The Borzoi Quarterly Talks With
Miss Betty Murray
Devon, Great Britain
This interview was conducted at the home of Miss B. Murray on July 26, 1984 by 0. W. Roemer-Horn.
How did you get started in dogs and, especially, in Borzoi?
I never remember being without a dog. When I was born my mother had a little Smooth Fox Terrier called "Boy." She had bought it in a famous street market, called Seven Dials, for five shillings and taken him out to Canada with her in 1902. Some ten years later, Boy was getting too old to appreciate the attentions of a young child so I was given my own dog, a Husky called Peter. It was intended to have been trained as a sledge dog when he was old enough, but alas he died as a result of an accident. However, as we left Canada in 1916, I would have had to have parted with him anyway. My father was in France and we spent the next three years living in various places in "digs," where any form of livestock would have been excluded.
Then we went to live in Ireland. For the next seven years we were able to have dogs, cats, rabbits and horses on the farm where we lived. I bought a dog who appeared to be a Fox Terrier; I gave five shillings for him and gave him the name of "Boy." He grew and grew and grew and ended up looking like a docked Greyhound. He was very fast and, considering the handicap of his tailless condition, quite efficient. It was while I was a resident in Ireland that I decided to become a veterinary surgeon. Unfortunately, our time in Ireland ended with the death of my mother and we returned to Canada.
So you were born in Canada?
Yes, in Winnipeg. I lived there until 1916, returned in 1926, and finally came to England in 1928.
Could you tell us where your kennel name, Fortrouge, which is French, came from?
Winnipeg originally consisted of two forts, Fort Garry, held by the English, and Fort Rouge, which was held by the French, the two forts being situated on opposite sides of the Red River. As so many things are called Fort Garry, I decided to adopt Forte Rouge. The kennel club doesn't allow two words in a prefix, so I dropped the "E" and used the word "Fortrouge." I feared if I kept the "E" I might find myself being called "Fortyrouge." I had originally wanted to have Keewatin, which means "land of the wind," which I had thought would be a suitable name for a Borzoi kennel, but it had already been given to someone else.
Where did you acquire your first Borzoi?
When I came over to London as a student to study at the Royal Veterinary College, I lived in "digs." I managed to get a small dog accepted. I bought a Cocker Spaniel, a grandson of the famous Ch. Invader of Ware, but it was not until I was qualified and set up in partnership with a friend that I was able to buy my first Borzoi. I was attracted to the breed because I thought that they had some of the sensitivity of the thoroughbred horse, their general appearance and the fact that it would be possible to use them competitively in sport, either racing or coursing. In
this respect, I was lucky in the first bitch which I acquired. I gave five pounds for her. I knew little of the show standard in those days, so her many faults did not worry me. She was, however, the finest huntress I ever had. She would course anything, and gaily clear a five-bar gate. When nothing else was available, she would course dogs. Unfortunately, this was not conducive to popularity, when the local veterinary surgeon's dog coursed the clients' dogs in the park! Exercise had to be taken farther afield. Those of us who were keen on coursing were often lucky enough to receive invitations to join the Saluki Cleve Coursing Club. We also had invitations from one of the Norfolk clubs. The chief Borzoi supporters were Mrs. Jenkins (Moskowa), Mrs. Staples-Smith (Powdra), a husband and wife whose names I have forgotten who had bought two from Mrs. McAlpine, Mr. Dawson and myself. I have a picture of the eight Borzoi which took part in one of these meetings in 1934. Later Edgar Sayer (Reyas) and Mrs. Hargrave (Shelbor) took part in coursing.
Personally I always enjoyed coursing, but only had one dog which would really try after a lure. They would watch with great keenness to start with but after the lure had gone around three or four times, and it was time for them to have a go, they would look at you superciliously as if to say, "What? Chase that? Not likely!"
I mated this bitch, Katushka, to Mr. Guy's Ch. Felstead. In the litter I had a bitch puppy, Bronka, which went out to Alberta. She was the best coyote courser in the area until overtaken by her daughter. Wanting to get nearer to civilization for their children's education, her owners moved to a small town and ran the local shop. Bronka, bored to tears in her new surroundings, turned to cats and proceeded to clear the town of cats; she chased them, then slid her nose under them, tossed them in the air, catching them and killing them on the way down. For the good of "business relations," this pastime had to be controlled.
Katushka came to a sad end by crashing into a tree while after a rabbit in the wood, breaking her neck. She did not die from her injury and I nursed her for seven months, taught her to stand again, but she never walked again, so I put her to sleep.
About this time I got a very lovely looking bitch, Zeeta, from Mr. Guy. But she had had distemper and her movement was awful. I showed her once and I remember the judge saying to me, "She moves rather like a kangaroo." She went away to be mated. A few days after her return, she suffered from gastric torsion and on post mortem I discovered a partly cooked potato in her stomach.
