Newsletter 6
Dog People Say the Darndest Things
April 4, 2010

Hi Everyone,

Spring is finally here in Georgia. Sweaters have been replaced with T-shirts. The mallards have returned to Wolf Creek (which borders our backyard). Soon we'll see the herons, too. It's really difficult to sit here at the computer when the birds are chirping and the air is filled with sweet scents. The blooms on our star magnolias are fading and the saucer magnolias (including our yellow Elizabeth) dazzle in their profusion. The camellias have so many blooms that they are sagging.The blossoms from our neighbor's huge old cherry, which overhangs our yard, flutter down with the slightest breeze. I didn't get around to pruning my roses earlier (usually I do it on Washington's birthday) and now I'm paying the price. Anyone looking at my arms would swear I'd tangled with barbed wire.

Loquacious...a high-faultin' word for talkative. That's how I'm feeling today. Once I get started telling dog stories, I tend to go on...and on...and on. They don't call me "Chatty Cathy" for nothing! I'm afraid I got carried away when I was working on this newsletter. Unfortunately, ebay just doesn't understand someone like me. They don't allow newsletters as long as this one. I considered breaking this newsletter into two parts and giving you a "to be continued," but I really hate those. So, I'm sending out half the newsletter via ebay and posting the entire newsletter on our website. If you want to continue reading, please plug dogcrazybooks into your browser. Sorry I can't provide a link, but it violates ebay's rules.

Okay, before we get to the stories, please let me get some of the business out of the way. I've been making good progress in listing all the books in the collection. I am now up to Fox Terriers. Some of the items in the store are very rare. I have listed an 1847 copy of Vyner's Notitia Venatica. As soon as I take out the camera, I'll be listing a copy of Beckford's 1796 Thoughts on Hare and Fox Hunting, along with a stunning very rare hand-colored print of the author from the 1920s. There are a number of other rare Foxhound books, too. I've listed an incredibly rare copy of the first breed book on Dalmatians, written in 1907. I've added the quirky Cream of Setterdom to the English Setter page, along with a number of yearbooks. English Springer Spaniel fans will find a very collectible Derrydale The English Springer Spaniel in America. I have lots of Fox Terrier books. I have already listed The Fox Terrier, by Hugh Dalziel, which was published in 1889. I will be listing a few Fox Terrier items that you simply can't find anyplace else. These include the complete 5 volume set of stud books, also by Hugh Dalziel, which cover 1888-1891. I have never seen the entire set offered for sale. I will also be including Breeding Fox Terriers with a Gallery of Celebrities in the Fox Terrier World, a title so rare that I have only seen it in one catalog, and that was back in the 1970s. Then, it's on to my stash of French Bulldog and German Shepherd books.

We are starting something new. It's a web-only catalog which is really a preview of what's upcoming in the ebay store. Go to the website and click on Catalog for information on how this will work. So far, I have only added a few things, but check back because I will be adding to the offerings.

I'm calling this issue of the newsletter: Dog People Say the Dardnest Things. For those gray hairs out there, you'll realize that it's a steal from the old Art Linkletter show. One of the wonderful fringe benefits of being involved with dogs is that you get to meet some interesting people along the way. Over the years I've met some real characters, too, and it is those folks I want to write about today. In past newsletters, I've talked largely about show folks. Well, this time around I'm taking you off the beaten path to meet some of the other people who added to my dog lore. I ran across most of these folks when I was researching my books, A Celebration of Rare Breeds and Celebration, Volume II. I feel fortunate to have been invited to their homes and appreciate the generosity they showed me.

The Celebration books were written while I was living in Alabama, but there was one man I met in Florida shortly before we made the move. I happened to mention Australian Shepherds to a friend and she insisted on introducing me to her neighbor who owned a nice blue merle. Not even she was prepared for the tale that Elonzo LaBorde enthralled us with in response to the casual question: How long have you owned the breed? Before our eyes, this well-heeled and sophisticated contractor became a boy again, living in the Basque region in the foothills of the Pyrenees, between France and Spain. Elonzo grew up in a large family of sheepherders and they kept what he called Basque Sheepdogs to aid in the farm work.

It still irked Elonzo that the breed had been named Australian Shepherds. According to him, they were Basque dogs, pure and simple, identical to his childhood companions back in Europe. It was Basque shepherds and their dogs that accompanied the Merino sheep shipped from Spain to Australia. From there, they made their way to the US with the sheep and the Australian moniker stuck. (I'll leave breed historians to sort out whether this is true.)

Elonzo's father was quite young when he died, leaving his wife to cope with the farm and nine sons. In accordance with Basque tradition, only the eldest son could inherit. Elonzo was left with two options: the priesthood or emigration. He was shipped to an uncle in Nevada.

