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Labrador: The Story of the World’s Favourite Dog Ben Fogle A social history of Labradors, and how they have become the world’s most beloved dogs, by writer, presenter and long-time dog lover Ben Fogle, whose beloved black Labrador, Inca, famously accompanied him on numerous journeys and adventures.Labradors are the most popular breed of dog in the world. Not only a great family companion, they also excel at hunting, tracking, retrieving, guiding and rescuing. But where did the breed originally come from? How did it develop? When did black, yellow and chocolate Labradors first appear? Did they really all come from Labrador in Canada and are they really all related to just one dog?In this first history of the Labrador, Ben Fogle goes in search of what makes Labradors so special. Their extraordinary companionship, intelligence, work ethic and loyalty is captured by Ben as he weaves the story of the breed into his own story of his beloved Inca.Ben visits Canada, discovers hair-raising stories of early Labrador exploits and uncovers stories of RNIB Labradors and Labradors at war, Labradors as working dogs and every other manifestation of the Labrador’s character. Exploring their origin, early characteristics, their use as gun dogs, as therapy dogs, as police dogs, as search and rescue dogs and last – and absolutely not least – as family pets, Ben tells the story of a dog breed which has captured our imagination and love for hundreds of years. ABOUT THE BOOK (#ulink_81df21d6-bd56-59d3-bb7b-c2da73a83eeb) A social history of Labradors, and how they have become the world’s most beloved dogs, by writer, presenter and long-time dog lover Ben Fogle, whose beloved black Labrador, Inca, famously accompanied him on numerous journeys and adventures. DEDICATION (#ulink_32807777-cfaa-56ad-af61-6cd7d81ba508) To all the Labradors who have loved and been loved. COPYRIGHT (#ulink_578e48c2-91ed-5d59-a406-2d7ed309ccad) William Collins An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF WilliamCollinsBooks.com (http://WilliamCollinsBooks.com) This eBook edition published by William Collins in 2015 Text © Ben Fogle, 2015 Excerpt from The Shipping News by Annie Proulx © Dead Line Ltd, 1993 Excerpt from Marley & Me © John Grogan, 2005 Photographs © Individual copyright holders Cover credit © Shutterstock Ben Fogle asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this eBook on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Source ISBN: 9780007549016 Ebook Edition © October 2015 ISBN: 9780007549030 Version: 2016-03-09 CONTENTS COVER (#ue2eb9285-5be6-5d65-a529-55433360de99) ABOUT THE BOOK (#u3d166385-8670-51b4-8844-6cd9d2056c66) TITLE PAGE (#u3d50ab39-5c32-5816-a8ab-1676b6c155f9) DEDICATION (#ud05c78b8-6b41-5f87-bd51-7b28b71f31c8) COPYRIGHT (#ulink_88beeee5-99f7-512a-a2ab-234e2fe567a3) Prologue: THE BEGINNING OF THE END (#u33f5da1f-a226-5056-ba07-e618b975aa20) Chapter One: SALTY SEA DOGS (#uab6401fc-8624-5e9b-8679-718c5ddd4ff7) Chapter Two: FISHY TAILS (#u1ce7e757-68a8-53b8-bdef-6a599bf1ceac) Chapter Three: BANCHORY BOLO AND BEN (#u7cdf5a27-1301-5197-9731-1cf38eeaf567) Chapter Four: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY (#u11a7ac46-9e15-5bf2-bacb-e338efbf9f3d) Chapter Five: BLUE-BLOODED HOUND (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Six: ROCK AND ROLLOVER (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seven: THE NOSE KNOWS (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight: YELLOW COATS (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine: ALL THE PRESIDENTS’ DOGS (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten: LAB OF ALL TRADES (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven: LABS OF WAR (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twelve: THE END OF THE INCAS (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirteen: A PERFECT STORM (#litres_trial_promo) PICTURE SECTION (#litres_trial_promo) FOOTNOTES (#litres_trial_promo) INDEX (#litres_trial_promo) ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (#litres_trial_promo) ABOUT THE AUTHOR (#litres_trial_promo) ABOUT THE PUBLISHER (#litres_trial_promo) Labrador – noun \ \ any of a breed of medium-sized strongly built retrievers largely developed in England from stock originating in Newfoundland and having a short, dense, black, yellow or chocolate coat and a thick rounded tail – called also Lab. (#ulink_884c5149-07b3-5b4b-95f1-b2742d4ad1d1) ‘Don’t cry because it ended, smile because it happened.’ Dr Seuss I called Dad. ‘What do you think?’ he asked. There was a pause. Not because I was thinking, but because I knew. I knew the answer but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. ‘Then we know the answer,’ he replied. I burst into uncontrollable tears. The twenty-four hours following that phone call were some of the most painful of my life. The knowing. The feeling of betrayal. Inca, my beloved Inca. We took Maggi and Inca to the beach one final time. I carried Inca from the car to the shore so she could lie with her paws in the water. Here we were on a beach again, just as we had been on Taransay when her life was just beginning. I watched as her ears flapped in the wind and she lifted her nose to smell the sea air. Then, her belly covered in sand and seawater, I carried her back to the car and we began that torturous journey back to London. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. In the rear-view mirror I could see Inca’s snout on Maggi’s back. Dad was waiting when we arrived home. I lay on the floor and sobbed uncontrollably into Inca’s fur. ‘One more night.’ I carried her up to our bedroom, put her bed next to mine and lay there listening to her deep snoring. I didn’t sleep. I felt sick with panic and in the morning my pillow was stained with tears. At 6am I carried her downstairs and fed her, then picked her up and took her into the garden. ‘Give Inca a big hug,’ I said to Ludo, who threw his arms around her. ‘Where’s she going, Daddy?’ ‘Up into the sky,’ I said, turning away to hide the tears falling down my cheeks. I carried Inca to the car, taking Maggi with us, too, and drove 10 minutes up the road to my parents’ house. I don’t remember much about that journey except that I cried uncontrollably all the way. ‘Thank you, Inca,’ I sobbed as we drove through the empty streets of Notting Hill. ‘Thank you for being my best friend. I owe everything to you.’ I carried her from the car into the house, burying my face into her fur, and laid her on the kitchen floor. Mum, Dad and my sister were all there. Canine blood flows through the Fogle blood. Dogs are family. I lay on the floor, hugging Inca while Dad injected her. Her breathing became heavy. I could feel her heart pounding and the warm blood beneath her skin. I breathed the familiar scent of her fur as I nuzzled into her thick coat. I have never sobbed like that in my life. It was a primal, uncontrollable, guttural sob as I felt her heart stop beating. I lay there on the kitchen floor clutching my best friend, unable to move. Wishing, hoping it was a dream, I held her lifeless body. Maggi came and sniffed Inca. I wanted her to sense that her friend had gone. ‘Where’s Inca?’ asked Ludo, as I returned home with Maggi. ‘She’s gone up into the sky.’ ‘Hello, Inca,’ he said, waving to the sky. I had lost my best friend. It felt like losing a limb. My shadow was gone. A flame had been extinguished. I had loved and been loved. Now I had lost and I was lost. I needed to find a way back. Thirteen years is a long time. It’s been quite a trip, Inca and me. (#ulink_52c8d5e1-08c9-5b09-a1a9-fe2f3f8258f0) The tiny boat yawed and bucked in the mighty ocean. Huge Atlantic rollers crashed against the vertiginous cliffs as seagulls wheeled above. A lone lighthouse stood sentry, ready to warn shipping of the hazardous coastline. My salt-encrusted hands gripped tightly to the oars as we, too, heaved into the surf. A rogue wave caught the front of the tiny boat, sending green water spilling in. We were a pinprick on a tiny ocean. I had come to Newfoundland and Labrador on the easternmost point of Canada – often described as Atlantic Canada. This is frontier country; a tough, rugged coastline where the people are as hardy as the geography. It holds a lot of similarities with its counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Western Isles of Scotland. The flora and fauna reminded me of Scotland, only larger. I was with local rower – Pete – on one of the original fishing skiffs, a tiny two-man wooden boat that looked like it would be better suited to a pond than an angry ocean. These were the craft with which the fishermen had, in better times, caught the cod that were once so prolific in these waters. Like a detective following a trail, I had come here in search of the Labrador. It seemed wrong, coming to a place that was also named after a different breed altogether, but all the evidence seemed to conclude that Newfoundland did play a role in the evolution of the Labrador Retriever. Despite a lifetime of travels to Canada, this was my first visit to this part of the country. A Canadian father had ensured plenty of summers on the lakes of Ontario, where I spent my time canoeing, swimming and fishing. Of course, there was also a dog. A mutt called Bejo that had somehow been rescued from the streets of Marrakech, in Morocco, by a family friend and had been flown to the Canadian lakes. I had long wanted an excuse to visit this remote corner of one of the least-populated countries on Earth, and now here it was … My journey to Atlantic Canada began in the rather inauspicious surroundings of Dublin, in Ireland, from where I caught my transatlantic flight to St John’s, which must surely be the shortest hop across the Atlantic Ocean. We had barely taken off when we were landing again, just four hours later. St John’s is a rugged working port. I’m sure it had once been a very beautiful harbour, but the heavy industry and the presence of dozens of offshore supply ships servicing the oil industry give it a gritty industrial feel. The supply ships tower above the small buildings of the city. St John’s is considered by many to be the ‘big smoke’, but even with the majority of the region’s employment opportunities and, therefore, population, it has a small-town feel. Colourful, clapboard-style houses dot the streets as reminders of the city’s heritage. This is pioneering country. Labrador and Newfoundland are collectively one state. Bordering Quebec on the west and the rugged Atlantic to the east, it covers more than 29,000 kilometres of coastline. At nearly 150,000 square kilometres, it is the same size as Japan. I had come here, not for the landscape, nor the people, but in search of a dog famed for its fierce loyalty and ferocious love of food. A dog intricately tied to British culture. A dog beloved of families across the world and championed by countless prime ministers and presidents. A dog both used to sell loo roll and owned by royalty: the humble Labrador Retriever. The story