My next Borzoi was Marcus Andronicus. He was given to me by Mrs. Gingold. He was a son of U.S.A. Ch. Akuratni of Romanoff. He had a small white patch on his nose which Mrs. Gingold was of the opinion would never blacken. By thirteen months, the nose had completely blackened. I took him coursing, and the Reporter said that the dog was not "yet" registered. Mrs. Gingold saw the report in the dog press and wrote to me; the outcome was that she was to take him back, and compensate me for his keep. About a week later I received a phone call from our local railway station saying that they had a large box at the station with a dog in it for me. He made a hell of a fuss over me when I took him out of the box. I brought him back home. After a short while, his pleasure in the reunion seemed to be overcome by what he considered to be my betrayal. He ignored me for the next two days! I rang Mrs. Gingold to inquire why she had sent him back. She told me that she had tried him in a kennel, by himself, with last night he was there he completely demolished an expensive kennel. She felt that he had given his heart to me, and she asked me to keep him till the end of his days. He developed into a very good hound, and at Cruft's he was run out three times against Kouldon of Addlestone, who won the CC and was the last male to become a champion before the war.
Just before the war had started, I bought a lovely black and white bitch, Mythe Dolka, from Miss Robinson. I showed her once under the Russian judge, Major de Butezkoi, and she won her class. I also bought an extremely promising puppy bitch from Mrs. Jenkins (Moskowa) by Ch. Mythe Marinsky out of Ch. Brussilovna of Bransgore. Alas, none of these three dogs survived the war.
At the time of the "D" day landings, Mrs. Jenkins wrote to me concerning a thirteen-month-old dog she had. The result was that I bought him. He became the first post war champion, Ch. Moryak of Moskowa. Shortly after that, I was asked to get a Borzoi for a performing troupe of dogs. I was offered a dog and bitch who, on account of the war, were becoming a problem. Neither of them was suitable for this troupe. I sold the dog for her and bought the bitch myself. The bitch had been badly reared and was thoroughly unsound. However, she was a beautiful type and had an excellent pedigree. After the war, she whelped some very nice puppies for me. In a further attempt to get a suitable dog for the troupe, we had another dog and bitch sent down from boarding kennels where they had been abandoned. Neither was any good for performing but the bitch was beautiful and I bought her as well. She became Ch. Folly of Fortrouge, born in 1946. From Folly I bred Fleur, from whom came Whisper, to Odette, to Maya, to Nicolette, to Ch. Fortrouge Floby, born in 1981 - six generations in thirty-five years. I have been accused of waiting till my bitches are almost geriatrics before they are bred!
As we had still not settled the problem of a new Borzoi for the troupe, I lent "Anna" Moryak until we had got her a satisfactory new recruit. She found him an extremely easy dog to train. At the end of one week, he was performing twice nightly in the music halls with a monkey doing a jockey act on his back. Moryak had a fabulous temperament. Not many dogs would have adjusted themselves so rapidly to two strange humans, another Borzoi, a Terrier and a Peke, a Poodle and two monkeys. At the end of the act, the monkey would dismount and lead the dog off the stage.
He did quite a lot of T.V. work, including an appearance on Picture Page which was arranged by Enid Nichols, a well-known all-rounder judge. After the show we went back to Miss Nichols' house. Her father was an old man by then but had also been a famous all-rounder judge. Miss Nichols asked me if she could take Moryak up to his bedroom for her father to see. When she came down again, she said her father had said that Moryak had reminded him very vividly of Colonel Wellesley's Krilut who had been shown in 1888. Time may have clouded his memory but it was nice to think that about fifty-five years later, type had not altered all that much.
I had him in Ireland on a holiday. We went out for a walk across the bog and we walked too far. It was getting dark and I couldn't find this tiny little bridge over part of the bog to find our way back. I thought, "Well, the only thing to do is see if Moryak can find it." So I stood still and I told him to go home; he looked at me as if I was quite crazy because we were far from home. I hoped he would associate the hotel with home, so I just stood there and told him, "Go home, go home." Eventually he trotted off thinking, "Yes, this woman is crazy, but never mind." He stopped and looked at me and I just followed slowly. I said, "Go on, go home." So he went off and found the little bridge like lightning, so we went home together after that. He was a brilliant dog; I have never, ever had another like him. He was the one dog of my life.
During the food rationing, I had a little housekeeper working for me. Moryak stole the week's joint. She was afraid to take it from him, so she got a loaf of bread and dangled the bread in front of him. He looked at her in an amiable way and took the loaf of bread and she got the joint away from him with the end of a broom. So about a fortnight later, he did the same thing again, so she dangled another loaf in front of him and he looked at her and thought, "You old fool," finished the joint, and then took the loaf of bread. (laughter)
I had a litter from Folly with Moryak; it wasn't very good but she had a very good litter with Ch. Akins Brighton. From that we got Job. From Job's litter, the dog called Jonathan, and from a litter sister's litter was a bitch called Cymbal, and these two went to Mrs. Ruggles; they were the first two Borzoi Mrs. Ruggles ever had.
