Its never been easy, breeding Wolfhounds…….

I came across a small piece of paper recently and thought I would record what is on it before this is lost again. A small yellow page, must have been written some time in the late seventies, maybe early eighties. This was in the days when I kept a notebook by the phone and scribbled a transcript of most of the conversations I had regarding Irish Wolfhounds.I was like a sponge, collecting pedigrees and every possible piece of information. This would help me to breed better wolfhounds, I thought, when the time came to chose a sire for my next litter.

This little yellow piece of paper isnt from one of my usual notebooks, and I wont be writing about those any time soon. Once I am sure everyone referred to is safely tucked in their grave I might leave these to the Irish Wolfhound Club. This single sheet must be a record of a conversation with someone – but who? That most important piece of information isnt on there. How could I have thought I would ever forget who I was talking to? Its likely to have been someone with good connections to Ireland who had already been in the breed for a while, and these comments must have been the result of my questions, trying to verify information about dogs or about problems I had come across already.

“Splash marked bitch at Ballykelly”. I had seen my first puppy with a large white face blaze at Marumac not long before, a baby from the Ch Carrokeel Coillte Merlin x M. Clary litter. Neither Mary McBryde or I had ever seen this before, but it wasnt long before I met Ballykelly Tigernach, Tony Doyle’s white head- striped male who was called ” Badger” at home. In these far off days new breeders were told they should look at culling litters if too many puppies were born, and mismarks and blues should be the first to go, if there were any. There were rumours of puppies born with big white legs, even a collar like a Collie’s – and in her typical fashion, Mrs Nagle had brought out Sulhamstead Motley, a dog with a big white chest and both a sock and a stocking in white, to make a point about conformation being more important than colour. She never extended this theory to blues ( dilutes) however – and thats a whole other story !

To this day you will come across breeders, some of them Irish, who loathe white markings and follow the Deerhound standard in wanting as little white as possible.I watched Kathleen Kelly of Nutstown dismiss some superb hounds from the ring in Dallas at the IWC Speciality she judged, having pointedly put her hand upon their white feet as she went over them. Her main winners barely had a white hair outside their chests. I have also witnessed the opposite extreme. In Norway, as at one of the East Coast Specialtiy shows IWAGs, there is a class for ” Best Irish Spotted Wolfhound”. Irish spotting is the term used in colour genetics for a dog with white edges – in its extreme extension there might be a saddle of black on the back with white head, legs and tail. In Wolfhounds we might see white up to the pastern, a tail tip, a big white chest and perhaps a white snip up the face, hard to detect when the hound is adult as the whiskers cover the muzzle area.

I can understand both viewpoints. The Kennel Club  Breed Standard is no longer clear on how to treat white markings.The breed club still follows the “old standard” in retaining the link with the Deerhound. Some breeders still  follow the underlying suggestion from the  IWC standard to follow those colours acceptable in the Deerhound, white being minimised.Yet Tony Doyle of Killykeen admired the white marked coat pattern and perhaps felt the phrase ” Irish Spotting” claimed the colouring for the Home Country.

Back to my piece of scribble.Breeders very soon found it hard to avoid the very white marked Sulhamstead Motley’s best son and grandson, champions Mogul and Wizard, and a scattering of white marked puppies come through to this day. Should we be worrying about it? There are worse things in an inbred breed population, and when I chose a dog with big white socks as my BIS at the last EIWC I thought he was the best constructed and best moving dog present on the day and disregarded the white feet. Not everyone will think the same.

Moving on….. “Int Ch Colin of Nendrum a poor stud”, this would have been an ” ah ha” moment for me, as I couldnt understand how such a beautiful hound could leave so few offspring. Wolfhounds have improved in the libido area over the last forty years, but back then you could speak to breeders who owned or knew of dogs which wouldnt mate.Ruth Jenkins of Eaglescrag wistfully told new breeders that she wished she had even a single puppy for every trip she took to Sulhamstead sires. Half of their champion males from the 60s- 70s left no progeny. I wonder how we compare today? I think our sires are more reliable, or perhaps its that we can sort out the ones with poor semen quality and not waste our bitches time with them.

“Ch Ballykelly Reamonn’s grandson  Navan died aged 15 months, heart condition ( enlgarged)”. I must check my death records book to see if I recorded or knew what Reamonn died from. Even in those times I was collecting information about what dogs died of, especially when they died young. This was probably Dilated Cardiomyopathy, DCM, something we knew to fear but didnt know how to avoid.

