Newsletter 11
Terhune Stories & Old Friends
Oct. 22, 2010

Hi Everyone,

My name is Cocoa and I'm hijacking this month's newsletter. After reading last month's lengthy offering, I felt that I needed to step in and take charge. Can you imagine people actually plotting, scheming and getting so nasty all in the name of us dogs? I'll tell you, it's enough to make my hackles rise.

Things are much simpler from a dog's perspective. Organizations like the AKC divide the breeds into groups based upon their function. That's the way most dogs think about the people in their lives, too. There are those who periodically appear, like Garbageman, Mailwoman and Meter Reader. DANGER, people, DANGER. That's the alarm I bark out insistently to my family and I often get yelled at in return. Is it too much to ask for a little respect? These people are, after all, on my street, daring to step on my property and, besides, it's my job.

My immediate family consists of three humans: food gal, play guy and walk guy. These names are distilled down to the essence of what I expect from each individual. I've pretty much raised walk guy (who earns the name since I've trained him to take me for long walks in the morning and evening). He was barely into his teenage years when I began training him and I thought I'd done a pretty good job until lately. When it comes to the opposite sex, he's just plain a disappointment. What can you expect though? He smells like soap, shampoo and fabric softener. Get out, dig a little in the dirt, take a roll in the garden or a dip in the creek and start smelling a few butts, I tell him. Does he listen to me? No!

Okay, Cathy here. Sorry for the strange beginning. I've been listing fiction books lately and have been amazed at the number of books that tell stories from a doggy perspective so I thought I'd start this month's newsletter in a similar vein.

I must tell you that I am thoroughly enjoying myself and that's somewhat of a surprise. First, I thought I was through with listing all my fiction and story books only to discover four large banana boxes filled with more of these titles. I have a deep bookcase in the library devoted to oversized books and I discovered that the bottom shelf contains large fiction and illustrated books. Finding these treasures in my own library is like a wonderful little gift.

When I first began compiling the Dogcrazy Collection, I didn't pay much attention to fiction books. I was interested in breed books and general nonfiction works on dogs. For years we traveled to bookstores to search out these titles. Now, there's nothing I like better than spending an afternoon poking around an old bookstore. While others may turn tail when they come upon a dingy, dusty, cobweb strewn hole in the wall, stuffed to the gills with old books, I rub my greedy little hands in glee and plunge right in. Somewhere along the way, we decided we might as well take a look in the children's sections since we were already there. It was probably just a way to prolong the bookstore experience. We found tons of books involving dogs, usually at reasonable prices, and we added them to our purchases.


When I would return from a buying trip, I'd read or at least peruse my non-fiction purchases. I paid little attention to the story books, merely glancing at the title and stuffing them on the shelves. Confession time: I've never liked all those stories that put dogs in terrible peril. I grew up watching Lassie on TV and I'd cover my face or leave the room when there was a fight with some wild animal or when Lassie was in a life-threatening situation. Jack London's classic stories, like The Call of the Wild, gave me nightmares. And, that, was my general impression of most dog stories. (Shameless promotion break: I've added a nice first edition of Rudd Weatherwax's The Story of Lassie, His Discovery and Training, published in 1950, to the ebay store. This came out after the movie Lassie Come Home and before the TV show/.)


Boy, was I wrong. I'm rediscovering this genre of dog writing and I'm having a ball. I've just listed a ton of the Terhune Collie books and I finally took a little time out to stop and read a couple of them. I had always heard that Terhune was blasted by critics for both his writing style and his plotting. I can't imagine what they were talking about. In this case, I think the public had it right. Not only do I like Terhune's style and the skillful way he turns a phrase, but he gets to me from a doggy perspective. There's no doubt that he knows dogs intimately, understands them and is able to convey that to us through his writing. From a serious doggy perspective, I like the details he weaves into his stories about kennels, dog people, rivalries, breeding and shows. No wonder he was so popular. Some of his books include chapters which talk about the real-life Sunnybank Collies. The photo above shows Terhune writing with Lad, Bruce and Wolf, stars of several of his novels, at his side. The Collie could have had no better friend.