I've infected quite a lot of the breeders. I sold Annette Blair her first one; Mrs. Hargrave bought her first one from me. Spread the bug around, didn't I? (laughter)
Obviously, I couldn't spend my time on things that ordinary breeders would because from about 1952 or 1953, I was single-handed, so I couldn't do an awful lot.
In your breeding, do you tend to prefer a particular method such as linebreeding or outcrossing?
I have bred from quite a few lines but I have now, in the kennels, got Philby, who is just three years old and is a direct descendent (which is what I've struggled to keep) from Ch. Folly, who was born in '56, I believe. So I came straight down from mother-daughter without interruption, from Folly to Philby. This other litter through Philby I was able to take back through his mother, who was a daughter of Zariska, who was a daughter of Carlotta, who was in the same litter as the grandmother on the other side of the pedigree, so this came in together again, which was rather nice.
So you follow the female lines?
From circumstances more than from anything else. It was easier for me to go down the female line. I never kept many male dogs, probably about four bitches, but every now and again, I would do silly things. Selling a bitch and two puppies to one person, which sort of left me with rather a thin line to come down with. I did lose out on one that I was very sorry about which was by one of my own dogs as well, which got gastric torsion quite unexpectedly. I had hoped to have a litter from her.
One thing I have always done, the bitches are mated simply to keep the line going because I don't want to have too many at a time. Loki's mother was seven when she was born. Going back through, you find that the common lot was seven.
How do you raise your litters? Do you have a special program? Do you only breed at special times, such as in the spring?
I've always liked it so that the puppies would come out of the nest in April or so, but of course, it isn't always possible. As regards to special ways I've reared them, I started to rear puppies in the days when food was cheap. I bought meat very cheaply per pound; milk I bought at tuppence eight a pint; I bought a jam pot full of broken eggs at sixpence, and it was a very different way of rearing. You could have all those sorts of things for next to nothing. And they used to have a bit of biscuit thrown in as well to balance the diet. Various things have been popular over the years. We've had dexadim, halibut oil, cod-liver oil, calcium tablets, calcium injections ... I mean, they've come and gone.
Actually, since I've been here, I have reared on the mixed diet, the stuff you just pour milk on. The one I did use was a special puppy food; they did very well. That and the goat milk, and a little in the way of extras. I reared that white puppy on this diet, the puppy from Mrs. Gingold, because he had distemper very, very bad and I thought I was going to lose him. I must confess, he was so thin and so poor, his eyes were sunk into his head. When he recovered, he did remarkably well. And afterwards, when I was allowed to show him at one of the shows just before the war, he won out three times against another champion dog.
Do you do any special things in socializing your dogs?
I never had to before I came down here because I lived on the main road in Croyden and I had two resident staff. I used to have what I called my sitter girls; I would have about four school girls in on Saturday, so there were all different people handling the dogs; I didn't have to bother, but down here, it is quite different. They see people who come to the house, but they don't see many. Most of them don't seem to suffer for it.
When you look back over the years, which dog became very important for you?
Absolutely your highlight?
Absolutely, because he had it in every respect, from the intelligence point of view, the companionship point of view, and from the point of view of being a show champion. He was very nearly an international champion, but you see, in Ireland they will win four stars at the St. Patricks Day show. That happens only once a year, and you got eight by winning it two years. Then you had to get the rest by either winning another St. Patricks show or odd ones. Well, you never knew what you would get by way of stars; you might get one or two or you might not get any at all because the stars were awarded on the dogs who were present at the time. If you had six good dogs in your Open Class, you could get two stars, but if you didn't, you could get only one. You had, I think, fifteen stars to collect. This meant sending somebody over to Ireland with the dog, the hassle of the railway and all that sort of thing, on the
chance of one star or you might get two. But again, that was expensive so I gave it up. And of course, the dog was getting on then and if you reckon that he couldn't go to Ireland until after the war, he would have been about seven, so we gave that up. He went with one of my girls who took him into a hotel; didn't say anything, just took him into a hotel. The waiter came up to her and said, "Madam, dogs are not allowed." So she looked at the dog, and she said, "He is not a dog. He is a gentleman." The waiter shortly thereafter came back and said, "Would the gentleman like a steak?" (laughter) A beautiful, juicy steak was served him.
You had your first litter in the thirties. How many others since then?
It must be about forty, or about one litter a year. Most of the bitches had one litter. I bred quite a bit from little Fleur because she was a nice little bitch; I think she had five litters. I had three from Carlotta, two to Boran who was imported from Russia, and one to Ch. Bielko, who was a most beautiful dog. He was absolutely wasted; sent to America to Sunbarr Ranch in a badly shaped box - it wasn't Mrs. McNeill's fault. He died as a result of injuries while traveling about three days after he arrived. Basically, most bitches had one litter.
Tell us a little about how you keep your dogs. You have a kennel outside, a paddock, and a garden where they can run.