It was a monumental case of culture shock. Gone were the lush Pyrenean pastures and the warm house filled with people and activity. Teenaged Elonzo was left to live alone in a small cabin miles from the main house. It was his duty to watch over the sheep and chase off any coyotes. His only companion was a blue merle dog who, he frankly admitted, had kept him from going stir-crazy and had provided a soft shoulder when he cried himself to sleep. I won't tell the rest of the story (as they say: read the book), but Elonzo's tale is one of those quintessentially American success stories. It would be 50 years before, by a chance of fate, he once again was reunited with one of his "Basque Sheepdogs."

I won't mention the name of the breeder or even the breed for this next story and you'll see why soon. It took me a number of tries to secure an interview with a Southern breeder. His breed, though it had been around for years, had only recently come to national prominence. He owned one of the foundation strains and was, in fact, the oldest living breeder. The man had been burned by another writer who he felt had gotten things wrong and he had no desire to repeat the experience. Finally, I had my photo taken with an acquaintance's dog, the granddaughter of one of his legendary sires, and that did the trick.

Harve and I drove for hours to reach his isolated farm. He and his wife turned out to be old school, Deep South, Southern Baptists. I figured this out when I casually used the word "damn" in the conversation and was fixed with a withering stare. Okay, if those were the rules, I could play by them. I grew up with folks just like these. Heck, they were just like a few older members of my family. In fact, it didn't take long till we were chatting like old friends. The couple dragged out photo albums for me, documenting the breed's past. They regaled me with stories of the dogs and the help they had been on the farm.

Finally, we went out to their kennel area, where about 20 or 25 dogs were housed. They brought each dog out for my inspection, explaining what was right or wrong with each one. I concluded that these were good, common sense, salt-of-the-earth type folks. I was happy that I had more than enough to write a chapter on the breed.

As we leaned on the fence saying our goodbyes, I happened to mention that, with the hot, humid summer we were having, some of their dogs had hot spots.

"It's the UFOs," the woman said.

"I beg your pardon."

"UFOs," the man verified. "They come at night, send out these rays from their spaceship and zap our dogs. The next morning they have hot spots."

I didn't laugh. I was too stunned. I kept asking myself if they were pulling my leg or if they were sincere. I've got a few real jokers in my family who wouldn't be above trying something like this on a hotshot writer to take her down a peg or two. They were serious, though. They told me how they were perplexed by the hot spots. Their dogs would go to bed one night with unblemished coats and wake up in the morning with a hot spot or two.

"Maybe they just lick and scratch themselves during the night," I calmly suggested.

"Naw, it's UFOs," the man insisted. "We got to wondering if someone was coming out here and doing something to our dogs at night, so we took a thermos of coffee and sat out all night on that ridge over there," he said pointing. "Long about 3:00 am one of those spaceships came along and hovered over that big hickory tree over there. We saw 'em zap our dogs. This red beam of light came right out of that flying saucer and got three of our dogs. I put up that big cross to keep them away but," he shook his head sadly, "those aliens are just heathens."

I swear, on a stack of Bibles, that this unlikely tale is true. Even I am not creative enough to have conceived this story.

I had considered including some of the Coonhound breeds in the Celebration books. I struggled over whether to include one or two of the breeds or the whole kit n' kaboodle. In the end, I left all of them out. To show folk, the Coonhounds may qualify as rare breeds, but thousands of them are registered every year.

Before I'd made that decision, I asked friends in our northern Alabama town for the names of Coonhound breeders. Every list I was given included one common recommendation: Sarge. I was finally introduced to him one afternoon in the Piggly Wiggly. Before me stood an aging African-American in camouflaged shirt and pants with graying temples and a broad smile. I mention his race only because it was unusual. In our county, less than 1% of the population was black.

Sarge said I could see his hounds if I'd meet him at his church on Saturday. They were meeting to clean up the cemetery in preparation for Decoration Day. I hope it won't take too long, he said. There's political turmoil at the church with one faction supporting the new preacher and the other that wants to vote him out.

I arrived early at the pretty little white church nestled among blooming dogwoods. I leaned against an oak tree and listened as Sarge marshaled the troops, er, parishioners. Personally, I think the Army should never have let Sarge retire and they should have bumped him up a few notches to General. I was mesmerized from the moment he stood to address the small crowd. Sarge was the antithesis of George Patton. I had met men who served under Patton. They had heard Patton speak and vowed they would have followed him to the proverbial gates of hell. According to them, the George C. Scott portrayal was pretty accurate. Patton reached right into your guts and grabbed you. Sarge was totally different. While he talked, you felt like your were being embraced in a huge bear hug. You wanted to follow him, just to be near him and to gain his approval. He was the single most optimistic person I have ever met. Being around Sarge was like getting an IV of sunshine. At the conclusion of his speech, he began issuing orders with an efficiency that amazed me. Heck, I was ready to pick up a rake and head to the graveyard myself.

