happy pups into the world. In this lovely picture, he is standing so well and amply demonstrating his fine features. Alongside him are what medieval warriors would call his achievements, to which an impressive silver cup will be soon added once his Kennel Club name – Dalleaf Devil’s Disciple – is engraved upon it. Well done, dear boy, we are so proud of you! I suppose this is a kind of Personal Announcement, the second over which I have pondered; the first being the death of Tomas’s grandmother, Abby, some weeks ago. She knew what it was to win and Tomas carries on the tradition of a winning line.

One very special Dalmatian

DSCN0005This is Abby, about whose sad and unexpected death I wrote briefly last week. She is the mother of Jasmine and, in turn, the grandmother of Tomas, and was herself the daughter of Joshua: all of these beautiful creatures were bred, owned and shown in the ring by their loving human, who is still struggling to get used to a bed bigger by one big Dalmatian girl. No words can really serve the purpose, except to say that everyone in the world knows what it feels like to say goodbye to a beloved; there are no words and none are needed – as someone famous once said.  Dear Abby and her family had not that long ago moved to a special new house with a really big garden and a special room for the Dallies to relax in just to themselves, new sofas included. But rather as happened with Uncle Jonny, she had too soon to move on and leave everyone wondering which woods she had wandered off into on that next bit of the journey we must all undertake one day. Her time came, unexpectedly as it turned out, but she was very seriously ill and thus was quietly let go as the extent of her cancer was detected.

The finality of death is chilling and therefore some folk go to really extraordinary lengths with the help of ingenious and innovatory veterinary science to postpone the parting as long as is possible. However, I know that when Uncle Jonny began to fail everyone saw it at once and it was natural for us to let him go, rather than intervene, operate or whatever, in order to keep feeling we were doing something useful and so have him with us for perhaps only a few months more. Kent’s words about Lear come to mind:

Vex not his ghost: O! let him pass; he hates him
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.

In Supervet, the ground-breaking work of the truly-heroic orthopaedics specialist Noel Fitzpatrick brings worthwhile life back to animals who have been broken by disease, accident or congenital abnormality. We all sit fascinated by the stories and comfort Kemo Sabe when she cries. But every now and then we wonder who is best being served by complex and repeated operations on some of the fragile, broken bodies old enough to long for peace and rest at last.

As a young, small spaniel I still do not know when I will be called to leave Kemo Sabe and the boys, though I hope it will be years to come. But what we as best-loved beasts want most of all is the chance to die in our own homes, in the arms of those who have always held us, in good times or in bad. We want the inevitable and appalling sadness on both sides to be respected; for our all-too-short little lives to be celebrated upon the lips of those whose lives we touched and be held in their hearts until they in their turn shuffle off into the woods themselves. So Uncle Noggsy, Uncle Willie, Uncle Jonny, and many more – as well as Hennessy and Simon, the other beautiful Dalmatians in Abby’s clan – reach out to us who knew them (or who know someone who loved them) just as year after year in casual Crufts encounters, countless retriever folk reminisce about the lost loves of their lives on the golden retriever stand.

For her part, Abby will never be forgotten: God bless you, dear girl.

If you would like to watch some of the truly amazing work down by Noel Fitzpatrick, you will find the series here on the Channel 4 website: