For most people, New Year’s Eve is now a dim and distant (and for some a distinctly hazy) memory but, for me, that night is still very, very fresh in the mind!
It found me shivering in the cold outside Pet Control at Calais Eurotunnel with a 15-week-old Dachshund in my arms having just been told that her passport was not ‘fully in order’ and we couldn’t travel home.
And to think that up to that point it had all been going so well.
The drive to the tunnel had been a breeze and, without any hitches, we were soon on-board the train and unloaded in France. Marc had got the car ‘continent-ready’ and surprisingly quickly mastered the art of driving on ‘the wrong side of the road’.
As we motored to decidedly snowy Holland I thought about the circumstances that had brought us on our European adventure.
It had all started back in 1987 at the Great Joint Dachshund Show then held at Picketts Lock, North London. I found the whole show breathtaking; to be surrounded by so many dogs of my favourite breed all in the one place was incredible and I had never seen any of the Standard varieties in the flesh. Back then we owned a Mini-Wire and Mini-Smooth and, unlike now, rarely saw another Dachshund in the street – especially in Enfield.
I sat ringside mesmerised by the larger variety and then a lady walked in with two of the most beautiful Dachshunds I had ever seen. She had a brace of silver-dappled Standard-Longs in tow.
I was so captivated by these dogs that when I got home I begged my parents for a Standard-dapple but mum said two dogs were quite enough so that particular dream was quickly squashed!
But not entirely… I became fascinated by the pattern and poured over old breed books for any mention of them. Two treasured books in particular had whole chapters devoted to the Dapple; Katherine Raine’s, All About the Dachshund and E Fitch-Daglish’s classic, The Dachshund (my copy was the one revised by Jeff Crawford). I would read and re-read these chapters and vowed that one day, somehow, I’d own a Standard-dapple.
Fast forward to 2013 and a gifted stack of Dachshund Club yearbooks from Jeff Crawford and, one in particular (1978-1980), reignited that old childhood dream. Randomly flicking through it I came across an advertisement for Sonvel Standard-Longs with a picture of S Silver Doublet and S Silver Luster. Their owner, a Mrs D W Solven described herself as being, ‘the only breeder in the country of Standard-dapples in the showring’.
While the intervening years have seen a whole rainbow of colours appear in our Miniature varieties (and the Miniature dapple has enjoyed something of a renaissance especially with the recent crowning of the beautiful Ch Sandanca Silver Lady at Stargang – the first ever Mini-Smooth dapple bitch champion and the first dapple Mini-Smooth in 50 years), their larger, neglected dappled brethren had gone into terminal decline. I had long suspected that there were no Standard-Smooth dapples (certainly of show breeding) left in the country and this assumption sadly proved to be true. The colour, which is as old as the breed, being first mentioned in 1797, had been allowed to disappear in Britain.
I searched the internet and stumbled across Claire Mancha (Goodwood) who, strangely enough, had recently embarked on a quest to bring the Standard chocolate-dapple to the US. I emailed her saying that I would like to do a similar thing and bring the Standard dapple back to Britain. Although she had no puppies or plans to breed, Claire proved to be a most useful person to know; she told us what to look for and, more importantly, what to avoid and then put us in touch with a couple of breeders on the Continent in Belgium and Denmark. We contacted them and again they had no puppies but they did know someone in Holland. That was how we discovered Lammy Hamelink a breeder who had been keeping the Standard dapple going for 40 years. She had just mated Gold Digger vd Vossebelt (a dapple dog from her own lines) to her imported chocolate bitch, the litter sister to UK Ch Carpaccio Cognac Diamond – a bitch I had long admired. We told her our plans and asked to keep us in mind. Lammy replied, ‘if there’s a dapple bitch, then she’s yours’.
It seemed the perfect mix but I wanted to hear the thoughts of British breeders. We discussed it with established Dachshund breeders here who wisely warned us of the pitfalls of ‘breeding for colour’ and this was clearly evident with some of the Standard dapples we had viewed. Too little thought had been given to correct type; too much attention had been focussed on colour. This resulted in dogs that couldn’t compete and win and was probably the main cause of their relegation to ‘special classes’ for dapples which no doubt sealed their fate here. We didn’t want to repeat these mistakes. Our bitch had to be typy and sound as well as being a dapple.
‘I think we have a problem’
Finally came the message we’d been hoping for; one dapple bitch had been born. We were ecstatic and eagerly began our plans to bring Reba home!
Which brings me back to that night in Calais, after picking her up (with puppy pack and a whole wad of documentation), we drove back from Holland. Once there we lifted her up to be scanned. This was the bit I was dreading after the debacle our good friend Joy Gonszor had recently endured with her Silken Windhound when its chip mysteriously failed. All was fine – phew! Then the young man started to flick through Reba’s papers.
‘Oh,’ he muttered, ’I think we have a problem.’
My heart sank.
‘See?’ he said pointing to a small but distinctly blank space. ‘There is no signature for the worming. I can’t let you go back to England with her tonight.’
So, there we were, stuck on New Year’s Eve with no accommodation – but the worst was yet to come.
The duty vet had signed off for the night but would be back tomorrow. He could do the worming then.
Okay, I thought, I’d spent many a night sleeping in a car in my misspent youth. We had blankets and a sleeping bag and Reba made a wonderfully patterned hot water bottle – we’d survive.
Then came the final bombshell.
After the worming we would have to remain in France for a further 24 hours!
Marc immediately rang Lammy who was horrified by our predicament and immediately rang her vet. As you can imagine, most people were out celebrating. Somehow she managed to track her down and she couldn’t believe the oversight and faxed the young man at Calais to confirm that the worming had indeed taken place. But this wasn’t enough regulations demanded a signature.
It did make me wonder how those crates of puppies manage to slip so easily into our country.
We managed to find a kind French vet who took pity on our plight and agreed to sign the necessary papers after speaking to Reba’s Dutch vet. So ensued a mad dash to a very down at heel part of Calais where he met us and signed the passport. He couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak French but I’m quite sure he was left in no doubt how grateful (and relieved) we were to be going home! Bonne année indeed!
Thankfully that was the only hiccup on our trip. They do say that travelling ‘broadens the mind’ and the ease of travelling through Europe has certainly whetted our appetite for showing on the Continent and it made me think of all the breeders in a whole host of breeds who have imported dogs to widen gene pools and bring in fresh blood.
Very, very few of us will ever recoup the cost of doing so and I doubt if my girl will set the show world alight – neither of these facts matter. We do it because we love our breeds. We don’t use the stud dog at the end of the street just because it’s convenient, cheap (no doubt highly profitable) like so many of the producers that fill up the rescue shelters with poorly raised sub-standard dogs of dubious heritage, yet escape the barrage of criticism and imposition of rules and regulations that we constantly have to meet.
Increasingly, in the future, dog breeding is going to be dominated by science (our girl is DNA profiled – compulsory of all Dutch-bred dogs) and we are well placed to face and meet those challenges. We are fortunate in our world to have so many like-minded people around the world who are willing to help. Forging links, sharing information and stock can only be a good thing. As the media ‘silly season’ approaches, the role and methodical approach of the conscientious pedigree dog breeder (who combines scientific advances with good, old-fashioned common sense) has to be strongly represented and demonstrated to a public who have come to view ANYONE listed as a ‘breeder’ with mistrust. For the sake and future of our dogs this view has to be turned around and hopefully the upcoming Crufts coverage can focus on the gulf divide between them and us.