Interview for the French Borzoi Club by Jean-Luc Tournier with;
Jo Heller of VORENOFF Borzoi Kennels
-Do you remember the first time you saw a Borzoi?
Oh, yes, of course. When I came home from school in one day, a car with a removable hood, overtook me. In the back seat was a lady with a white-grey borzoi. Since then,I have remained rooted in the breed. I have never forgotten this presentation of beauty and elegance all my life.
-When did you start Borzoi breeding?
That began happening while I was in England. I had my first borzoi in the late 1940s, then others followed. I started to visit exhibitions with success. Every now and then I had a puppy or young dog that I kept to supplement my breeding. These dogs were all of the same type, with a good character and sympathetic charisma. But I didn't want to breed at the time. I still had so much to learn about this breed before I did. The more I learned about Borzoi, the more dogs I had and the more I loved them. But I was also aware that I had to learn more about the breeding selection, especially for my first litter.
-What do you think are the qualities of borzoi that are most difficult What advice can you give? What type do you like and what do you think about the state of today's Borzoi?
It all depends on what you are looking for in your ideal dog! Personally, I always liked big, strong and solid dogs, wolf hunting type. One who could occasionally beat the wolf himself. To do this, he must possess perseverance and intelligence if he wants to defeat a wolf. I do not particularly like the "Whippet type" borzoi, which is often seen at exhibitions and some judges even like very much. When I started my breeding, we were talking about a Siberian hound and that was right!
How many litters have you raised and what in your opinion has been the best? How many champions have you bred and which are these?
In 1986 my 23rd Vorenoff litter was born. It was actually intended that this should be my last. Compared to the dogs I entertained, I hadn't bred a lot of puppies. In England I had 52 Borzoi for almost 10 years, which were supervised by 4 people in full time. At the moment I have "only" 27 Borzoi, of which 11 are males, most of them older at the age of 7-10 years. The reason why I didn't really want to breed anymore is that I feel responsible for all puppies born to me. For this reason I have a contract with each puppy buyer which implies that if for some reason the puppy can no longer be kept, it must be brought back to me. I too, for my part, must abide by the Treaty and considering that a borzoi can be up to 12 years old, I thought it would be time for me to breed less.
One of my very good friends, Gabriel Franco from Italy, whom I met on the occasion of an exhibition 1963 in England, reminded me of my 2 years ago promise to deliver two black Borzoi. To redeem my promise, I made the Vorenoff Z-litter. That was the Z-litter and also the last letter of the alphabet – what a beautiful coincidence! The two black Borzoi, Zachary and Zoe, were delivered to him in September 1988.
I can't tell you which one was my best. I was never disappointed by any of my litters. On the contrary, it always struck me as hard to keep myself in the choice of the puppy that I wanted. Most of the times I left it to the future puppy owners and I kept those that nobody wanted. Except, of course, if I had an intimate bond with a puppy since it was born,then I kept it. Nicolai Nicolaievitch, Larushka (my eternal favorite) and Quirow are three dogs with whom I was very strongly connected. But also Jasba, Volkov and Yakuta. It was always important to me that my dogs have a permanent, good life. This is one of the reasons why many people did not get shown. It happened that after years I saw some again and it was a pity that they no longer came out from their garden. They had quite a chance of winning at exhibitions. The luck of the dog and its good health is the most important thing. For example, Vorenoff Milanowa, a beautiful female, has never been demonstrated at an exhibition.
The champions – or as I call them – the dogs have won the exhibitions were not necessarily the most beautiful of their litter... Vorenoff Anushka, red and white dog accompanied me 1968 to Holland and won a BOB at her first exhibition outside of England. She also won in Amsterdam and was a Danish champion and became a German champion at the age of 8 years. Vorenoff Bielko, a black Borzoi owned by Mrs. McNeil, had BOB at Crufts and after many exhibitions received the English champion-title. Since I participated in exhibitions in Denmark, the Vorenoff's have won 14 national titles, 5 are for Poland. The younger champions are: Taiga, Romanov, Ozerov, Volkov, Worenow, Worovka, Udatschnik, Udatcha, Udine, last but not least, Penny, which I had chosen from a litter and who at two and a half years of age became a German and Danish champion and 1986 in the Youth class in Amsterdam met all the criteria for the international beauty Champion.
But I think the most famous champions of my breeding were Vorenoff Nicolai Nicolaievitch, Vorenoff Natasha (World winner 1977) and Ingo von Bergland, the younger half-brother of Nicolaj (both are sons of Vorenoff Knight Rand), who was the world winner 1979 and winner Amsterdam 1979.
-At what age can you evaluate a puppy? Do you eliminate puppies after birth? Do you have any color preferences?