of the Labrador is as intriguing as it is complex. It is estimated that there are between 300 and 400 different breeds of dog in the world – the exact numbers are disputed by various kennel clubs which have yet to recognise certain breeds that have been crossbred over time. Of course, all breeds began with some sort of crossbreeding, but how did the Labrador evolve? Breeds of dogs are variously broken down by the English Kennel Club into Hound, Terrier, Gundog, Utility, Pastoral, Toy and Working. While many will class breeds according to what they were bred to do, you can also categorise them according to geography: Welsh Corgi, Yorkshire Terrier, Afghan Hound, Bernese Mountain Dog, the Maltese, Rhodesian Ridgeback, English Setter, Hungarian Vizla, German Shepherd, Irish Setter, Spanish Water Dog, Manchester Terrier, Norfolk Terrier … The list of dogs with a geographical tie is long so I won’t bore you, but you get the gist. The heritage of the Labrador, however, is much more complex and confused. Indeed, dozens of books have been published over the years with conflicting stories about the history of the world’s most popular breed. While it is widely accepted that the Yorkshire Terrier, for example, was developed in the nineteenth century to catch rats in the clothing mills of the historic county in Northern England, and the Border Collie was a working dog cultivated to herd livestock in the borderlands between England and Scotland, the Labrador does not actually originate from Labrador, the bleak northerly mainland region of Canada. I, like many, had always assumed it was named after its geographical namesake in Northern Canada, but in fact the breed has its roots, by way of Europe, in the Atlantic island of Newfoundland where, in the late eighteenth century, fishermen relied on a working sea dog of similar appearance to retrieve fish. In researching this book and the history of this humble breed, I have ventured from Portugal to Labrador, Newfoundland, and then full circle back to Europe. The origin of the Labrador is a slightly confusing issue, not least because ‘Newfoundland and Labrador’ is the umbrella name given to the vast easternmost province of Canada. The two distinct land masses that make up the province are separated by the Strait of Belle Isle, a hazardous, ice-choked, fog-wraithed, treacherously tidal channel approximately 125 kilometres long and ranging between a maximum width of 60 kilometres to 15 kilometres at its narrowest. In all probability, the nineteenth-century Britons lumped the far-flung area and its associations together just as writers of that era indiscriminately use the words retriever and spaniel. But there are two distinct territories under one geographical title and – just to complicate things – two dog breeds associated with the province, each named after the wrong region. The short-coated Labrador is actually from Newfoundland; and the shaggy-coated Newfoundland emerged at about the same time in Labrador. The early settlement of Labrador was tied to the sea by the Inuit and Innu people. It is widely assumed that the Vikings were the first Europeans to sight the land but it wasn’t until the Portuguese explorer João Fernandes Lavrador mapped the coast that the region was settled. Today the region is sparsely populated, with around 27,000 residents, most of whom work the land for its iron ore. So how did this popular family dog, with its lust for food and cuddles, come to live in such an inhospitable terrain and climate? To further confuse the mystery, another ‘geographical breed’, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, comes from Nova Scotia, just south of Labrador and Newfoundland. All three dogs have distinctive webbed feet, a water-resistant undercoat and incredible swimming abilities – they evidently share some genetic stock. Most historians agree that the native inhabitants of Newfoundland, the Beothuks, did not have dogs. Nor did the pre-Inuit settlers, the Dorset Eskimos. Others insist there would have been Inuit, Innu and Mi’kmaq dogs left by the region’s Aboriginal peoples, as well as descendants of the Norse dogs. We must assume therefore that the Labrador descends from a mix of genes from the various dogs taken on board ship by fishermen from Spain, Portugal, France and England when they set sail to fish for cod in the waters off Newfoundland. Dogs were needed to guard the camps, to hunt for game and to kill rats and mice. They were a useful bit of kit. Breeds traditionally taken on ships from the early sixteenth century onwards included mastiffs, bloodhounds, spaniels and terriers. It is probably fair to assume there would have been a number of crossbreeds. Residents of Newfoundland kept no records or census of the dogs on the island so there aren’t many clues for breed enthusiasts to mull over. In a footnote in his Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868), Charles Darwin states that the Newfoundland dog is believed to have originated from a cross between an Esquimaux dog and a large, black St Hubert hound. Others point out that Inuit dogs thrive in cold weather, but not cold water. It still seems amazing to me that some of the world’s most prolific swimming dogs came from some of the world’s coldest water. But then maybe that was the point. The people had to find an alternative to getting in the water themselves. But the Labrador is a dog that loves to curl up on the sofa or sprawl on the bed. They are never happier than with their heads lolling out of the open window of a Land Rover speeding along a country lane. Newfoundland and Labrador? Surely this was the land of the hard-working pastoral collie – a dog happier outside and often without human contact. There seems to be a great contradiction in provenance and character. Today it is very fashionable to mix breeds together; the Labradoodle is a Labrador and Standard Poodle cross, the Puggle is a Pug and a Beagle, but what breeds might have mated to create the Labrador as we now know it? Many canine historians believe their genetic make-up owes something in particular to the Spanish Black Pointer (the aptitudes of obedience to a master and of being hard-wired to follow a scent) and to the Basque or Portuguese Shepherd Dog, which is notable for a herding instinct and a close sense of territory. But it was from a very large gene pool that dogs were bred on an ad hoc basis and trained over 300 years to meet the specific needs of the fishermen. ‘There were many ways in which they could be useful,’ wrote Wilson Stephens, in an article entitled ‘The Lost Years of the Labrador’ in The Field in December 1989. ‘The slippery decks of trawlers, heeling when the nets were being hauled overside on the cod banks of Newfoundland, sent many a hard-won fish sliding into, and often through, the scuppers. Retrieving out of water may have been the ships’ dogs’ first and basic role. Not retrieving fish only. A sailing ship’s rigging included many small components also likely to be washed overboard – blocks, pins, lines, and so on; a fetcher-back was more than worth his keep. Who ever saw a better dog in water than a fit and confident Labrador? It is bred into them.’ The harsh, rugged isolation of Newfoundland and the specific traits required of the dogs allowed the ancestors of the Labrador to evolve into fine, shapely dogs. The terrain and climate required them to be sure-footed on land and broad-chested to swim strongly and surf the strong and choppy Atlantic waves. They needed to be sturdy enough to haul wood on land and drag fish nets ashore, yet small enough not to overpower a fisherman’s two-man dory craft. The fishermen bred these dogs, presumably matching sires with exceptional traits to dams of a similar calibre. Or maybe it was more rudimentary, simply monitoring the accidental intermixing. Whatever the technique, it somehow produced the much-loved, distinctive, water-loving retriever of today. Like their namesake, the people of Labrador bear a unique mix of cultural heritage, borne of their historical roots. Their accent and language is a mix of Scottish, Irish and a mid-Atlantic drawl. On first hearing I was sure they were from Southern Ireland. To be honest I couldn’t make head nor tail of what my cab driver was saying on the journey from the airport to St John’s, with his heavy Irish drawl spoken in a kind of pidgin twang. Indeed, there are more varieties of English spoken in Labrador than anywhere else in the world. No wonder I couldn’t understand a word. The Aboriginal population of what is now Newfoundland and Labrador can be divided into three ethnic groups – the Inuit (once called the Eskimos), the Innu and the Beothuk – but the current-day population owes more to its European roots, being largely the south-west of England. Fisherfolk from Dorset and Devon emigrated in the hope of making their fortunes with the cod banks, but it is more likely the small number of Highland Scots and the Southeastern Irish settlers who had the most profound effect on the culture and heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador’s current-day population. They bear the ruddy cheeked, wind-weathered appearance of island folk. Having spent so much time in Canada as a child, I was struck by how un-North American this region was. It felt they had more in common with Europe than with their Canadian brothers. The mix-up between the names and geographical roots of the Newfoundlands and Labradors occurred once the dogs were imported into England and the Americas. The dog more commonly associated with Labrador became the Newfoundland – the giant, shaggy, bear-like dog beloved of poets Lord Byron and Emily Dickinson and immortalised as Nana in Peter Pan – and the smaller, close-coated dog (also known as the St John’s Water Dog, the St John’s Dog, the Lesser Newfoundland or the Little Newfoundler) became known as ‘the Labrador’. The word labrador has dual Portuguese associations. For a start, the region of Labrador in Canada was named after the explorer João Fernandes Lavrador, who in 1499 and 1500 mapped the coastline, labelling the vast, scarcely imaginable area ‘Labrador’ on topographical charts that circulated during this period. Labrador or lavradore also means ‘labourer’ or ‘workman’ in both Portuguese and old Spanish. The Portuguese predominated other European fishermen during the opening decades of the sixteenth century, and the men who subsequently undertook hazardous voyages to these inhospitable waters would have been gritty, rugged sea hands inured to working the sails around the clock and enduring cramped conditions. So the word was ‘in the air’ in any contemporary consideration of the nature of the venture. Both in terms of the region and of the prevailing sailing-cum-fishing nation which set an example of reliance on its sea dogs, the name ‘Labrador’ was wholly appropriate for a hard-working dog valued by generations of fishing crews trawling the chilly waters for bumper cod harvests. It seems indisputable that there is a Portuguese connection, but the earliest references all seem to