It began as a simple question. I asked Paul Keevil in England, a fellow Dandie devotee, “What is anyone in Britain doing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Guy Mannering, the book that named the Dandie Dinmont Terrier?”
“Nothing, to my knowledge,” replied Paul.
“Nothing?” was my shocked reply. “Well we have to do something!” That “something,” after a year’s planning, exceeded all expectations.
The Dandie Dinmont and its History
The Dandie Dinmont Terrier is both an old breed and one of the rarest. It is the only dog named after a character from fiction. “Dandie Dinmont” was a farmer who owned six of these “mustard and pepper terriers” in Sir Walter Scott’s novel. Although the breed had existed in a pure form for more than a century, the publication of Guy Mannering on February 24, 1815, which sold out in one day, brought sudden attention to the breed.
In addition, the Dandie is the only breed of dog that can trace the origins of its name to an exact day, month and year, and is also the first terrier to have an actual breed name. When the Kennel Club was formed in 1873, it recognized just 36 breeds, one of which was the Dandie Dinmont Terrier.
However, the Dandie has significantly declined in numbers since both World Wars. For the past 10 years The Kennel Club (UK) has proclaimed it a “Vulnerable Native Breed.” Britain produces about 100 puppies a year and just over 300 are born annually worldwide.
Hoping to draw attention to the plight of the Dandie, UK canine art dealer and fellow Dandie breeder, Paul Keevil and I (all-breed judge and President of the Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club of Canada) felt we could not let such an important landmark pass without acknowledging the debt owed to Sir Walter Scott.
Five-thousand emails later, a two-day event was organized, despite the fact that we had no funding. A Facebook page, “Dandie 200,” was set up and became viral among Dandie enthusiasts. An IT expert (and Dandie owner) volunteered to post photos instantly during the events.
For “base camp,” we chose the Dryburgh Abbey hotel, situated beside the abbey where Scott is buried. They expected a couple of dozen participants. To their amazement, the hotel was sold out in 10 days. To keep the event manageable, we had to limit the event to those staying in the hotel, much to the dismay of others who wished to attend.
The gathering consisted of 75 breed enthusiasts and more than 50 Dandie Dinmonts from eight countries, including four from the US and six from Canada. They would visit Abbotsford, Scott’s beloved estate in the Scottish border country where he wrote Guy Mannering, and would go to two other historic mansions that played an important part in the creation of today’s Dandie Dinmont: Bowhill, the home of the 10th Duke of Buccleuch, Britain’s largest private landowner; and The Haining, a Palladian mansion now in the hands of a charitable trust.
The founding father of the modern-day Dandie Dinmont was ‘Old Pepper,’ a poacher’s dog who was caught in the gamekeeper’s trap on the Bowhill estate, then owned by the fifth Duke of Buccleuch, a Dandie breeder. By kind invitation of Richard, the 10th Duke of Buccleuch, the visitors and more than 50 Dandies went to Bowhill on the morning of Monday, February 23, where they were warmly welcomed by His Grace.
As several of the Duke’s ancestors were responsible for developing the Labrador Retriever, it is somewhat paradoxical that the Buccleuchs had bred one of the most popular of breeds and one of the rarest.
Scotland is full of rich history. Since the Middle Ages, the clans consisted of people with the same surname who lived in the same area protected by and beholden to their chief. Today, anyone with Scottish heritage and a Scottish surname can be considered part of a clan. To distinguish each clan from another, as they were often at war, and to recognize their own tribesmen, every clan created its own distinctive tartan, made of plaid material of varying colors. In fact, most clans had several colors of tartans for different sartorial purposes — their hunting tartan might be green, and their “dress” tartan might be red.
Duke Richard is Chief of Clan Scott. During this visit he generously gave permission for the black and white tartan that Sir Walter Scott wore privately in his home to now become the tartan of the Dandie Dinmont Terrier. The Duke ceremoniously draped the tartan over one of the Dandies, to jubilant applause. The Dandie is now the only breed of dog with its own tartan.