Yes. This, of course, is recent, only since I came down here, nearly four years. In Croyden I had a big old stable and when I say stable I don't mean just a single stable; it was an old style building and I kept the Borzoi in two thirds of that. In addition, I had about four or five individual wooden kennels and also a puppy kennel in a run which was two thirds roofed over, open to the air also, which is fantastic to have such as that on High Street in Croyden. It was an old property and it had never been built up, so I was very lucky. They had quite a large concrete run which I did not find ideal for puppies; they were always on concrete but it was all I could do there. I do not like concrete for puppy rooms - too much concussion to growing bones. Here I can do what I like; they can be on grass. I've never had a lot of dogs in the house. I have this vague notion that you keep animals in their own accommodation and you keep people in their own. That isn't to say I don't have dogs in the house; I usually have one companion dog in the house, but I don't have a whole herd like some people. I don't like it. It's a mistake to have too many in a house. In some of these houses where they have two or three dogs in every room, it is almost impossible to avoid a doggy smell. I don't think they are any happier for it. You saw my old girl go out and ask for the gate to be opened so she could go out to the pen. They all do that; they love to come in and march around and say, "Aha, what's Mum got in the kitchen?" But that's the end of it, though normally I do have one in at night. Moryak did live in the house with me because that was during the days of air raids and fences were flattened and the house was the only safe place for him. The dog I had before Mark, the one that died of nephritis, was also in the house. Basically, I would have one indoors but I really felt that the house dog had the least companionship of the lot. I know I was busy so I wasn't in the house and the others were having their own fun and games out of doors.
Can you say how many champions you have had all these years?
They fall into three categories:
Those that I bought and made up: Ch. Moryak of Moskowa and Ch. Folly of Fortrouge.
Those that I bred and sold: Ch. Joad of Fortrouge, Ch. Moses of Fortrouge, Ch. Martha of Fortrouge, Ch. Ruth of Fortrouge, Ch. Sudorka of Fortrouge, Aus. Ch. Saycha of Fortrouge, and Can. Ch. Black Watch of Fortrouge.
And those which I bred and qualified myself: Ch. Zircon of Fortrouge, Ch. Zest of Fortrouge, Ch. Black Jack of Fortrouge. Others were always limited by the fact that for thirty years I ran a busy veterinary practice single-handedly, and only those shows which were held in London were available to me.
How many dogs do you have in your kennel at one time?
I try not to have more than about ten at the most; I did get up to seventeen just before I came down here, but I don't like having so many.
Do you think that each one should have personal attention?
When I had them in Croyden, I had staff and so they got plenty of attention from them. I probably wouldn't ever want more than ten; I've got seven now and that's plenty.
It keeps one so busy.
Yes. How often are you going to breed them? If you have seven bitches and once a year you may get a litter; it is going to take you seven years to breed the other bitches. I mean, there is not the market to go on breeding. I am rather loath to breeding too many. Both exhibition and good pet homes are limited.
How do you feel about culling? Let's say you have a big litter, about ten or twelve puppies...
I am not reluctant to cull puppies. I did bring a bunch of ten from the first Boran litter, but that was because the owner of Boran wanted to have pick of the litter. I had to keep the lot, but I don't very often bring up more than six. The condition of the bitch is dependent on how well you feed the bitch. Also, if you have a large litter you can always part them and just give the bitch four or five and then switch them. I wouldn't bottle them altogether, but what I have done is take five puppies away and then before I put them back with the bitch, I give them the bottle, but I do put them back on the bitch; I have never found that mixing the milk has upset them. People often suspect that mixing milk for very young pups will upset their little tummies. If available, I use goat's milk but I have had equal success with Whelpi and other good brands of substitute bitch's milk. I use a premature baby teat. I alternate the puppies four hourly, and give them a feed immediately before I return them to the bitch. I don't change them at night.
No, I'm more concerned with the ultimate end of the dog, because I don't think there are always ten good homes waiting for the puppies and that's why I would cull. I would cull more only that I would have to do it myself; if I could turn around and say, "Take that one to the vet and get it put down - it's a poor puppy and it is wasting time to bring it up." But of course, being my own vet, so to speak, I've always had to do it myself. I'm not too good on culling things that are, say, two months old, but in the nest I don't mind a bit. I can do that quite easily.
I remember speaking to Miss Robinson of the Mythe Kennels about it, and she said, "If you are going to cull Borzoi, always cull the ones with bad head markings; they never look nice. Wide blazes, crooked blazes, things like that. That is a very good idea, if you want to cull them down, those should be the first ones to go unless they are very outstanding." I have heard that Mrs. Vlasto (Addlestone) also culled quite heavily.
How do you feel about euthanasia in an old dog?
This is a very controversial subject, and very emotive. Sometimes people seem to confuse canine life with human life. Daily, cattle, sheep and pigs are slaughtered to feed us and our dogs. Yet this fact worries only a minute percentage of the world population, who become vegetarians. It is surely the quality of life that matters, not the length of life. In all forms of terminal illness and before life becomes irksome, I would advocate euthanasia. And in many cases where an owner dies, it is kinder than trying to make an old dog adapt to new surroundings and new people.
The reluctance, I feel, arises from a lack of knowledge. Many times when I have performed this service for someone, they have said afterwards, "I wish I had known before how peaceful it is; I would have had it done ages ago. I kept hoping that he would die."
