76 CONSERVING OUR VULNERABLE BREEDS
CONSERVING OUR VULNERABLE BREEDS
Nearly thirty years ago, I wrote a book, The Heritage of the Dog, with a final chapter entitled Do You Remember the British Dog'? The last line of this chapter read: "...but who is going to protect our native breeds of dog as human whim determines their demise'? They too are part of our heritage." In 2003, the Kennel Club undertook to identify and confirm those breeds of British dog which could be considered 'vulnerable' through declining numbers. Although the KC claims nowadays to speak for all dogs, the subsequent list of vulnerable British breeds only included breeds recognised by them. Their list comprised a dozen terrier breeds, seven gundog breeds, four hound breeds, three pastoral and two from the Toy breeds. The British public have great affection for such breeds, which embrace the Skye, Sealyham, Dandie Dinmont and Manchester Terriers, the Clumber, Field and Sussex Spaniels, the Cardigan Corgi and the English Toy Terrier. This is but a start on a most valuable campaign. But what about those native breeds of dog, which are just as vulnerable, but not recognised by the KC?
Those involved in the world of hounds used for hunting need support if these precious packs are to be conserved. We have already lost the distinctive and highly efficient Dumfriesshire pack of black and tan Foxhounds. This alone represents a considerable loss of unique irreplaceable genes from the packhound pool. We need to give thought to the long-term future of our Harriers, Staghounds, English Bassets and that valuable breeding outsource: the Welsh Foxhound. No doubt the ever active Welsh Assembly has the latter firmly in its sights but sadly not with its conservation in mind. With the new emphasis on 'Britishness' perhaps the hunting dogs of Britain will receive some much-needed interest from the public. The public try to care about conservation but have long been badly informed by the popular press about hunting with hounds. The Otterhound alone has reached the Kennel Club rings, one form of conservation. Those involved with the hounds of the packs dread their type moving into the show ring. The contemporary Bloodhound of the show rings indicates all too vividly what can happen to a 'design for function' when those only interested in appearance hold sway.
Why favour a scenthound from Sweden, like the Hamiltonstovare, when we have superlative and very similar hounds here like the Studbook and West Country Harriers? Why import a Grand Griffon Vendeen when we have the highly rated Welsh Foxhound available, of comparable type? Why, if you fancy the Basset Hound, not go for the delightful little scent hounds developed as the English or Hunting Basset? Or do you just want a canine caricature as a pet? What are the advantages of the Grand Bleu de Gascogne over our steadfast and long-proven Staghound? And have those now bringing in the Segugio Italiano ever seen a Trailhound in Cumbria, they really are something special. They race rather than hunt, they run freely rather than as a pack, but their genes are so valuable. They have Pointer blood in them; their breeders sought performance from superb hounds, not pure-blooded fading stock, losing virility, yet still bred in a closed gene pool for 'old times sake'!
What must our neglected undervalued breeds of British dog think of us! They could be excused for thinking; 'you humans bred us almost ruthlessly, over two or more centuries, to be the most effective hunting dogs in the world only to change your mind about our use and despatch us from your plans. Thanks a lot!' Do we as a nation really not give a damn about our native breeds of dog, especially those not recognised by the KC? The Foxhound is now recognised by them; the Harrier once was, but no longer is. Shouldn't that be put right?
Perhaps the best way of ensuring that there is a future for our distinguished varieties of sporting dog is for show and field enthusiasts to work together at the top level. The gundog breed clubs should for example be linked with the BASC. But it is the packhounds that we stand the chance of losing. And it is emerging native breeds, like the Plummer, Fell and Sporting Lucas Terriers, the Victorian, Sussex and Dorset Bulldogs and the Welsh Black Mastiff, which need perceptive patronage. If the KC truly claims to be representing all dogs, why isn't it striving to ensure the conservation of every British breed, whether recognised by them or not?
I applaud all the worthy efforts being made to safeguard precious native breeds under threat from declining numbers. But if we save a number of valued pedigree KC-recognised breeds but lose others, merely because they are not on the KC register, that would be sad indeed. As the Hunting With Dogs Act takes its toll, as it surely will in some instances, we need to put in place measures to conserve our sporting breeds; these are the best bred, best physically-equipped and most robust dogs in Britain, we cannot just forget about them. Any British breed of dog, however recognised or registered, deserves our support. The emergent British breeds urgently need to be recognised.