Many photos were taken with Duke Richard as the wind swirled and a brief Scottish snowstorm soaked the camera’s lenses. The Duke and two Dandies then went into Bowhill for an unusual portrait session. Standing in front of the 1770 Gainsborough painting of the third Duke of Buccleuch with an early Dandie, His Grace held a Dandie in his arms in the same pose as his illustrious ancestor.
Old Pepper’s son was a dog called ‘Old Ginger,’ who was bred by Robert Pringle and born at his home, The Haining, in Selkirk. Today, every Dandie Dinmont in the world goes back “tail male” (father’s father’s father ad infinitum) to Old Ginger, who was born on June 4, 1842. How many other breeds can trace their pedigrees back to an exact date? Old Ginger’s maternal grandfather, The Mertoun Dandie, was bred by Sir Walter himself, so the novelist not only named the breed but was instrumental in its early development.
On the Monday afternoon, the group visited The Haining. Much to their amazement, they saw the old kennel structure that still survives. The wrought-iron kennel runs were built by blacksmith John Stoddart, also a key Dandie breeder in the mid-1800s.
This was such a historic moment, to see the very place where the breed’s foundation sire was born, that Paul Keevil felt it was important that one Dandie be the first in 145 years to enter the kennel run for an iconic photo. But with 52 Dandies present, which one to choose?
He left that delicate diplomatic decision to me, and I suggested to the group that after his 15 months of planning, Paul deserved the honor with his own dog. After some protestation, drowned out by shouts of agreement and applause, Keevil stepped into the run with his pepper Dandie. The impact of this historic moment was too much; he broke down in tears, causing me and his wife, Shelia, to rush in for a sympathetic group hug.
Dryburgh Abbey and Abbotsford
The following day began with the drone of the bagpipes calling the dogs to Sir Walter’s tomb in Dryburgh Abbey. The Rev. Sheila Moir, vicar of St. Boswells, conducted a service of remembrance, and blessed all the Dandie Dinmonts with water taken from the River Tweed, which runs through the Scott estate.
Although Abbotsford, the historic home of Sir Walter Scott, is not open to the public, it privately opened its doors to welcome the enthusiasts. Thus on February 24, 2015, 200 years to the very day that Guy Mannering was published, the Dandies were piped onto the grounds, and after many press photos and interviews outside the mansion, the visitors congregated in Sir Walter Scott’s magnificent library.
For the culmination of the event to take place in Scott’s own library, next to his study where he wrote the book that named the Dandie Dinmont breed was an awe-inspiring experience. Alasdair Hutton, OBE, Chairman of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club, and Abbotsford trustee, James Holloway, CBE, former Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, both spoke stirringly about Scott’s contributions to dogs, literature and Scottish history. I read brief excerpts from more than 100 messages of support and congratulations from Dandie owners and 21 National Kennel clubs from China to Peru, including a poignant comment from the Russian Kennel Club, which wrote that the universal love we have for dogs unites us and is stronger than borders or politics.
But how united was this event in reality? Curiously, the three British Dandie clubs not only ignored the bicentennial but showed no interest in participating. Few UK breeders attended, yet one would have expected them to be interested in the breed’s rich history. Several European Dandie breeders came, but the majority of the group were all what breeders often disparagingly call “pet owners.” Yet those owners demonstrated great passion, love and fear for the breed’s survival. They were willing to accept the expenses and miles of travel to be part of this event. Perhaps it was because this was a unique celebration and there was something tangible to enjoy? They said they have little interest in dog shows and that clubs do not provide the average pet owner with encouragement or other events to attend.
Another important aspect of the gathering is that before congregating in Scotland, the participants bonded over the Dandie 200 Facebook page. More than 350 others, unable to attend, followed along almost instantly as photographs and comments were posted. These people have proven their concern about the Dandie Dinmont’s survival, yet how can this energy and passion be harnessed and utilized?
Indeed, have we learned a valuable lesson? Are breed clubs becoming irrelevant, only concerned with running dog shows, winning ribbons and ignoring the large majority of devoted owners? Has social media replaced the need for clubs, committees and costly memberships? Is this the future for all purebred breeds?
And if it is, where do we go from here?
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