In the case of show dogs, owners should give the subject more consideration. At first, they are young and are constantly being handled, trained, groomed and so forth, then comes their exhibition life - always kept in the pink of condition, masses of attention, traveling, shows and all the applause. Later, they have their breeding life with the excitement of matings and puppies. After this is over, they arrive at the stage of "existence." They are at the bottom of the list for exercise (they don't need it), for grooming (until someone notices that they are scratching badly due to the proliferation of external parasites). They are lame because of a broken toenail, the nails have been allowed to grow too long. Actually, this is not quite so applicable to Borzoi kennels where the average life is shorter but is very true of longer-living breeds who, for the last five or six years, do just "exist." I would definitely recommend euthanasia under these circumstances.
You have quite old ones in the house.
Yes; I wouldn't put it down simply because it is old. So long as it is enjoying itself and eating well, it is all right. I did put the old lady to sleep just two months short of her 11th birthday; she suffered from serious mental deterioration.
How old Is this one?
Sixteen; a good age, really. I've never had many Bassets but I started off with her granny, Amble. There were three in the litter - Amble, Plod and Saunter - three lovely names, and I had her for seven years. Unfortunately, the Bassets had picked up a bait in the wood. I had put Carlotta on a lead because they were quarreling over a dead pigeon. It was poison for foxes, arsenic! Both the Bassets, including Amble, died.
Would you refuse to breed a bitch for any reason?
I refused one that sticks in my mind, one with a bad jaw. I don't believe I refused on any other occasion. It didn't have anything near a nodding acquaintance between top and bottom jaws. I refused point blank for that reason.
Would you breed to a dog with a serious fault if you felt that he or she is otherwise an outstanding specimen?
I would go down the pedigree very carefully to see whether it was the only one off; if, in the pedigree, most of them had good hindquarters or good shoulders, whatever the fault was, I would say, "Well, he's got everything else I want; my own bitch has got good shoulders," (we'll say it's a shoulder problem) ... "and behind that dog are good shoulders. He just happens to have a very ugly shoulder. I'll risk it." I did do it, actually. I bred to a champion dog who had very dodgy hindquarters but it wasn't in the pedigree and I bred a champion in the litter. It's feasible if the dogs behind him are not afflicted with it. If it was a fault you could trace the whole way down the pedigree, then I wouldn't have done it, but this dog was the only one off in his line. I didn't get the problem at all.
What do you feel is a fair price for a puppy? It has changed over the years.
It has changed very much, indeed. The first advertisement I answered I thought was a preposterous price, so I turned it down. What I would say today is old news tomorrow. Prices at the present time are actually quite high. I don't think you could get anything for under one hundred twenty-five pounds. It used to be sort of related to the stud fee, but the stud fees haven't gone up as much. At least I haven't been asked for more than seventy-five; that's the highest I've had to pay so far. Yet you can get a hundred and fifty for those puppies.
I think the stud fee should be quite close to the price of a puppy. If that male is going to produce six puppies then people are going to have puppies costing a hundred pounds each, I don't see why you couldn't get one hundred for the stud fee.
Should there be a different price for a show quality and a pet quality puppy?
I had a puppy in a litter recently that had one misplaced tooth and a hernia, and I sold her for the price of her inoculations, twenty-eight pounds. The hernia could be rectified but the tooth was permanent, so she went without papers as a pet.
What would be the price for a puppy with show potential?
What you can get! (laughter)
Oh, you are honest. What dogs have impressed you the most, either dogs you saw abroad or that have been in your own kennel?
I suppose one is usually most impressed when you are first into a breed and you see some of the really good specimens in the show kennels. I came into it, of course, when there were people who had been breeding dogs for a very long time. One of the biggest kennels of that time started early in the 1900's. They were started from the Ramsden dogs and the Ramsdens were pre-1914, and were disbanded shortly after the outbreak of the war because Major Ramsden had to go back into the army. The Addlestone dogs started from that line of Ramsden dogs, or very close to that time. Mrs. Vlasto believed in culling. She would mate about six bitches at the same time and then raise two or three pups on each bitch and the rest were culled. She really did have beautiful kennels and beautiful dogs. I remember Ch. Alesha of Addlestone, a very spectacular dog. I don't remember it quite so well but I do remember his dam, Chivarin. Then there was the Mythe kennels. They started roughly about 1900. She used to have very beautiful dogs all of a type; they used to come out sort of like peas in a pod, they were all alike. In actual fact, looking back, they weren't so absolutely alike, but they were all big, strong dogs of excellent type. She had four or five stud dogs all kenneled together; they had marvelous temperaments. I always admired her dogs and her handling in the show ring, but I saw them all in their own surroundings when I went down and bought this little bitch, Mythe Dolka, just before the war. I was very impressed with her. Then there was Guy, who had a large kennel; some of Guy's were very nice, but he had too many to generalize over. As a matter of fact, his last advertisement was "Over a hundred to choose from." When you have that number of dogs, it is difficult to remember them individually. At one time I knew him very well as I was his vet before he went to Taunton.