originate in Newfoundland. One of the earliest mentions comes from J. B. Jukes in his book Excursions In and About Newfoundland, written in 1842: A thin, short-haired, black dog, belonging to George Harvey came off to us today. This animal was of a breed very different from what we understood by the term “Newfoundland Dog” in England. He had a thin tapering snout, a long thin tail and rather thin but powerful legs, with a lank body and hair short and smooth. These are the most abundant dogs of the country. They are by no means handsome, but are generally more intelligent and useful than the others. This one caught its own fish and sat on a projecting rock watching the water. Could this have been one of the early forms for the Labrador? The breed that has become one of the most popular in the world? Loyal, handsome and hungry? Newfoundland is still a rugged, bleak land. It is hard to imagine the hardships of those early settlers. This is a place dominated by the weather. Trees grow crouched and bowed to the curvature of the prevailing winds. The ocean bites into the coastline, tearing away at the cliffs. It is a region of natural wealth; where once the fish was king, today minerals and fossil fuels are the main export. The offshore oil rigs provide employment to those who still eke out a living here. In one of the small working fishing harbours, a number of boats were tied alongside the quay – the Mystic Voyager, the Cape John Navigator, the June Gale – all weathered by the cruel ocean. Their nets lay on the harbour side, ready to be repaired. I have spent time with trawlermen in the North Sea. It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. A week being tossed around a mighty ocean, like a rubber duck in a washing machine. Cramped and stuffy. Hot and humid. I can feel the nausea returning just thinking about it. The sleep deprivation. The smell. The blood. The oil. The rust. The diesel fumes. It’s like groundhog day. Haul. Gut. Eat. Haul. Gut. Eat. Haul. I wouldn’t go back out on one of those trawlers if you paid me. Here, 4,800 kilometres away, on the opposite side of the ocean, are the same ships. The same fishermen. The same hopes and dreams. The same wild, violent ocean. The skipper of my trawler had been capsized alongside his father and brother when he was just 18. They clung to one another in the frozen, black waters. Rescue came, but in the process he lost hold of his father. He was lost to the ocean – one of the many fisherfolk to perish in the cruel sea. This part of the world holds many parallels to the Western Isles of Scotland where I have spent so much of my life. Indeed, it was here, on a remote island, that my love of the ocean and Labradors began. The American novelist Annie Proulx gives a measure of the bleak landscape in her bestselling novel The Shipping News, which is set in Newfoundland. One of her characters muses on the landscape: This place, she thought, this rock, six thousand miles of coast blind-wrapped in fog. Sunkers under wrinkled water, boats threading tickles between ice-scabbed cliffs. Tundra and barrens, a land of stunted spruce men cut and drew away. How many had come here, leaning on the rail as she leaned now. Staring at the rock in the sea. Vikings, the Basques, the French, English, Spanish, Portuguese. Drawn by the cod, from the days when massed fish slowed ships on the drift for the passage to the Spice Isles, expecting cities of gold. The lookout dreamed of roasted auk or sweet berries in cups of plaited grass, but saw crumpling waves, lights flickering along the ship rails. The only cities were of ice, bergs with cores of beryl, blue gems within white gems, that some said gave off an odor of almonds. She had caught the bitter scent as a child. Shore parties returned to ship blood-crusted with insect bites. Wet, wet, the interior of the island, they said, bog and marsh, rivers and chains of ponds alive with metal-throated birds. The ships scraped on around the points. And the lookout saw shapes of caribou folding into fog. Walking along the coastal paths of Newfoundland, the vegetation and trees had become a vivid red, orange and yellow. I wandered among the fishermen’s pots and nets. Traditionally this is fishing country and the dozens of trawlers moored along the harbour were now wrapping up for the season, hunkering down for the winter. It wouldn’t be long until the snow and ice arrived; freezing the harbour and isolating the tiny communities further. The locals I met on my travels in the region had told me of ‘black dogs’ that still roamed these beaches; wild and untamed, some believed these were the ancestors of the Labrador. Beyond the city limits, the weak late autumn sunshine illuminated the cliff edge on the most easterly tip of North America – Cape Spear in Newfoundland. Huge rolling waves crashed against the rocky foreshore below as flocks of gulls feasted on a passing shoal of fish. The next stop due east of here was to be Cabo da Roca, in Portugal, the most westerly point of mainland Europe, on which I had stood many times and wondered what its North American opposite looked like. Now I knew. The mighty lighthouse is a reminder of the treacherous nature of the ocean that has cost many ships and their crews their lives. This is a hard, tough land. Newfoundland itself is a huge island, almost twice the size of Great Britain, and for many months of the year the island is buried under 3 metres of snow, but during the summer months, the islanders have a brief respite from the cold. Although even in the summer months, Atlantic Canada is reminded of its Arctic geography, as swarms of icebergs descend on the island. Locals make good use of these icebergs, though, by making iceberg water, iceberg beer and iceberg vodka. They even collect washed-up shards which they then use in their gin and tonics. Perhaps the most astonishing industry, here, is that of the iceberg ‘movers’, those individuals tasked with either blowing up or tugging away mighty icebergs that are blocking harbours or are in danger of damaging property. There is even a website called Iceberg Finder where ‘iceberg ambassadors’ track the movement of these mighty bergs, which are more than 10,000 years old and can weigh in excess of 10 million tonnes. Icebergs also bring polar bears – which use them as ocean rafts, sometimes depositing the fearsome predators close to human habitations – which has given rise to another local expert, the polar bear ‘relocator’. Today, though, there are no signs of icebergs, polar bears or the sperm whales that migrate through these waters, just a vast grey ocean. In another strange twist in the tail and connection to yet another country, the Labrador – now the most popular pet dog in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Israel and Australia – ultimately owes its status to John Cabot, the famous Italian navigator and explorer whose name is honoured in streets, towers, academies, universities and golf courses around the world. Cabot’s ‘discovery’ of parts of North America under the commission of Henry VII in 1497 is believed to have been the first European encounter with the shores of North America since the Norse Vikings landed in around 1000 BC. Some historians think that either Nova Scotia or Maine was the location of his landfall, but the official position of the Canadian and British governments is that Giovanni Caboto – to give him his proper Italian name – landed at Cape Bonavista, a rugged headland on the east coast of Newfoundland. He found a Utopian land of plenty and his discovery heralded an era of heavy European fishing traffic which, in turn, brought about the development of the versatile sea dog we know today as the Labrador. On 24 June 1497, Cabot set sail from the port of Bristol, then the second most important seaport in the country. About 3,500 kilometres later, his ships gingerly negotiated the rugged sea stacks and steep cliffs of a terra nova to touch land at Cape Bonavista. By all accounts, he made a quick turnaround, excited to share the news back in England that his expedition had indeed found, discovered and investigated something unknown to all Christian folk – an incredible wealth of fish stocks off these shores. His crew reported ‘the sea there is full of fish that can be taken not only with nets but with fishing-baskets’. Today the cod or ‘baclau’ is still the regional dish. Fish and brewis, which is pronounced ‘brews’ is the most popular.The meal consists of cod and hard bread or hard tack. With the abundance of cod it became synonymous with many Newfoundland households as a delicacy to be served as a main meal. The recipe may vary, but the primary ingredients are always the same. Typically baclau uses salt fish which is soaked in water overnight to reduce the salt content, and hard bread which is also soaked in water overnight. The next day, the fish and bread are boiled separately until tender, and then both are served together. The traditional meal is served with scrunchions, which is salted pork fat that has been cut into small pieces and fried. Both the rendered fat and the liquid fat are then drizzled over the fish and brewis. It tastes like … fish. Very, very salty, chewy fish. I had eaten the same on the island of Taransay when I was marooned there for a year. It was the only fish we ever caught. We were hopeless. We were living on what the local fishermen described as a fish roundabout. But we had no boat; no nets and no rods. All we had was a crate of salted fish. To be honest, I hated it and I still do. It makes me retch. The last time I had it was in the deserts of Oman; we took it in homage to the old explorer Wilfred Thesiger, who took salted shark meat. It was foul, but I ate it nonetheless. I made my way through a hearty bowl of baclau as I sat looking out over a tiny harbour. A colourful, wooden-stilted fisherman’s hut stood out against the gunmetal waters, the hard granite cliffs towering behind it. It was at once utterly beautiful and hauntingly severe. The view certainly helped the digestion. The abundance of cod would be a turning point for the region and the emergence of the Labrador. Word spread quickly about the new-found lands and their bounty, and by the early sixteenth century, fishermen from Europe were regularly setting sail in a north-westerly direction and converging in the harsh and squally North Atlantic waters to fish for cod. The French, Spanish and Portuguese fishermen tended to fish on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and other banks out to sea, where fish were always available. They carried an abundant store of salt and processed their fish on board ship, laying it down in layers strewn with salt to cure the fish. They did not attempt to dry it until they returned to their home ports. Without access to an indigenous source of salt, the English fishermen – travelling in fleets of vessels from West Country ports in Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Cornwall – sailed each spring and brought home a harvest in autumn. To eke out their meagre salt