Harve and I spent a couple of pleasant hours meeting Sarge's Black and Tans, including a new litter of puppies. I would have taken one home, but they were all spoken for from the day they were born. Such was Sarge's reputation when it came to Coonhounds. He regaled us with stories of hunting with his preacher father. My only regret was that I never had the chance to hunt with Sarge and his hounds. He invited Harve along for a nite (that's how it's spelled in Coonhound circles) hunt, but Harve isn't much inclined toward tromping through the woods by moonlight. My guess is the old race and gender thing kept him from issuing an invitation to me. It's either that or he knew that I'd just pester him with more questions.

Sometimes I missed the boat, meeting people after the Celebration books were published. How I wish I could have included their stories in those volumes.

Such was the case with English Shepherds and an older woman whose name I never learned. Harve and I were driving along a country road when I yelled, "Stop the car!" Normal people might have panicked, but Harve was used to such requests. It was springtime, after all, and that meant "rose trolling" time. I have a passion for antique and vintage roses that are redolent with perfumed scents. Each springtime, while we lived in the country, we'd cruise down roads and lanes, the window on the car all the way down. If I spied an old rose, be it sprawling on a roadside ditch or climbing a tree, we would stop. Sometimes we'd find the rose beside the remnants of an old homeplace. We kept a shovel, pruner and peat moss right in the car to take home cuttings or small plants. My loving husband (thanks, dear) has climbed through brush piles, pulled thorny vines from trees and waded across creeks to please me.

I stood on the shoulder of the road as Harve bent down trying to trace the intertwined canes of a sprawling rose. Suddenly, a dog raced toward us barking furiously. I looked up into the sweet face of an English Shepherd. For those of you who aren't familiar with the breed, they look something like a cross between a Border Collie and an Australian Shepherd. (Murphy, the dog pictured at the top of the column, is an English Shepherd.) In days past, these dogs were fixtures on farms in this country. They could do everything: herd sheep or drive cattle, round up the chickens, guard the home and babysit the kids.

Soon, her owner was by her side. She was an older woman, probably in her 70s, her skin leathery from years of hard work in our Southern sun. You like roses, I see, she said. Well, don't bother with that one. Come up to the garden, I've got suckers from it aplenty that you can dig up. She was a widow, living alone. Her children had long since moved away and her only companion was her aging dog, Susie.

We spent the whole day with the woman. She epitomized Southern hospitality. It quickly became apparent that she was barely getting by, but she insisted that we share a delicious country meal of beans, greens and cornbread. Over dinner, she told us about her dogs. Susie was the last descendant of the dogs her husband had given her as a wedding present. They were indispensible on the little self-sufficient farm and even doubled as hunting dogs. Her husband had once bet $20 that one of their dogs would find a bird before a high-priced Setter. He won!

I was worried about the woman and Susie, who was way too thin. The poor dog subsisted on whatever the woman could spare. We left that day, our arms laden with roses, many of them still growing in my Georgia garden.

I would have loved to offer the woman money for the roses, but I didn't dare. Southerners, particularly older ones, have a positive aversion to anything that smacks of charity. She had given me those plants because she knew I'd love them and she would have been highly insulted if I'd offered money. That weekend we bought a 50-pound bag of dog food and waited until after dark. Harve laid it by the front door and hightailed it back to the car with Susie at his heels. For the next several years we made regular late night deposits at Susie's house.

In a little cafe, not far from our log cabin, I met a man with two passions in life: Baseball and Boykin Spaniels, in that order. My Dad was a long-distance trucker. When he came home for a few days, he settled before the TV set and tuned in to whatever sports was on the tube. If you wanted to spend time with Dad, you'd better become a sports fan. So, while eating breakfast, I found myself eavesdropping on a conversation about the baseball standings. Being the big mouth nosey broad that I am, I asked a question. A man got up and took the empty seat at our table. It was soon evident that he was one of the most baseball savvy people you'd ever want to meet.

This also marks the day that I first began to shed my city ways. You know, when you live in the city or suburbs, you make certain assumptions about people. You're likely to assess a person's net worth based on the kind of clothes they wear or the car they drive. The guy, facing me over coffee that morning, wore a faded old shirt and stained khaki pants. Outside sat a battered old red pick-up truck from the 1940s. His wife, sitting at the next table, wore a homemade gingham check dress that had seen lots of washing.

"You ever heard of Early Wynn?" the old gent said, with a gleam in his eye.

"The name sounds familiar," I said, not wanting to admit that I'd never heard of him.