Another kennel which started just before the war was Mrs. Gingold, Bransgore; I remember her last champion. She was bought by Mrs. Jenkins, and I bought one of her puppies. I also remember the bitch with the awful name of Nitsitchen that Mr. Gingold had bought from Guy and renamed Zagavor; she was a beautiful bitch. She didn't make her championship but she had gotten two CCs before being mated and would have, in the normal course of events, become a champion, but she died young. There were no CCs available during the war.
Mrs. Huth had the Kestor Kennels -started about 1901. I never knew the dogs very well. She was still going after the war, exhibiting Kestor Sergei. Mrs. McNeill lived in Scotland; I visited her kennels twice. She was a very wealthy woman and had a collection of jade only surpassed by Queen Mary's collection. Then about that time, another kennel started in Borzoi; they had been in Salukis, the Zomahli Kennel, sometime during the war. I remember Mr. Pearson brought a bitch down to be mated to Moryak at the time of the air raids. They had a wonderful kennel which had very definite uniformity; you could look at one and say, "That's Zomahli." I always wanted to be able to do that with a kennel. It's something that they have obviously liked and bred for and have kept. Although I also knew the Duchess of Newcastle, I never visited the kennels.
Have you judged in the U.S.?
Yes. I had to raise my sights when I went over there because the dogs were much bigger. I gave top dog to a very big dog, one of the Twin Elms dogs, a pure white dog. I liked him very much. He was big, I grant you, but he was very well balanced, a very gay-natured dog. I liked some of the Vala Ramas; I liked Vala Rama Phoenix of Sunbarr and I liked Phoenix's mother, Pandora, who was very nice. The youngsters, Sirhan Poraschai and Sirhan Pobedim, in the Junior Classes. Poraschai became a very famous dog.
When I've been abroad, I've seen some nice dogs. There were some nice ones at Paris. I remember the last one that I saw, a dog called Esau, a spectacular dog, a beautiful mover, but to my way of thinking, just a little bit small, not quite big enough for a male, but he was a lovely dog.
I did see a dog which took my fancy very much in Sweden, Don-Cosackens Czardas. I gave him BIS. Now the thing that interests me, we had this conference in Sweden, and we were trying to get people to agree to a world standard of Borzoi. What interested me about DonCosackens Czardas was he had been Best in Show under a Dutch judge and under a American judge and under a English judge, and I thought a dog that could come out and do that was fantastic. He was a lovely dog; he stuck in my mind. He obviously fulfilled the requirements of all three standards, F.C.I., U.S.A., and British.
When I was in Australia, I was impressed with several dogs very much. I felt that the puppy I had under me, Astragorn Harad Dragon, was a magnificent puppy and I heard that he went on very well. There were one or two other Astragorn dogs of excellent type. The Best in Show was not Astragorn, it was a very nice, old fashioned type black and white dog, Ch. Res Rimski Korsakov; I liked him very much. The Best Bitch was a very well constructed bitch with a charming head and beautiful shoulders and hindquarters, Ch. Zivy Zubzah. I do wish people would give their dogs pronounceable names. They have made quite an impression on me. The thing that struck me in Australia was the amount of importance that they put on movement. The Borzoi ring in the Australian show would have swamped the Alsatian ring in this country. I also was very impressed with an older bitch which I saw at her home, Babuscha.
When were you in Australia?
Five years ago.
How would you describe your ideal dog?
The dog should conform as closely as possible to the standard, and the sex should be evident at a glance. I do not like bitchy dogs or doggy bitches. The silhouette is important, i.e., the proportion between the height, thelength and the depth of chest. The length of head, its correct carriage, and the line from the back skull to the tail should show a slight arch of neck and a gradual curve of the topline. Also the relative lengths of the rib cage, the length of the loins and the croup are important. The Russian Standard says a dog of long racy build. If the loin is too short, and the croup too steep, you will have the outline of a Whippet. Substance is essential. The rib cage should be oval shaped, and the loin broad, and it should be possible to have a four-inch width between the elbows at chest level and four inches between the pin bones of the pelvis.
In a running dog, the legs are very important. The hindquarters should be broad, the hind legs should be parallel and have adequate angulation. The hock should be low to give additional leverage for strength and length of stride. It is this powerful action of the hindquarters that hurls the dog forward. This force is accepted by the forelegs, which are constructed rather like shock absorbers, first impact taken by the strong feet and well-padded toes; secondly by the spring in the slightly sloping pastern, and finally by the angles of the elbow and shoulder.
The aforementioned description is broadly true of any dog bred to course, but each sighthound has breed characteristics. Firstly, the head. In the Borzoi, it is very narrow, beautifully molded in an aerodynamic design and gets its strength more from its depth of jaw rather than its width. Another feature is the bladed bone of the forelegs. This is rather a misnomer as it has little to do with the shape of the radius. The appearance being due to the fact that the Olscraon process is rather prominent and the muscles are located towards the back of the leg. The exact opposite is to be seen in the Chow. The other breed characteristic is the loin. No matter how much the muscle is developed, you will always see the "ridge of knots" - description from old Russian Standard. In a fit Greyhound, the loin muscle will rise above the spinal processes and there will be a depression along the center of the back. It is the absence of this feature in the Borzoi which gave rise in the old standard to the description "back free from any cavity."