supplies and preserve their hauls, they developed a custom of salting the fish with a light paste, washing and drying it on long wooden racks onshore. This process required fish-curing stations to be set up on land. This meant they concentrated on fishing inshore (where the cod were only to be found at certain times of the year, during their migrations) and used small boats to return to the Newfoundland shore every day. In their chosen seasonal locations, English fishing captains at the turn of the seventeenth century reported cod shoals ‘so thick by the shore that we hardly have been able to row a boat through them’. Some even talk of walking across them – during my short stint as an offshore fisherman I once saw a net of cod pulled from the North Sea, so full of fish that the trawler men could walk between the two trawlers on the fish. Once dried, the fish were then loaded on board the ships and sent back home. A winter crew was left behind each year to stake out the shore, maintain the curing facility and protect the fragile and lucrative toehold that England had established in the cod-fishing industry. Permanent settlements were discouraged, so it is easy to imagine how those left behind would have relied on their dogs not only to hunt for food and guard their base, but also for companionship. The cod moratorium of 1992 nearly devastated the region. The Canadian government declared a halt on the northern cod fishery, which for nearly 500 years had shaped the lives and communities of Atlantic Canada. The biomass of cod had fallen to just 1 per cent of its early levels and was in danger of complete extinction. Better fishing technology and trawlers had decimated stocks. It was a brave and bold decision by the Canadian government, and one that caused untold misery and hardship for the local people. More than 35,000 fisherfolk from 400 communities were left unemployed overnight. Some communities never recovered. The effects of the moratorium are still obvious; there is an air of sadness that clings to the region like an Atlantic fog. A large imposing museum that soars into St John’s skyline like an ugly carbuncle is symbolic – like a giant fish factory, there for all to remember. The museum is crammed full of fishing gear and boats. Photographs of weathered faces hauling, processing and salting cod. Huge piles of fish. Nostalgic photos of a bygone era when the cod was king and the community thrived. By the 1620s, tiny, isolated settlements on the coast of Newfoundland became home to fishermen and their ship dogs – mainly from England, but also from Portugal, Spain, France and the Basque Country – as competition over the best waters hotted up and everyone was eager to stake their claim on the fishing rights. The first sightings in Britain of the ‘St John’s Dogs or Little Newfoundler Dogs’ were in the late eighteenth century. They had been brought back across the Atlantic aboard the ships carrying their precious cargoes of dried and salted fish. In 1785, Robert Burns’s poem, The Twa Dogs,refers to a creature, ‘His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs/Shew’d he was nane o’Scotland’s dogs/But whelped some place far abroad,/Where sailors gang to fish for cod.’ Could this have been the loyal Labrador? In 1814, Colonel Peter Hawker, a well-known sportsman, watched Labradors at work on the trawlers in Newfoundland, describing them as the St John’s breed of Newfoundland. In the first published account of a Labrador, his diary describes the dog as ‘by far the best for any kind of shooting. He is generally black and no bigger than a Pointer, very fine in legs, with short, smooth hair and does not carry his tail so much curled as the other [meaning the Newfoundland, which had a rough coat and a tail that curved over its back]; is extremely quick and active in running, swimming and fighting … The St John’s breed of these dogs is chiefly used on their native coast by fishermen. Their sense of smelling is scarcely to be credited. Their discrimination of scent … appears almost impossible … For finding wounded game of every description, there is not his equal in the canine race; and he is sine qua non in the general pursuit of waterfowl.’ Eight years later, in 1822, the Scottish-Canadian explorer William Epps Cormack, who was born in St John’s, crossed Newfoundland by foot. He was the first European to journey across the interior of the island and it was during this expedition that he noted small water dogs, writing in his journal: ‘[they are] admirably trained as retrievers in fowling, and are otherwise useful. The smooth or short-haired dog is preferred because in frosty weather the long haired kind becomes encumbered with ice on coming out of the water.’ The earliest known depiction of the St John’s water dog – owned by a Mr Alsop – was on the canvas of the famous animal painter Edwin Landseer in 1822. Initially entitled Watchful Sentinel and known now as Cora. A Labrador Dog, the commissioned portrait of a much-loved pet shows a black dog with white paws and chest lying inside a stable yard or carriage house, with horses and grooms working in the background and, interestingly, no water in sight. (The earliest portrait of a yellow dog is believed to be in the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle in County Durham – a portrait in oils of Mrs Josephine Bowes painted in the late 1840s with a yellow dog called Bernardine at her side.) This seems to be the moment these early ‘Labradors’ made the transition from sea to land. These dogs, seen and admired for their eye-catching skills in West Country ports and harbours, were being purchased for use on land. For a land famous for two world-class dogs, there was a distinct lack of canine activity as I wandered the tiny fishing ports. I spotted a single working Collie. In the absence of either of the region’s namesakes, I arranged to meet two of the region’s living mascots. Gus the Labrador and Felix the Newfie are both employed by the State to greet people arriving in the remote territory, predominantly by cruise ship. We arranged to meet in a tiny harbour that is now home to an artisan collective where artists produce paintings and knitwear. It was a picture-postcard, perfect location. Bright yellow fishing houses with faded red piers were reflected perfectly in the calm waters. Here, away from the rough Atlantic surf, I could image Labradors plying these waters collecting fallen fish and fishing tackle. As instincts required, Gus belly dived into the clear waters. It was like an echo of an earlier time as I imagined his early cousins swimming in these very waters for the fisherfolk. The extraordinary twist in this furry tail is that Gus’s provenance owed more to England than it did to those early pioneers. Indeed, his distant relatives had come up from Portugal to this remote land, only to traverse the Atlantic Ocean once again, back to Europe. For the fortune-hunting fishermen, dog trading had become a lucrative subsidiary. The sale of fish was the main business, but canny sailors also sold the ice used to preserve their catch and, increasingly, established a dog import trade. The dogs’ water skills were much talked about. They feature in old stories as near-mythical water dogs, as fetchers of sailors’ hats in icy waters and blustery gales, big-hearted, eminently trainable and intelligent. They could swim with ropes in their mouths and sometimes – so the stories went – paddled out to the aid of ships in distress. They retrieved whatever their master bade them. The proud seamen put on a remarkable show of human–dog teamwork for the quayside crowds. Wilson Stephens wrote in The Field,‘No wonder that the deck dogs on the ships off-loading in Poole Harbour caught the eye of passers-by. Perhaps the crew men entertained the locals by throwing overboard things which the dogs would retrieve, demonstrating their expertise at diving in and swimming back with a load. Perhaps bets were struck. No wonder, either, that the impression they made caught the eye of the local gentry – strolling, as all men do, on the quaysides …’ One spectator was the second Earl of Malmesbury, an MP and sportsman, born in 1778. He kept detailed records of the game he shot and of local and national weather. A large part of his estate at Hurn, in Dorset, included the floodplain between the River Stour and River Avon, north-east of Bournemouth. Hurn is listed in the Domesday Book as ‘Herne’; the name comes from the old English ‘hyrne’, meaning a disused part of a field or the land created by an oxbow lake. The Earl was fascinated by these amazing water retrievers. Until drainage operations in the mid-twentieth century, the River Stour had been habitually liable to winter overflow, spilling over its banks so that water spread over the countryside, creating large watery meadows a metre or more deep. The land was crisscrossed with carrier channels to control the annual floodwater; for half the year it was, as one observer put it, ‘a minor Venice’. The quantity of water was such that a raised causeway had been built around a 16-hectare floodable meadow so that the ladies of the house could continue to enjoy their carriage drives before stopping for afternoon tea. I know the River Stour well. I spent much of my childhood navigating, rowing, paddling and swimming in its meandering waters. My school was built on its floodplains. A distinctive memory was of flooded sports fields; the river often burst its banks, creating a watery world. How many times I found myself wading through this very water. So could this have been the very same river that helped give rise to the most popular dog on Earth? Was the answer there all along? The early nineteenth century was the golden age of wildfowling, and the sporting pride and glory of the Malmesbury Estate was the duck. With such expanses of swampy waterlands there were always plenty of ducks – but many a shot duck would fall where only a swimming dog could retrieve them. The Earl of Malmesbury and a neighbour, Major C. J. Radclyffe, who lived close to the watery hinterland around Poole Harbour, saw these Labrador dogs as the answer to their sporting problem. There is mention of ‘the Earl of Malmesbury at Heron Court’ using his St John’s dog for shooting sports as early as 1809. And here lie the crucial links between Poole in Dorset and Newfoundland … The Newfoundland fishing fleet docked regularly at Poole Harbour, with its catch of cod and other fish kept on ice in the hold. After the fish had been sold, the ice was sought by local squires for their ice houses (typically a brick-lined hole in the ground, covered with a domed roof, and used to store ice in the years before the invention of the refrigerator). The Hurn Estate had two such ice houses that needed regular re-stocking with blocks of ice. According to the late sixth Earl of Malmesbury, ‘It was usual for each ship to carry at least one dog on board. My great-great-grandfather on occasions rode over to Poole Harbour, and saw these dogs playing in the sea and retrieving the fish that had not “kept”, so had been thrown out. He thought to himself that these water dogs, who retrieved so naturally in the water, were exactly what he required for his wildfowling. In 1823 he acquired two couples and built kennels on high ground for them, near a bend of the River Stour, known as Blackwater, which was only a quarter of a mile above the official tide end of the river, and bred from these dogs.’ The genesis of the breed began as a private whim. The dogs so impressed the Earl with their skill and ability that he devoted his entire kennel to developing, stabilising and pioneering the breed in Great Britain. He was the most influential person in keeping the Labrador breed alive and kept his kennel well stocked until his death in 1841. Poole? It seemed such an incongruous place for this pivotal moment in the adaptation and creation of the Labrador. Poole, the home of millionaires, Harry Redknapp and the RNLI. Poole, where not only had I spent much of my childhood but also the last two years filming an ITV series about the history of the place and its people. In all that time I had never heard any mention of Labradors. The only way of finding out how this connection had come about was to leave Labrador and Newfoundland before the weather marooned me for the long winter, and head to Dorset. But before I left Newfoundland, I wandered down to the harbour side in St John’s. There, in pride of place, are two life-sized statues overlooking the sea passage. The bronze statues stand proudly, their heads held aloft, a reminder of this region’s most famous inhabitants, not some great explorer nor a political goliath but two humble dogs that left these shores. Today, there are now estimated to be nearly 30 million Labradors across the world. (#ulink_1f9bdd09-2229-5706-ad4a-03eace62867a) Despite her outdoor life, Inca hated the rain. In fact, the only thing she hated more than the rain was getting her paws muddy. She also detested anything uncomfortable under her paws: rocks, pebbles, pine cones, pine needles, mud, even puddles could sometimes stop her in her tracks. But rain was the worst for her. If it was raining outside and she was inside, she wasn’t going anywhere. She hated getting her coat wet almost as much as her paws. Like most Labradors, she lived for her stomach. Inca loved food. She loved food as much as she hated stepping on pine cones. Rather contradictorily, although she hated rain and puddles, she loved swimming. Like a moth to a flame, she was often left completely unable to stop herself. She would sleepwalk, like a zombie, into the water. I will never forget the first time I met the TV presenter Kate Humble. We had been teamed up by the BBC as a ‘TV couple’ to present a new series, Animal Park, following life behind the scenes at Longleat Safari Park. I had just returned from Nepal when I picked up a voice message from Kate suggesting I come to dinner at her house so that we get to know each other ahead of filming. Naturally, I arrived with Inca in tow. Kate opened the door, and before I had time to introduce myself, Inca had barged past, down the hall, through the kitchen and belly flopped into the large fish pond in the back garden. She re-emerged above the water line with pond weed on her head. I half expected a goldfish in her mouth. What’s more, she couldn’t get out. I had to kneel and haul her out by the scruff of her neck, at which point she shook the stinky water all over Kate, her kitchen and me. It gets worse … Inca then discovered Kate’s beloved rats. Yes, Kate kept several pet rats. She’s since got better taste and keeps dogs of her own, but back then she had rats and Inca loved them. She sat next to their cage, staring, drooling and singing. Inca had the best singing voice of any dog I know. Some might describe it as a kind of whine, but a whine is like a whinge – it’s a negative noise. Inca sang. It was a happy, positive noise. I liked to think she was serenading the rats, but the rats weren’t so sure. They hid in the corner as this giant, dripping wet, black dog sang to them. Kate eventually intervened, worrying that the canine song might lead to cardiac arrest on the rats’ part. And so we ate dinner to the smell of wet dog. It was the beginning of a long friendship, though, so it wasn’t all bad. Another time I remember visiting the late Duchess of Norfolk at her home, Bakers, in Berkshire. I was dating her granddaughter, Kinvara, and we had both been invited for Sunday lunch. As always, I arrived with Inca. It was a glorious summer day and once again Inca made a bee line for the water. In this instance, it wasn’t a fish pond but an immaculately clean swimming pool. Before I could stop her, Inca was sailing through the air into the azure waters. We weren’t invited back. Over the years I lost count of the number of times I hauled Inca from rivers, canals and even cattle troughs. And all this from a dog that didn’t like to get her paws wet. It was all or nothing with Inca. It is perhaps unsurprising, given its coastal place of origin, that the Labrador began its life as a Water Dog. ‘It was as a water-dog that the Labrador came into Britain. Regarded as a water-dog only, except by the few who treasured them, and ignored by most, Labradors spent the next 50 years in the well-cushioned obscurity which is the privilege of specialists,’ wrote Stephens. It was in Dorset that the Labrador was first treasured and ignored in Britain. I have always loved Dorset. I even lived there for four years, in the army town of Blandford, which I remember used to be called ‘An Interesting Georgian Town’. Perhaps it was because I spent some of my formative years there that I can feel my whole body relax when I arrive in the county. It has that unique ability to combine happy memories with a largely unchanged landscape. Often described as Thomas Hardy country, Dorset is defined by its rolling green farmland and its famous Jurassic coast. I have since returned many times both for work and pleasure. Indeed, I have spent the past few years based at Poole Harbour, making a series about one of the world’s largest natural harbours. Poole really is a place of contradictions, where hard-working fishermen moor their ships alongside Sunseeker super-yachts. There can be few places in the United Kingdom where there is such a jarring clash of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. Sandbanks peninsula is often described as the most expensive real estate in Great Britain, and even one of the most expensive in the world. Here, million-pound glass and steel structures look out onto the working waters where fishermen still ply their trades. That it was here that the Labrador was first discovered seems incredible. The harbour wall has changed very little in the last century. Close your eyes and you can still imagine the hubbub of trawlers emptying their holds of cod after their long voyage across the Atlantic. This would once have been a bustling place. It must have been quite a spectacle. Today, the small fishermen’s harbour is largely ignored. A handful of small boats still work the harbour and the ocean beyond, but Poole is as much a location for pleasure craft as it is for working boats. Next to the old harbour pilot office, overlooking the estuary and the Sunseeker factory beyond, is Poole Harbour’s museum. The museum is full of old artefacts covering the harbour’s rich history, where old, faded black-and-white photographs offer a small porthole into the bygone era. I asked the curator if he had ever heard about the harbour’s connection with the Labrador. Nobody in the museum knew anything. There were no records. No photographs. No documents or accounts. The only inference was the large section dedicated to Newfoundland and the Dorset families who emigrated in search of wealth. I sifted through hundreds of old photographs hoping to find the famous performing ‘black dogs’ that had captivated Lord Malmesbury, but there was nothing. It seems that Poole has long forgotten its part in the story of the evolution of the world’s most popular breed. So while the connection between Poole and Newfoundland is strong, Poole’s role in the import of the Labrador as we know it today remains a bit of a mystery. Back in London, at the British Library, I read the first page of the leather-bound Stud Book of the Duke of Buccleuch’s Labrador. The book names Ned (1882), sired by Lord Malmesbury’s Sweep (1877) and dam Lord Malmesbury’s Juno (1878), and describes him as ‘of a different category to any of the other dogs’ at the Duke’s kennels. According to the book, Ned was followed by Avon (1885), hailed as even better than Ned – sired by Lord Malmesbury’s Tramp, with Juno again the dam dog. The carefully kept stud book represented the start of an official record of the Labrador, but in retrospect, it is a rare and valuable document which highlights some of the events in the development of the breed. Another entry describes the time Buccleuch Avon is said to have sired ‘liver-coloured’ pups: in 1892, the record states that two ‘liver colour’ Labradors were born at the Buccleuch kennel. Labrador enthusiasts then began to demonstrate a desire to preserve and safeguard the ‘new breed’. Records also show that in 1899 the first registered yellow Labrador was born at the kennel of Major Radclyffe and named Ben of Hyde. Was this the first time the breed deviated from the traditional black? The colour of the breed has long divided Labrador lovers. Many still believe that black is the true original colour and that yellow and brown are mere anomalies that caught on. Certainly as a dog to blend into the landscape during a shoot, black is undoubtedly the best colour, although yellows can blend in well in some wildfowling situations. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century Labradors were carefully bred but still remained ‘rarities if not eccentricities’ in the sporting and domestic scene. Traded exclusively among the landed gentry, they proved themselves the most versatile of working dogs: hardy, reliable, efficient, gentle, clean and undemanding. The same traits that define them today. The Field once wrote,‘One of the countryside’s riddles is how and why a race of dogs, so dominant for only 10 years short of a century, could also have been so dormant for so long, a clear case of unrecognised talent.’ There is a truism here. In 1886 – 75 years after their arrival on these shores – J.H. Walsh, in his Dogs of the British Islands: Being a Series of Articles on the Points of their Various Breeds and the Treatment of the Diseases to which they are Subject, described the Labrador or Lesser Newfoundland Dog as a mere accessory to a certain lifestyle: ‘As his use in this country is almost entirely confined to retrieving game, he cannot be included among the non-sporting dogs.’ How did the Labrador go from being a specialist wildfowl retriever prized by a small elite circle in Britain to being the world’s most popular domestic dog? The answer begins with another milestone in history: the wide-scale development of the breech-loading gun in the late nineteenth century. Up until then, shooting was by muzzle-loaded guns, i.e. a firearm into which the ‘shot’ and the propellant explosive powder are loaded from the muzzle of the gun (the forward, open end of the gun’s barrel). To go shooting usually meant several guns (people with guns) walking through a woodland, copse, moor, waterland or field, shooting the birds their dogs put up. This style of ‘walked up’ shooting (sometimes called ‘shooting over dogs’) remained customary until the introduction of the much more efficient double-barrelled, quick-loading shotgun. Thanks to the revolutionary refinement in precision engineering and machining in the nineteenth century, breech loading – whereby a cartridge or shell is loaded into a chamber integral to the rear portion of a barrel – became the norm. It meant a significant reduction in reloading time and gave rise to the popularity of driven game shooting, where beaters are employed to walk through woods and over moors or fields (dependent on the quarry and the season) and drive game over a line of standing guns spaced about 50 metres apart. In driven shooting, the head count of shot game is much higher than in walked-up shooting, requiring pickers-up with dogs to make sure all shot or wounded game is collected. The advent of driven game shooting was the cue for the Labradors to come into their own. Only dogs could keep up with the guns. But it didn’t happen quickly. Wilson Stephens described the evolution in The Field:‘Although those to whom it had become second nature no doubt learned to reload them safely in half the time that we would take, the pouring in of powder, the ramming of the wad, the charging with shot and further ramming, all processes duplicated for each barrel, made driven game as we know it pointless. All shooting was over dogs, and those which quested or hunted up the game also retrieved it, as spaniels still do … With so little game on the ground at any time, and with no need to hurry because of the time taken to reload after every second shot, specialist retrievers were unnecessary … When the shooting scene changed with the development of breech loading, the Labrador was not only present in Britain, but was the only retriever available. Yet it was not widely adopted to meet the new situation. Instead, the flatcoated retriever became supreme. Perhaps the strictly functional, workworthy Labrador seemed plain beside the more elegant flatcoat. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and is not necessarily synonymous with usefulness. The flatcoat had, and still has, an unlosable handicap.’ Stephens continues to press their claims in comparing the retrieving processes of both dogs – the flatcoat’s tendency to cast widely, downwind of a target, and then work slowly towards it, dependent on air scent versus the Labrador’s ‘direct line to the mark, followed by a tight-patterned working-out of a limited area around a fall’. Stephens notes, ‘The extra distance covered by flatcoats not only takes longer but inevitably moves other game off the ground, to the detriment of the sport. When Labradors worked, more game remained …’ He triumphantly concludes: ‘Realisation of the average Labrador’s superiority was sudden, positive, and has proved permanent.’ So when did the Labrador become popular away from the field? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gundog was now known not just as the Labrador but as the Labrador Retriever, and it had become the gundog of choice for the British aristocracy. The Victorian love of both dogs and pastimes led to the incredible popularity of field trials and dog shows. The first conformation dog show – a show to assess how well individual dogs conform to specific breed standards – was held in the town hall of Newcastle upon Tyne in June 1859. The only breeds scheduled were pointers and setters. The first organised field trial –a competitive event at which hunting dogs such as retrievers, pointers and flushing dogs compete against one another in a series of tasks – took place at Southill, in Bedfordshire, in 1865. Both sports gained a large and fashionable following. In April 1873 the Kennel Club was founded to provide a set of rules and standards for the popular new pastimes. The very first sport recognised by the Kennel Club was the sport of Field Trials, which in this era particularly tested the skills of working gundogs and attracted large and appreciative audiences. In 1886, Charles Cruft, a general manager at a dog biscuit manufacturer, founded Crufts Dog Show. Billed as the ‘First Great Terrier Show’, it began with 57 classes and 600 entries. By 1891, the show was known as Crufts Greatest Dog Show. The venue was the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington, and it was the first at which all breeds were invited to compete, with approximately 2,000 dogs and almost 2,500 entries. As a young boy, I used to visit Crufts with my father, when it was still held in central London, at Earls Court, and it helped define my childhood. I loved going to Crufts – the noise, the smell, the dogs. My role in the show became tighter in 2006, though, when I was asked to present the BBC’s live coverage of the show. I presented Crufts for two years. I can’t say those years were as happy as my childhood recollections; the pressure of presenting a live prime-time TV show, and the interaction with a significantly haughty group of breeders who didn’t like my style of presenting, inevitably led to a bumpy ride. I co-presented the show with Inca, my black Lab, at my side. The show was dropped several years later, after the BBC ran a panorama exposé that revealed the slightly murky world of the Kennel Club and their breed requirements that often lead to long-term health complications for many breeds. In fact, Inca was a case in point. Her epilepsy was more than likely to have been caused by a limited gene pool. In short – incest. I digress. Back at the late turn of the last century, dog ownership was booming, and with it an appetite for specialised breeds that ordinary people could ‘discover’ as the dog that best suited them. Labradors had come to Britain as sea dogs. They were spotted and cultivated as wildfowling water dogs. As gundogs to the gentry, they acquired a fashionable social status attractive to the aspirational classes. Eager to please and eminently trainable, loyal and lovable, playful and energetic, the Labrador gradually became a great all-rounder, a symbol of social status, a valued working dog to some and a treasured family pet to millions. Once the development of breech loading revolutionised the shooting scene, the breed’s gundog expertise was its passport to the millions. I left Poole and headed to meet Lord Malmesbury’s son on their old estate. The Malmesbury Estate itself was broken up and sold several decades ago, with the great house turned into apartments and flats. Driving through the gates and along the drive, however, you still get a sense of the estate it once was. The River Stour meanders through the land, through fields that were once flooded from the heavy rain which had made the river burst its banks. The Stour had memories for me from my school days, just a short way upriver from where I was now. My first port of call was the small keeper’s cottage. Over tea and scones, the keeper explained to me how important Labradors still are for the shoots. We piled into a battered pickup and drove through the old estate to the remains of the kennels. They had long since fallen into disrepair, with just a couple of walls remaining, largely overgrown. Looking at what remained of them, it seemed incredible that the dogs that had once been kept in these kennels were more than likely to have been the progeny for the millions and millions of Labradors across the world. It was about the same time that the Earl of Malmesbury was beginning his breeding programme in his kennel on the south coast of England that the fifth Duke of Buccleuch (1806–1884) and his brother, Lord John Scott, imported dogs for use as gundogs on the Queensberry estates, in the Scottish borders, from a Newfoundland fishing fleet which sailed into the River Clyde. They had also realised what an extraordinary dog the Labrador was and so established a kennel in around 1835. One of the Duke’s dogs, Brandy, earned his name on his journey across the Atlantic. Having been sent overboard in a heavy sea to fetch the cap of one of the crew, the young dog spent two hours in the water before he could be picked up again, by which point he was so exhausted that the sailors had to revive him with brandy. The brothers loved their dogs so much that when they went on a yachting holiday to Naples in 1839, they took their favourite Labradors – Moss and Drake – with them: something that was unheard of back then. According to records,in 1871, the Earl of Malmesbury’s neighbour, Major Radclyffe – who had patrolled Poole Harbour with the Earl admiring the fishermen’s sea dogs – imported a dog direct from Newfoundland. He was called Turk and would go on to sire the line that included Ben of Hyde, the first yellow Lab to be registered. By the early 1880s the original Buccleuch strain had died out, just five or six decades on from the original purchases from the fishermen on the Clyde. This could well have signalled the end of the Scottish lineage of the Labrador Retriever, were it not for our friend the sixth Earl of Malmesbury who ‘gave them a pair, descended from our own imported dogs’. It is probably fair to say that a chance meeting between the third Earl of Malmesbury (at the age of 75) with the sixth Duke of Buccleuch (1831–1914) and the twelfth Duke of Home (1834–1918) saved the Labrador from extinction. The two Scots were visiting a sick aunt on the south coast of England and while there accepted an invitation to participate in a waterfowl shoot at Hurn. Precisely where I was heading now. The Hurn Estate is another old estate that was broken up long ago, but what remains is managed by the current Earl’s son, James Fitzharris. In an old pickup truck we drove through what was left of the estate that had once been the family seat to James’s ancestors. Hurn Court is now apartments, and there was an air of sadness as we drove along the road that had once been the drive to the grand house. It was hard to imagine what this place must have been like when it was still the thriving seat of the Malmesburys, in the family’s heyday, when aristocracy had money and power. ‘That’s all that remains of the kennels,’ pointed James from one of the misted windows of the pickup. There were some simple foundations and the skeletal remains of one of the walls. The remains had been largely consumed by the encroaching Dorset countryside. It struck me that these sad, unloved, anonymous ruins were symbolic of our amnesia as to the provenance of the world’s most popular breed. James explained that he still kept Labradors, but that his father, the current Earl of Malmesbury, ‘couldn’t stand them’. It was lucky that the current Earl wasn’t seated back in 1887 when the two Scottish visitors were impressed by Malmesbury’s eager-to-please, efficient water dogs and recognised they were the same Little Newfoundler dogs as their father’s. Malmesbury generously offered them some of his dogs to carry on the breeding programme north of the border, and the pair of dogs, Avon and Ned, that he entrusted them with are now considered to be the ancestors of all modern Labradors: the legendary progenitors. And so it was that the Earls of Malmesbury and the Dukes of Buccleuch were instrumental in developing and establishing the modern Labrador breed. In a letter written to the Duke, dated 1887, the Earl first used the name ‘Labrador’ in print. ‘We always call mine Labrador dogs and I have kept the breed as pure as I could from the first I had,’ he wrote. ‘The real breed may be known by their having a close coat which turns water off like oil, and, about all, a tail like an otter.’ Inca had the fattest tail you have ever seen; it was more like an otter’s tail – thick with coarse hair. It had never occurred to me that this was part of her heritage – the powerful motor and rudder to propel her through the water. As I said, Inca loved water. (#ulink_0c8bc895-89dd-5d33-ac51-286ae7315327) In 1999, I had been languishing in the offices of Tatler magazine in London and I was now looking for an escape. A way out. I wanted adventure. I was 24 and still living at home. I wanted an opportunity. At that time the BBC were looking for people to be marooned on a deserted island in the Outer Hebrides for a year, beginning in January 2000. The project, Castaway, would later become one of the first reality shows to be broadcast in Britain. I applied and was chosen as one of 36 people to be shipwrecked on the Isle of Taransay for a year as part of a social experiment to see if we could create a fully self-sufficient community. We reared our own livestock and grew our own crops. We built a slaughterhouse, a school and our living accommodation. Each of us castaways had been asked to choose a luxury item that we could take with us. One couple had chosen a bed, another asked for a piano. Someone even opted for a home-brewing kit. A dog. That was what I’d take. My own dog. A puppy. Until that moment in my life I had led a relatively selfish existence. The previous 24 years had largely been about me. I had never had to think about anyone else but myself; the family pets were still the responsibility of my parents and I had never had to do an early morning walk with a hangover, or worry about a late night because the dogs were hungry. This would be the moment that I made the sacrifice and took on a canine responsibility of my own. But what breed? I had grown up with Golden Retrievers; I liked Deer Hounds but they were too big; I liked Newfoundlands but they were too hairy; I liked Pugs but they had too many health problems. To be honest, I would have been happy with most breeds, but in reality there was only ever one breed of dog I ever really truly wanted: a Labrador. Why a Labrador? Well, that is a complicated one, and it will take more than a chapter to explain. Growing up above a veterinary clinic, I had more than my fair share of encounters with a wide variety of breeds. To be honest, growing up, I loved all dogs – irrelevant of breed, but I knew three Labradors in my childhood, two of which belonged to my late friend Alice Benkert. Alice lived in Esher, and the two dogs, Poppy and Oscar, would come with her parents to collect her from school. I would spend hours with them. I remember the time we came back to her home and the dogs had found several boxes of freezer bags that they had scattered like confetti around the kitchen. The other Labrador belonged to an English teacher at my school, called PJ. He had a beautiful black dog and a Land Rover – and I coveted both. Now I think about it, I wonder whether getting to know Labradors at the same time that I went to boarding school and was separated from my childhood Golden Retrievers was the seed of my obsession. I cried for a year when I left home. My homesickness was debilitating. It wasn’t just that I missed my home, but also the dogs, Liberty and Lexington. Lib and Lex, as we knew them, were my best friends and my confidants. They were what really made our house a home. They soothed and settled me. I decorated the walls around my bed at school with photographs of the dogs, but that only made things worse. I would sob into my pillow each night, wishing, longing for that warm, hairy body stretched out on my bed. When my parents finally understood how much I missed the dogs, they decided it would be a good idea if they came along with us when it was time to drop me off at school. But the fleeting appearance of Lib and Lex only made matters worse – tears would stream down my cheeks as I watched my parents drive away, a small tuft of blond fur visible through the back window. I’m getting homesick just thinking about it! Lib and Lex were the first constants I really knew in my life. Both my parents would come and go, depending on work commitments, but the dogs were always there – tail wagging at the door, tongue lickingly happy to see me. Throughout the term I would find their blond hairs stuck to my clothes. A reminder of my two friends waiting for me at home. Boarding school was the only time in my life when I was forcibly separated from dogs and it was then that I promised myself I would get my own dog at the first opportunity. Young naivety assured me this would be on the day that I left school, but then travel and girls got in the way and my plans got put on a back burner. Until now. This was the perfect opportunity. The problem was that neither the production company nor the BBC wanted me to take a dog. To be honest, I never really understood why. I think it might have had something to do with the landowner who was leasing the island. While there weren’t many ground-nesting birds on the island of Taransay, there was plenty of livestock. The makers of the show argued that there were already three dogs, all Collies, coming along, and that a fourth dog would tip the balance. Not only would it be a drain on our limited resources, but it would also affect the fragile human-to-dog ratio. I set about on a campaign to change their mind. I found as many cute pictures of Labrador puppies as I could and then got my father to draft a letter outlining the human benefits of having a puppy within the community. We argued that a puppy would be a cohesive addition, helping to bond strangers and bringing peace and harmony to the newly created community. Bringing 36 men, women and children together in the extreme circumstances of a windswept, uninhabited Scottish island was bound to create tensions but, we argued, the presence of a young puppy could help to diffuse any emerging conflict and arguments. Maybe that’s why they didn’t want the puppy … I promised that I would train the puppy to be a working dog so that she would be an asset to the community. I was sure she could be trained to work with the sheep. And as for a drain on resources, I argued that she could quite reasonably live off scraps. She would be a Labrador, after all. They eat anything, I reasoned. I’m not sure what clinched the deal for me, but the programme makers eventually relented and I set about finding my perfect puppy. A Labrador, of course. Dad offered to help. For more than a week, we toured the country looking at litter after litter. We drove as far north as the Scottish borders to look at puppies. Too thin, too fat – none was quite right. Eventually, detective work led us to a tiny kennel near Heathrow airport. There we saw a litter of black Labradors that stuck in my mind, in particular one of the puppies who was the last to be picked, probably because she was a rather scrawny-looking thing with a large swollen eye. ‘Wasp sting,’ the woman explained. I examined her carefully. ‘No thanks,’ I said, rather heartlessly, handing her back. As we pulled away from the yard, I caught a glimpse of her sad, dark eyes. Why was I turning my back on this lone pup? Suddenly I wasn’t sure, but as with love, I wanted to be certain. How would I know she was the one? For the next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about her. It had been more than a week and I was certain she’d be gone. ‘She’s still here,’ said the woman down the phone. I raced back. We pulled up to the house and were led into the living room, where the puppy was alone. She had been weaned from her mother, which meant separating the dogs. Immediately she ran up to me and licked my face. The swelling on her eye had subsided and, away from her greedy siblings, she was now much rounder, with a bulging pink belly. She gazed up at me with her hazel eyes as I ran my fingers through her thick black hair. I nuzzled my nose behind her ear and inhaled her scent. It was instant love. I had always been told that I’d find her, and now I really had found ‘the one’. I named her Inca. I held her close as we walked out into the crisp winter night, but as we approached the car I heard a commotion in the background. ‘Get back here!’ cried a voice. The puppy’s mother had broken free and came bounding over. She jumped up and licked Inca clean across the face, then lifted her ear. I am not one to over-anthropomorphise our animals, but I swear she was wishing her luck. She was whispering something into that little dog’s ear, and I’d like to think she was telling her to look after me. As quickly as she had appeared, Inca’s mother vanished back into the darkness. Her owner looked on in astonishment, a tear in her eye. And so began a friendship that would change things forever. Little did I realise then how much this little dog would form, shape and create my life. She would change it in ways I never thought possible. The story of Inca is, ultimately, the story of me. Inca and I became inseparable. I was still living in my childhood bedroom in my parents’ house, and I can vividly remember setting up her little crate at the foot of my bed, feeling both fear and excitement at the journey that lay ahead. My life of blissful selfishness was over and a new one of selflessness was beginning. I genuinely think that those two words separate dog owners from non-dog owners. I guess, on the face of it, it is a little strange that we invite this hairy animal into our homes. We share our lives with a creature that was once undomesticated and wild. I’ve always been fascinated as to why we keep dogs. Why we love dogs. Why we mourn our dogs when they go. Of course, it varies from culture to culture and from country to country. Some argue it is a sign of development; the more developed a country the higher the number of pet dogs. The sharp spike in the number of pet dogs in China, with its emerging middle-class population, seems to back that up. By the very late nineteenth century in Britain, the popularity of the Labrador was on the rise and it wasn’t long before the Royals got in on the act, in a connection with the breed that has endured right up to the present day. The