“Brabyns Red Rory x Melina puppy died of heart attack while under a year” and here was another one, this time based on Ch Petasmeade Chieftain of Brabyns lines. Susan Hudson ( Bowers) of Brabyns wasnt someone I particularly respected. She bred to make a living, and as a lifelong hobby breeder I couldnt get to grips with anyone who bred dogs to keep themselves ( as opposed to going out to work to keep the hounds). Her wolfhounds could have rather strange temperaments. Miss Hudson was kind enough to offer me a lift when she came across me as a foot passenger on the Dublin ferry, heading over to watch Helen Baird ( Outhwaite) judge the IWCI club show. She had a beautiful wheaten male called Donaghadee, but he was extraordinarily shy. If it occurred to me to wonder why he needed ” travel sickness pills” upon disembarking from the ferry I was too in awe of older breeders to question it, and this neurotic dog was a lamb by the time he was in the ring even if his pupils were dilated out to their edges. I wonder what was used? Donaghadee won that day, and later became a champion in the UK. I never bought stock or used dogs from this kennel as I was too sensitive about the ” natural” characters of the hounds after this experience.

There were a fair few nervous or downright neurotic wolfhounds when I came into the breed. No doubt I was interested to discover ” Thornwick Aran produced nervous puppies to proven good temperament dogs”. Her son Ch Boroughbury Justice was one of the best sires the breed has ever known, you certainly noticed his many champion offspring, a great leap forward. He went as a slightly older puppy to Betty Murphy ( Carrokeel). I also noted ” Justice passes on his head type, main exception to a poor headed Tolkavalley bitch”. I knew Justice, he was a rather reticent hound and Betty had worked hard at socialising him. He had a superb head and expression and could be depended upon to reproduce this. Over at Eaglescrag Justice’s aunt Rossan was also mated to Ch Caio of Eaglescrag and produced superb hounds such as Toby and Tansy – and the latter was desperately fearful, as were others bearing Rossan in their pedigree. Yet the hounds she was bred to were the most steady and charming of males.

In later years I have heard poor Fintan blamed over and over again for having a poor temperament. He was just lovely, a forward going and friendly dog in all circumstances. He was, however, mated to Rossan and had a very shy son who in turn produced some very nervous progeny…… maybe there’s something behind these two influential matriachs which was responsible for the far too nervous descendants. Another area of great progress, as wolfhounds of today are so much steadier and more forward going, you rarely see a neurotic hound out and about.

” Ch Ballykelly Molly Mulligan had bad entropion”. I pored over her pedigree looking for any connection with my own entropions, a brother and sister in my first litter, but there was none. ” Boroughbury Ballykelly Kilpadraic poor tail, hysterical barker, ugly head with light eyes”, I cant think why I should be interested  but I must have been – and any interest would have waned on hearing this of him!

“Brabyns Cailte died whelping, two dogs hand reared, one to go to the Finneys in Ireland and the other to Elsie James”. Gulliagh and Boroughbury affixes respectively. Susan Hudson wrote an article for an early IW magazine about rearing Mic and Mac. I loved Caillte, a superb bitch in my eyes at that time. “Patricks Day has osteochondritis, Ch Sulhamstead Match blamed”.Patricks Day was a most lovely puppy yet I wouldnt have used him at stud from the moment I heard this. OCD was rife in this era yet I cant now say I thought Sulhamstead hounds had any great amount of it.Perhaps Miss Hudson was in the know, or perhaps she was doing the customary breedery thing of blaming the only line which didnt come from her own kennel.

“Brabyns Connal and Colleen Dhu had curly tails ” I had a champion mother and her daughter with ring tails and wouldnt have wanted to double it up.

” Neither Eaglescrag nor Brabyns has ever had a distension ( gastric torsion). Blamed on incorrect feeding or habits”. We were all terrified of bloat, and were taught to feed hounds from chairs so they didnt bend down, to get them to eat slowly if possible and to never exercise until two or more hours after a meal. This comment might point to other factors than feeding habits. Both kennels had well tucked up houndy shaped animals and maybe they were genetically less likely to bloat than the heavier bodied sorts that were thicker through the middlepiece. I just dont know.

Here endeth my small piece of paper. If anyone around at the time has any slant of their own to put on what is basically repeated gossip please let me know – its breed history, after all, and memory being what it is/ was…….

 

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