While we're talking about Terhune books, I have to tell you how I got some of mine. In the mid-1980s, I happened to be sitting in a little diner in Alabama. I had stacked a bunch of dog books that had just arrived in the mail on the table. As is typical in Southern diners, it’s easy to strike up conversations. A man at the next table took a look at my dog books and we got to talking. His grandmother had some dog books she wanted to sell, he said, including some Terhunes she read to him as a boy. Would I be interested? I almost passed....geez, Terhunes, how much more common can you get and what kind of shape were they likely to be in? Situations like these put collectors in an impossible position. You face the prospect of telling someone that the books they love really aren't worth much. If you offer only a few bucks, the seller is apt to be insulted. The man added that Grandma was having trouble making ends meet on Social Security and was selling off some of her things. Okay, I admit it, I'm a sucker for stories like this so we promised, as the story says, to go off to Grandma's house.

Saturday found us climbing the steps to a small wooden house that had seen better days. Frizzy gray hair surrounded the round face of the elderly woman settled on the old-fashioned porch swing. Garbed in a faded bib-front apron, she appeared to be as wide as she was tall. A Shetland Sheepdog shared the swing. One of the porch boards sagged and squeaked ominously as we stepped forward to introduce ourselves. She motioned us to rockers as she continued to shell the green beans, her eyes occasionally scanning the street for any signs of activity.


It was one of those cases where you just like someone immediately, even though you know nothing about them. My first surprise was that she lacked any hint of a Southern accent. I asked about that. That's because I'm from New Jersey, she laughed. In fact, she had grown up in the same town where Walter Payson Terhune lived. She talked about her elementary school days when she would see Terhune walking around the town, sometimes alone, sometimes with one or two Collies in tow. "We were all in awe of him," she recalled. "We treated him like he was the President or something." People were protective of their celebrity, though, and tried not to gush or fawn over him. He deserved his privacy. Instead, they would merely nod respectfully or exchange a few pleasantries. She remembered Terhune as a nice man, who always asked about her family and who never minded when she petted his Collies.

"We were all mad for Collies," she said. Indeed, she had owned a Collie for most of her life. "Now, they are just too much dog for me, just too big," she sighed, "so I've switched to miniature Collies. I know they are Shelties, but I still call them mini-Collies."


I did buy the woman's Terhune books, which included a couple with those wonderful Kirmse covers that had been lovingly preserved. "I always took the dust jackets off when I read them to my children," she explained.

Before we left, she asked us to wait a minute. "I wonder if I still have it," she muttered, almost to herself. "Wait here, I'll be back," she said as she hastily left the room. Harve and I sat in the living room, waiting...and waiting...and waiting. I looked around as we waited. While the room was neat as a pin, the ceiling bore water stains and the wallpaper was curled and peeling.

"Do you think something has happened to her?" Harve asked. "Should we go look for her?" Finally, to fill the time, Harve went out to the car and retrieved a screwdriver. While I read excerpts from the Terhune's, he repaired a doorknob.


Finally, the woman reappeared, dusting her hands off on her apron. "I found it," she said. From the pocket she pulled a small leather-bound book. "I was in elementary school and we all had autograph books," she recalled. "I was in the grocery store when Mr. Terhune came in to shop. I got him to sign my autograph book." She carefully detached one page from the book and handed the small square of paper to me. "I thought you might like to have this."

So, I left the house that Saturday with wonderful stories and memories. Not only had I made a new friend, bought some nice books, but been given a lovely gift, too. I can't remember where exactly I've stored the Terhune autograph. It's in one of the boxes filled with my doggy treasures. I know that for a long time I envisioned putting it in a frame surrounded by photos of some of Terhune's Collies, culled from old magazine articles. Now that I'm becoming senile, I can't remember if I actually did that. I'll come across it one of these days and place it in the ebay store for all you Collie collectors out there. (Another shameless promotion break: Here's the link to our Collie page in case I have convinced you to give the Terhune books a try.)