This is a very broad description of the Borzoi, but it contains all the structural necessities. Many of the other features have little to do with their efficiency and can be classed as beauty faults. Large thick ears (hideous). Light eyes (give a horrible expression). Lack of coat, lack of fringes, wooly coat - all are beauty faults. But a really curled tail carried high, although possibly really only a beauty fault, does have a devastating effect on his "general appearance."
How do you feel about temperament?
It is very important. Nervousness has cropped up every now and again in my own line. Every now and again I get a nervy one, but most of my puppies have been very reliable. It should be a wolf hunting dog. An outgoing temperament allows for much more intelligence, too. I always thought that I had better temperaments in dogs that had a bit of American blood in them. I imported a Sunbarr dog and I thought then that the temperaments were better, more steady. I don't condemn the English temperament, but I think we have, rather unfortunately, slightly shy dogs. They need a lot of love and affection, so to speak, to bring out the best in them. So many Borzoi are almost apologizing for existing. This comes from the fact that, at one time, they were rather aggressive and in trying to eradicate this, too many shy dogs were bred from. This was before I was in it, when dogs were sold to people who didn't know how to handle them. They gave the breed a bad name. These people I told you about, who had the dogs on the stage, had a very big dog who was their pride and joy and he always had a fantastic temperament. He also had a sense of property. They rented a house for the summer. The previous tenant had two Alsatians. One day, one Alsatian came into the garden. And the Borzoi, Nicky, just picked him up and threw him over the fence! A dog as strong as that MUST have a reliable temperament, so unfortunately for some, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction - beautiful, affectionate, but would they pace a wolf?
The standard is being revised now. Do you think it is necessary?
The revision that is being done, the English Standard, by the Kennel Club, is what the Kennel Club wants to do with all standards. That is to say, they've got to be done in a certain form. You've got to use the Kennel Club wording, the description of your mouth, and you've got to use the positions in which you take your descriptions. There are definite ideas of where you start and where you stop. They go through a sort of format that all breeds have got to sort of fit into - not obviously the description but in how they are described, the words they use and that sort of thing. I suppose this is going to be done so that everything can go into computers, I don't know. (laughter)
Miss Murray with Moryak and his son Igor of Moscowa
You have been in the breed for over fifty years now. Have you seen the breed improve or are there things that still need to be done after all these decades?
Before the 1939 war, there were several well established large breeding kennels in the hands of wealthy people who were primarily "breeders" although, of course, they did exhibit as well. They were in the enviable position of not having to sell puppies to keep going. The following is a list of names of kennels and owners with the approximate date of starting, who themselves remained interested in the breed but did no breeding after the war, but still officiated as championship judges:
Of Notts, Duchess of Newcastle, c. 1885; Moskowa, Mrs. Jenkins, c. 1934; Bransgore, Mrs. Gingold, c. 1930; Tangmere, Mr. and Mrs. George, c. 1929; Addlestone, Mrs. Erato Vlasto, c. 1905; Kestor, Mrs. Huth, c. 1901; Mythe, Miss Edith Robinson, c. 1900.
Mrs. McNeil (Barnaigh) and Mr. Guy (had no kennel name) both started about 1920 and both carried on after the war. There were also kennels founded in the thirties which carried on after the war.
I always considered myself lucky to have known these long established kennels and their famous owners. They were so ready to help the interested newcomers and to offer advice on matings and to help assess puppies in the litter. Their bloodlines had been going for so long that it was fairly easy to predict what you would likely get from a mating. From a Mythe stud dog you would be very sure of improving your heads, and getting wonderful temperaments. A dog of Mr. Guy would give you improved hindquarters. And other kennels were dominant for other physical and/or mental features.
Now it is much more difficult; there are only about three kennels who have kept their own line over a period of between 20 to 30 years. I do not mean that they have never gone outside for a mating; they have, but then gone straightaway into their own line again.
If I had to suggest a time when the English were at their peak I would choose the 1930's. Of the bitches, I would choose Gromkaya, Ivarin and Nadejda, all of Addlestone. Ballerina, Brussilovna, and Zagavor all of Bransgore; Fet and Ladoga Nalivka, who both belonged to Mr. Guy. Lady Luck and her daughter, Miss Mazeppa, both of Barnaigh.
In dogs I would choose Baraban and Brussilofkin, both of Bransgore. Yaroslav and Alesha both of Addlestone, Mythe Mazeppa, Mythe Maxim and Mythe Marinsky. Bahram and Loaningdale, both of which belonged to Mr. Guy. I knew Mr. Guy's dogs very well because, as I mentioned earlier, before he moved to Henlade I was his veterinary surgeon.