The man I was speaking with had been born in the small south Alabama town of Hartford. He and Early, better known as Gus, Wynn had been best friends. When they weren't picking cotton or sawing logs, they played baseball. They were so poor, that they made their own bats and balls. (I was told about the merits of ball stuffing materials.) All we thought about was baseball, the man said. When they were in high school, they skipped classes and hitched their way to a tryout camp. Gus was offered a job and set off for Florida to play in the minor leagues, while the man had to return home alone.

I'll keep this part short, I promise. By the time Wynn was 19, he was pitching for the Washington Senators. He was a feared pitcher with a blazing fastball who was known for knocking batters on their keisters. A sports writer once asked if he'd throw at his own mother and he supposedly said, "It would depend on how well she was hitting." Ted Williams said Wynn was the toughest pitcher he'd ever faced.

Early Wynn went on to play in the major leagues for 23 years. He retired after winning his 300th game. He played for both the Senators and the Cleveland Indians, where he was part of a pitching team that included Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Mike Garcia. In 1959, he won the Cy Young award and helped the Indians win the World Series. When he retired he became the Indians' pitching coach and later did the radio broadcasts for the Toronto Blue Jays. In 1972, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"I hope that old pick-up doesn't break down on the way home," I mused to the man refilling my coffee cup. He started to laugh. He laughed so hard in fact that he had to put the coffee pot down on the table. "Lady, you can't judge people around here by how they dress. That guy is a millionaire. He owns thousands of acres up on the mountain. Half the cattle herds you see on pastures up and down this valley belong to him."

Okay, back to dogs. While we were sitting there talking, the man saw a dog book I was carrying. "I got some dogs I bet you never heard about," he said. Boy, was he surprised when I knew what a Boykin Spaniel was. It seems his cousin, back in South Carolina, was a breeder.

The next day we arrived at a lake to see a man, shotgun over his shoulder, surrounded by a swirl of little brown dogs. For those of you who don't know what a Boykin is, this old Carolina breed looks something like a cross between a Field Spaniel and an American Water Spaniel. And, apparently, they never get tired. They retrieved duck after duck from that lake, while we talked about dogs and baseball, this time in that order. Harve and I dined on duck that night for dinner.

I'll end with just one more story. Harve and I were driving down a road one day outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, when I yelled "Stop the car!" This time, however, it wasn't roses that had caught my eye. A young Latino woman was walking the most striking dog and it was only when we slowed down that I realized it was a Xoloitzcuintli. You may not like hairless breeds, but anyone with an appreciation of canines would have been captivated by this dog's regal majesty. He still takes my breath away as I picture him.

I asked the young woman where she'd gotten the Xolo. You mean you actually know what they are, she said in highly accented English. I peppered her with questions. It's my grandfather's dog, she said, you'll have to talk to him. He's visiting from Mexico City. I followed her into the house.

The old man she introduced me to must have been in his late 80s or early 90s. His face was a series of overlapping creases, so contorted that I could barely see his eyes. She explained, in Spanish who we were and then left us alone with him. Wasn't she going to stay and translate, I wondered. I need not have worried. The old gent spoke impeccable English. It turned out he had graduated from Princeton or some Ivy League college.

As he patted his Xolo, he told me that his father had been a gardener for famed artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo at their home in Mexico City. The breed appears in several of Rivera's works and he is responsible for the movement which helped rescue the Xolo from obscurity. This day in Tennessee was long before the 2002 movie Frida, in which Alfred Molina and Salma Hayek portrayed the couple's fiery relationship.

The Xolos would surround Poppy, as he called his father, while he tended the plants. One day Poppy had taken his young son to work with him and the boy passed the time playing with the dogs. Diego Rivera had come strolling through the gardens himself and was amused at the sight of the boy and dogs tumbling on the lawn. A couple of days later, Poppy came home with a Xolo puppy, a gift from Rivera to the young boy.

Well, it's time I stopped. As you can see, I love to tell stories. Thanks for listening.

Happy collecting,

Cathy, Harvey & Cocoa

P.S. Gracing our newsletter this month is an English Shepherd named Murphy (officially Jarratt's Trevor), owned by one of our Dogcrazy Newsletter readers, Phyllis Mason and her husband Patrick. Phyllis describes Murphy as "the best companion we've ever had. He is the sweetest, most loving boy you could imagine." A natural bob tail, Murphy was bred by Ted Carter and was originally owned by Ed Lynn Jarratt, a breeder in North Carolina. When Ed died, Phyllis came to the rescue. Working through the
National English Shepherd Rescue, she signed on as Murphy's foster mom. Phyllis calls Murphy a "failed foster." He moved in and promptly made himself at home, fitting in well with the family and the Mason's other English Shepherd, Fiona. If you have some time check out the Rescue's very nice website and go to the resources and links page for tons of info.