I'm thrilled that today part of the original Terhune estate has been preserved as Terhune-Sunnybank Memorial Park. In the 1960s, most of the land was sold off to developers and the house was demolished in the late '60s. Through the work of dedicated Collie owners and fans of the Terhune books, nine acres of Sunnybank have been retained. Though the house is gone, you can still see the graves, with the markers, of Terhune's Collies. For the past 14 years, there has been an annual "Gathering at Sunnybank" each summer where Collies from all over cavort over the hallowed grounds once again. There are tons of activities, including a fun match dedicated to Lad with the proceeds going to the Collie Health Foundation. I hope to make it one year. Somewhere, you just know that Terhune must be smiling.


Another author who incorporates many of the things I like best about the Terhune books, is E.F. Rechnitzer. His breed was Cocker Spaniels and his two books, Bonny's Boy, published in 1946, and Bonny's Boy Returns, published in 1953, are wonderful reads. Like the Terhune classics, they involve a mystery coupled with breeding adventures and the thrill of dog shows. The first book ends with a "Battle of the Cockers" and the winning of Westminster. In the second book, the now famous Bonny's Boy is kidnapped. The first book features wonderful Kirmse illustrations, while the sequel has only a Kirmse cover.


In between the two Bonny's Boy books, Rechnitzer expanded his repertoire. His 1948 offering was Raff, The Story of an English Setter. This time, the book culminates in the National Championship field trial. This book also features some of Kirmse's nicest work, particularly the cover and frontispiece. In 1950, Rechnitzer turned his attention to Collies with Jinks of Jayson Valley. Originally a pilot and aviation writer, Rechnitzer weaves a plane crash into this tale. The book is peppered with lots of nice little Kirmse Collie drawings.

Like Collies, Cocker Spaniels seem to be blessed with a host of writers who eagerly take pen in hand to write about their favorite breed. I'd like to recommend a pair of books by Louise F. Shattuck that I've recently added to the ebay store. If her name sounds familiar to you, it should. Shattuck is an award-winning artist who draws, paints and sculpts. Indeed, her incredible bronzes are prized collectibles. These two books earned her a reputation as the "Erma Bombeck of dogs." Shattuck's delightful cartoon drawings highlight the lighter side of life at her Carry-On English Cocker Kennels. I was running a kennel, training dogs, teaching obedience classes, anxiously watching two pregnant bitches and trying to cope with my other dogs when the first book came out. Harried, stressed and sleep-deprived, this book provided a welcome relief. Reading about the crazy atmosphere at Carry-On and Shattuck's zany tribe of dogs gave me not only the chance to laugh (and laugh and laugh), but helped me to lighten up and keep things in perspective. The first book, From Ritches to Bitches and a Cadillac For Your Vet, Being the Mirthful Recounting of the Carry-On Kennel Chronicles, debuted in 1979. In 1983, by popular demand, as they say, she followed it up with a sequel, In Stitches Over Bitches and Now Your Vet Wants a Rolls-Royce, Being a Continuation of the Epic Saga of the Carry-On Kennel Chronicles. The woman does have a way with titles!


I guess I hadn't really expected these fiction books to lead me down memory lane...again. Surprisingly, I've found that there are some that tug at those sentimental heartstrings. They evoke memories that I had long forgotten. See, I am becoming senile!

Such was the case with a book I listed last week called Tim, The Autobiography of a Dog, by Ethelbert Talbot, published in 1914. I mean, honestly, how many times do you almost run over someone's dog and end up with a friend? That's what happened with George, the Alabama Boston Terrier. I was driving down the street one day when a Boston Terrier darted into my path. I stopped the car, managed to catch the dog and returned him to his grateful owner. He was an elderly man, in his 80s, who was in poor health. In case you hadn't figured it out by now, I like talking to older people and have since I was a kid. I would come by periodically to visit with George's owner.

One day, he brought out the little book telling Tim's story. He was just a boy when he received the book for a present. After reading Tim's story, he'd badgered his parents until they bought him a Boston Terrier. From that day on, he had never been without a Boston. George was the latest in a long line of well-loved pets. One day, a couple knocked on my door. The woman was the daughter of George's owner. She told me that her father had passed away and, when they were going through his things, there was a note in this book saying that when he died he wanted me to have the book.