How do you see the future for the breed?
I don't know how this will turn out. In some breeds, breeders come together when they think they want something and import a male which they hope will help to eradicate their faults and produce what they want. They did it in Bassets, I remember. They had a rather wise vision of what they wanted to get, and believed that what they imported would benefit the breed. You can't always get that cooperation between breeders. I think I'm right in saying that no Borzoi has been imported into Britain, since I've been in it anyway, that has become an English champion. However, Boran sired six champions in three litters, and left his mark on the breed.
Would it have anything to do with the quarantine?
Not if you are bringing in an adult dog, no. I don't think quarantine will ruin an adult dog. It is hard on a puppy, both physically and temperamentally. It didn't do much good to the puppy I imported; I don't think he would have been awfully good anyway, but his hindquarters suffered a bit.
What advice would you give to a novice who wanted to get started in Borzoi?
It is very hard to tell anybody to do anything slowly today; everybody wants it with the first litter, but personally, I would say go to a breeder of stock which has got a fairly long history and buy yourself a bitch, perhaps. Go to as many shows as you can manage, small shows to start with and later on, the bigger shows. See what you are up against all the time and try to honestly judge your own dog against what you are seeing in the ring. Decide whether you like the breed, whether you want to go on with it and if you do, if your bitch which you originally bought is good enough, breed yourself something from her. First, consult her breeder on possible stud dogs. If she isn't good enough, but you've learned a lot from her, then go and buy yourself something better, a really good dog or bitch. Dogs, of course, are much easier to show and get a reputation because they are so much more available for show. The wretched bitches are "out" because they are in season and "out" because they are out of coat - they are post season or post puppies or something - so they are out quite a lot, but that's how I would start. Also, watch and read, watch all the classes and the dogs and read up on care. Talk to people, and look at your own dogs as critically as you look at other's dogs. At all times, be honest with yourself about your own dogs. If your club runs seminars and teaches, attend as many as possible.
Tell us a little about Yourself. You are a veterinarian?
Well, it was something I decided to be quite early and I remember at home, I had a dog that had been badly chewed up by a badger and a couple of horses with bad legs. I was, I suppose, eleven or twelve, but certainly not more than that. I had been looking after these animals there, under supervision, and I thought, "Well, this is for me. This is what I'll do." I subsequently went to boarding school (this was in Ireland) and in school, you write a composition of "What I Want to Be." So I wrote about this. The English mistress was such a nice character; she came to me and asked, "Is this just a composition or do you really mean it? Do you want to become a veterinarian?" I said, "Yes, I do." In those days, there were not many women vets. She said, "I will introduce you to Olga Woodward; she was also at this school and she was also one of my pupils. She has qualified in 1925." So she gave me her address and I corresponded with her, I should think, for about twenty to thirty years. Then we went back to Canada to live. I didn't want to go to the Canadian college because I was keen to get back to Ireland. I knew that if I qualified in Canada, I would have to requalify over here, and it would take an extra year. So I opted for going to Dublin. Unfortunately, my father sent me to London. I don't know why; I had no friends in London at all. It was only two years since I had left school in Ireland; I had lots of friends there.
You made history.
In 1928, Sir Frederic Hobday was appointed Principal of Royal Veterinary College in London. He opened the doors to women students. There were two second-year students from Glasgow, and two from Liverpool, and ten freshers. I had just spent a year at the University of Manitoba, where it did not matter a tinker's curse whether you were male or female. It was a change to enter this strict male society. We were frowned upon, because in our presence the lecturers had to forego many of their rather lewd jokes which had previously been used as helpful aids to memory.
In actual fact, we were certainly not the first women students. The first was Miss Eileen Cust, who had all the examinations in the early 1900's, but was not granted the title of veterinary surgeon till after the First World War, when, in 1920, one of the early sex discrimination acts made it illegal to withhold titles from her any longer.
When you look back at so many years and so many dogs in your life, would you like to have done it the same way?Yes, except that I would have much preferred to be based in Ireland because my first love is horses. But everything else would be the same; I would have the dogs as well, I expect. I like the Irish country life; I have quite a few friends there. Even though they still have their troubles there. Since 1919, the raiding by the IRA, and trees felled across the road to stop traffic, and all sorts of things like that, but in those days, it was much less violent. They stole bikes, rifles and so forth, but they seldom killed.
Is there anything you want to add? Anything you want to share with the Borzoi world?
One thing is the seminars they are holding. This is bringing together all the Borzoi enthusiasts from around the world; they have been very well supported, really. This must be good for the breed, the bringing together of ideas, and what we want for the breed, and we must be honest about things, both in our own kennels and our own ideas of what is wrong with the breed today. The interchange between the nations is giving a very good chance of improving our understanding of each other and of the dog. The idea of trying to make a world standard shows a great deal of understanding of each other, of what we really want, and I wish it every success.
Thank you very much. •
THE BORZOI QUARTERLY • Spring 1986
Credit to Lorraine Harvey, Dan Persson! Editor:Sue Vasick