I am always there at birth, because I find that if the puppy is still wet, it can best be evaluated. Whatever happens for changes in the future, in old age, the assessment is confirmed at birth. I was never confronted with the fact that a puppy was not accepted by the mother dog. I have helped the youngest with the "runt" and often, to my great amazement, they were in old age, the most beautiful of the whole litter. I always kept the "queue de la portée" if there was one and often this or this was a very successful exhibition dog.
In England as well as in Russia all colors and markings are accepted. The continent's aversion to a black dog forced me to produce one and make it a champion. In the 1970s this was almost revolutionary and many people warned me of failure ahead. Nevertheless, Nicolai and Vorenoff Larushka, both Vorenoff black, have become German champions, that had never happened in human memory. Nicolai and Natasha have also been awarded many times as the best of the breed and Larushka was even best group. The blue-black sheen that the dogs have in the best condition is simply indescribably beautiful. But it is true, when the dogs are in the change of coat, this appears dull and weak. A fact which does not much occur in light or red-white dogs.
-Did you use a dog for breeding if one had a serious defect on the one hand, but also exceptional properties?
It depends on what you consider a serious defect and what it might or may not inherit. A month after many promising puppies have left the kennel, most of them disappear from the picture area. Not for bad intentions, many times out of ignorance or false veterinary advice. Many older animals who are punished for a bad habit are born without them. Insufficient rearing, too much or too little exercise can have serious consequences. However, they do not affect inheritance.
Some countries are very strict as far as teeth are concerned. What do you think of it? What errors do you perceive as intolerable?
I attach a great deal of importance to the teeth, which should be strong and of course complete. As for the position of the incisors, whether scissors or pliers, I cared little. When I started breeding, a pincer bite was obligatory and the scissor bite was tolerated. Today it is the other way round. I am convinced that a borzoi that is bred for exhibitions must conform to the standard. The mistakes that have been seen more and more in recent years, such as cat paws, too deep and thick ears and round bones are unfortunately overlooked by many judges. Something that impairs the harmonious sight of a borzoi is a tail worn too funny, which is set too high like the Afghan, curled at the end or tilted to the left or right.
-What do you think about line-breeding, in-breeding, outcrossing? What do you apply to a breeding procedure?
I am against a "Ueberselektion"[sic] in line breeding, but I tolerate some sort of "line-breeding light". A good outcross is necessary in order to maintain good quality, but it should be very similar to dogs from my breeding, physically and psychologically.
-Have you imported borzoi from other countries? If so, what are they and what have they brought for their breeding?
After the first borzoi I brought from England, four black Borzoi were added. These would help me later to combat the "phobia" against the black color. These were: Swiftcroft Beethoven of Vorenoff, Swiftcroft Fallen Angel of Vorenoff, Keepers Figaro of Vorenoff and Keepers Dark Sonnet of Vorenoff.
From Czechoslovakia I imported Jasba z Neustejna, from the GDR, Borenoff of Taymyr (a nephew of Jasba), from Poland Anjuschka and this year (1988 note. Editor) Cyklon Sofena, who was born in February. Jasba brought only one litter to the world. Borenoff has covered females several times in Germany and Denmark. All the litters were of very good quality.
-What do you think about the use of Borzoi on racetracks, coursings or hunting? Do you use your dogs in these disciplines?
A borzoi should never run on a greyhound runway, it is too big and too heavy, in contrast to the greyhound. I'm not against coursings, because the Borzoi can use his intelligence there. My first black champion, Ruth of Fortrouge, was used in England to hunt the hare and she declassified all the others of Norfolk Broads: The big headlines in the newspapers, but also during months they brought some protest letters from animal rights activists. Ruth was an excellent hunter, her prey never had long to suffer, but when I think of it today, I am quite glad that the hunt for wildlife with the Borzoi was banned. Today I sympathsize more with the hare.
-What is your goal?
My big goal in the last 40 years was to breed physically and mentally healthy dogs that were in line with the standard, large with a lot of charisma and an affectionate and fine being.
Note: The Interview was done in 1988.
After 1990, Jo Heller still attended several exhibitions, especially with the 3 dogs she had acquired: Zarina's Helios (née 12.01.1990), plus Condor and his sister Carina Van St. Andrew's (née 19.07.1994), three white/grey Borzoi, very large, the males imposing.
On 11 March 1991, there was a litter of Vorenoff Zalut di Rhieti and Perchotin's Penny Royal. Finally, on June 7, 1998 was born, the last litter at Vorenoff, with Zarina's Helios and his daughter Carina Van St. Andrew's (6 puppies, all white and grey – their silver collection, as she used to call them].
We will always remember Mrs. Heller and her Vorenoff Borzoi for her long struggle of making the black color "accepted" at the highest level. Jo Heller was also a passionate collector of all kinds of art objects around the Borzoi. She was surrounded by borzoi for her whole life, simply because she loved them.
Pictures from Danielle Laurent-Faure and Sue Vasick
Editor: Sue Vasick