I'm pleased to report that Jenny, one of our newsletter readers and an avid Boston collector, bought the copy of Tim. In one of those small world moments, Jenny's first Boston Terrier was named George. Sadly, he had to be euthanized last year. She does have two George relatives, thankfully, that now share her home. I was thrilled to learn that this book was going to someone who would really appreciate it. Stories like this make it so much easier to part with the collection.


Another of those sentimental moments came last night when I was posting a little jewel-looking book entitled Boss and Other Dogs, by Maria L. Pool, published in 1896. I've had this book since I was 12 years old. An elderly aunt came to visit one of the families in our neighborhood. She brought with her Gigi, the first Yorkshire Terrier I ever met. I promptly feel in love with her and visited with her and Aunt Amelia every day that summer. I often admired this beautiful little book which sat on Amelia's dresser with its wonderful heartfelt dedication to Orlando, Pool's Yorkie. When the summer was over, I was presented with the book as a token of friendship and a reminder of Gigi. I've treasured it ever since.

As soon as the newsletter is finished, I'll be listing a 1916 book entitled "Boy," The Wandering Dog, The Adventures of a Fox Terrier. The author, Marshall Saunders, is better known for Beautiful Joe and the sequel Beautiful Joe's Paradise, which I have already listed in the Dogcrazy Collection ebay store. The author was really Margaret Marshall Saunders, the first Canadian to pen a million-selling book.

I got my copy of Boy, from a dear old man named Billy. He was quite a character. He had been born in Scotland and came to this country as a young man to work at a large terrier kennel. This was in the 1920s and '30s when wealthy people still maintained large kennels and took strings of dogs to prominent shows. Billy retained his heavy Scottish brogue and I swear I only understood about one-third of what he said. I did, however, learn a great deal by watching him. He had such a sure and confident hand with a dog. The most obstreperous pup would soon be walking calmly on a lead and posing like the most experienced Best in Show winner. And, he could groom terriers like no one I have ever seen. In fact, the first time I met him he took a scruffy looking Wire Fox and turned him into a stunning portrait of perfection. He was truly a master.

I figure my Scottish friend could have become one of the great terrier handlers, except for a few personality quirks. Billy certainly had the skill set to be successful, except that he suffered from stage fright. Though he had tried on numerous occasions to pilot dogs around the ring, he became a quivering bundle of nerves and couldn't handle it. So, he remained one of those valuable behind the scenes men.


By the time I met Billy, two other quirks had doomed him. He had a fondness for the bottle ("wee nips") and a weakness for the ponies. I lived in Hialeah, Florida, which was home to the once famous and beautiful Hialeah Race Track, with its central pond and flashing flamingos. Billy followed the ponies to Florida almost every winter during the 1970s. I guess there are characters like Billy around all racetracks...the type of people who seem perpetually to be down on their luck. Rather than panhandle, Billy bummed jobs at dog kennels to support his gambling. I learned a lot from him both about dogs and horses. In 1972, he told me about a horse he had watched at Belmont and Saratoga that impressed him. He was wild about Secretariat and predicted a brilliant future for him. He would go on later that year to win the Triple Crown. In 1977, he dragged me to the race track to watch Seattle Slew win a race by nine lengths. Once again, Billy had an eye for spotting a big winner. Slew went on to win the Triple Crown that year.

I've always wondered what happened to Billy. He talked about wanting to be buried near his birthplace in the Scottish highlands and I hope he made it. One day, after I'd treated him to a restaurant lunch, he brought out the book, "Boy," The Wandering Dog, as a surprise gift.

Okay, enough with my jaunts down memory lane. It's late. I'm going to go have dinner. After that, I think I'll raise a glass to old Billy and snuggle up with a Terhune.

Happy Collecting,

Cathy, Harvey & Cocoa

P.S. In case you'd like to learn more about Albert Payson Terhune, I've added a copy of The Terhune Omnibus, which includes excerpts from articles and books, all designed to give us an insight into The Master, as he was known. It's always been one of my favorites. You will also find a first edition of his 1977 biography, The Master of Sunnybank, by Irving Litvak. And, if you'd like information on the Sunnybank Gathering, the park and Terhune's dogs, click here to go to the web page and take some time to explore.