first Labrador kennels were established at Sandringham by King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, in 1879 to house a hundred dogs, and the Sandringham kennels and the Labradors that are bred there have become firm favourites of the Royal Family as a whole. In fact, it may come as a surprise to many that the Queen is as fond of her Labradors as she is of her infamous Corgis. In many ways the Corgis are the public face of the Queen’s canine companions, but the Labrador is the private love of her life. I was once told a story that the Queen has several Land Rovers custom-made with windscreen wipers on the inside. Apparently these were specifically adapted for her Labradors, who have a tendency to steam cars up from the inside out. The Queen takes a very great interest in the Sandringham kennels. Since her accession to the throne in 1952, the breeding programme there has gone from strength to strength, culminating in the training of five Field Trial Champions. All the puppies born at Sandringham are named personally by the Queen and are registered at the Kennel Club with the prefix Sandringham. At any one time, the kennels are home to about 20 dogs of all ages, including Labradors and Cocker Spaniels – ranging from the older and more experienced gundogs used by members of the Royal Family during the shooting season to the younger dogs under training as gundogs. In addition to providing dogs for the Royal Family, the kennels also supply the Estate gamekeepers with working Labradors and Spaniels. In a bout of hopeful optimism I sent a note to Her Majesty’s equerry asking if it would be possible to visit the Queen’s Labrador kennels at Sandringham. I was politely informed that the kennels are extremely private and that a visit would be impossible. While the Corgis are frequently photographed at the Queen’s side, her Labradors are rarely seen and it appeared that was the way she wanted it to remain. Records of the breed were kept by the Buccleuch estate in Scotland at around the same time that Edward VII was beginning his Labrador breeding programme, and it is these that note the arrival of two chocolate puppies or ‘liver pups’ in 1890. Could these have been the progenitors for the future of chocolate Labradors? The royal household would undoubtedly have given the liver pups the ultimate royal seal of approval. But while the Labrador was finally establishing itself on our shores, across the Atlantic a problem was looming that threatened the strength and integrity of the breed in Britain. In 1885 the Newfoundland government, worried about the number of dogs in the region, passed the Sheep Protection Act which gave local government the right to impose a dog licensing tax as well as the right to prohibit dogs completely. Inevitably, dog importations were affected. Colonel Peter Hawker wrote in the Instructions to Young Sportsmen that, ‘Poole was, till of late years, known to be the best place to buy Newfoundland dogs; either just imported or broken in; until they became more scarce, owing (the sailors observe) to the strictness of those tax gatherers.’ The 1885 Act was meant to encourage sheep raising by reducing the number of potential predators, but the result was to kill the Labrador export trade. The Quarantine Act of 1895 created another barrier to the importing of dogs. The Act prohibited dogs from entering Great Britain without a licence and without first undergoing a strict six-month quarantine to prevent the introduction of rabies. The future of the Labrador hung in the balance. Between 1890 and 1930 the multiple taxes, restrictions and paperwork meant no new dogs were imported to Britain and the results were quickly felt. This was the moment when ‘breed mixing’ began. Some breeders began mixing Labradors with Setters and Pointers. ‘Bearing in mind the high qualities attributed to pure Labradors, it is somewhat strange that the breed should have been allowed to degenerate by the various crosses of Setter and Spaniel blood,’ wrote Hugh Dalziel in his 1897 publication, British Dogs, Volume III,referring to new problems such as a hard mouth and sulky temper. Within the tight circle of enthusiasts there was a move to preserve the purity of the breed. In 1903 the Labrador Retriever was recognised by the Kennel Club. In 1904, it was granted breed status and listed separately as a member of the Gundog Group. The breed standard was written, and it was almost identical to the one that holds sway today. During the first decade of the twentieth century, Labrador Retrievers rose to prominence in the show ring and in field trials, and were also much favoured gundogs. By 1913, they were so well entrenched in the world of dog ownership that their qualities as working dogs were causing an emotive debate. The criticism that was voiced that they could be a ‘bit hard in the mouth’ was queried by Frank Townend Barton in his authoritative volume, Gun Dogs. The ideal retriever is a ‘soft-mouthed’ dog, a fetcher which picks up game softly but firmly to bring back birds that are fit for the table. Dogs that unnecessarily drop, crunch on, chew or even eat the bird before delivery to the handler are considered ‘hard-mouthed’. ‘If the Labrador possesses the qualities assigned to it by James Craw (at one time gamekeeper at Hirsel and Netherby), viz sagacity, stamina, perseverance, quickness and nose, then no other variety can come up to the Labradors,’ he wrote. ‘The only fault that he had to find with some of them – a fault common to all other varieties of retriever – was that they were a bit hard in the mouth. Gamekeepers and shooting men required a dog that could retrieve birds and game without piercing the skin with their teeth. I have always thought Labradors have one of the softest of bites; indeed, I have even seen Labradors carry fresh, unboiled eggs in their mouths while running. Controversy, however, has frequently arisen concerning this matter, but supporters often point out that this trait spans the retriever group as a whole. Sometimes hunger just takes over. Townend Barton reasoned ‘the Labrador was one of the best dogs in existence for a gamekeeper, most of which like their dogs to look ‘well and fit’ at the opening of the shooting season, without needing to devote much attention to them during the busy time, which necessarily precedes it on estates where hand-rearing of pheasants is carried on to any extent.’ Barton gives his ‘strong recommendation of the breed to shooting men’ on the eve of the First World War. The sixth Earl of Malmesbury recalls the estate keeper, Mr Beech, being called up into the Royal Artillery and ‘… the [Labrador] bitch he left behind pined so much that she sadly died. As a child I just remember her. She was the last of the direct descendants of the dogs imported in 1823.’ In the middle of the war, in 1916, the Labrador Retriever Club was founded by Lord Knutsford (then the Honourable Arthur Holland-Hibbert) and Lady Howe (then Mrs Quintin Dick), with a Mr T. W. Twyford of Staffordshire, to champion the breed, and Labs suddenly became the fashion. In 1916 the club authored the first Labrador Retriever standard. In the 1920s and 30s, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth promoted Labradors at shows through their kennel, and the King entered dogs in Crufts. In 1938, King George became Patron of the Labrador Retriever Club. In 1952, on the death of George VI, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother continued as patron. Today, the Her Majesty the Queen is Patron of the Club and the Duke of Wellington is President. The Hon Henry Holland-Hibbert, great grandson of the 3rd Viscount Knutsford, still has the stud book that traces the foundation of the famous Munden line of Labradors and, according to records, the original kennel is still intact on the Munden Estate. It’s strange how trails can lead you in circles. I had already traversed the Atlantic Ocean in an effort to understand more about the breed I love so much, and now I found myself navigating the North Circular around west London towards Munden House, a 30-room eighteenth-century mansion located in the suburbs of London, just off the M1. The seat of the Viscount Knutsfords since 1874, the estate is an oasis of rural calm in the embrace of one of the most urbanised parts of the United Kingdom. There is no great gatehouse, pomp or ceremony; a tiny gate leads the way through barley fields to the manor house. Henry Holland-Hibbert moved into Munden in 1992, where his father, Michael Knutsford, is the current 6th Viscount Knutsford. Henry’s wife, Kate Holland-Hibbert, met me at the top of the drive. She was wearing an earpiece because the house has become popular as a film, television and fashion shoot location and an army of film coordinators had temporarily taken over the grounds. Kate was keeping an ear on proceedings. She invited me into her warm kitchen where a black Labrador was stretched out next to the Aga. On the walls were paintings and portraits of various breeds of dog. Both Henry and his father, Michael, then welcomed me warmly, as did the Labrador. Under strict Knutsford folklore, every Labrador belonging to the family must be given a name beginning with S. For the current Labs, the family had voted on Smudge and Scooby Doo. There on the kitchen table was the stud book that I had come to see. Saucy, Sarah, Scottie, Sahib, Sober, Sceptre, Sermon, Sandfly … the list went on into the hundreds. It was an impressive list of ‘S’ names. No one remembers why the tradition began, but the family dutifully continues it into the present day. What was more telling, though, was the straightforward approach that had been taken towards the estate’s dogs in previous decades. Next to each entry was a comment box, and several struck me in particular: ‘Picked up poison and died’ read one entry; ‘Distemper’ read many more; ‘Died, Swallowed a bone’. Others were a little more brutal. ‘Well shot’ and ‘dead and not mourned for’ read several entries – clearly a reference to dogs that were not popular. The stud book records tell us that the first Lord Knutsford acquired a Labrador in 1884: Sybil, a bitch closely bred back to Netherby Boatswain. The book records a description of her being a ‘wonderful good bitch, nose, pace, endurance and marking’. She was mated to a dog from Lord Malmesbury’s kennel and thus the Munden line began. Munden Sixty, the result of a mating between Munden Sarah (a Sybil granddaughter) and the Duke of Buccleuch’s Nith (a Malmesbury Tramp grandson), was born in 1897 and by all accounts was a much-loved dog. When he died ten years later, it was Lord Knutsford himself who wrote those words in the stud book that had affected me so much: ‘To the everlasting grief of all who knew him, this splendid dog died in August 1907’. Sixty was the sire of a bitch who was to become perhaps the most famous of all the early Labradors, for it was she, Munden Single, whose impact on the field trial world would change the pattern of working gundogs for all time. Munden Single was born in 1899 to Munden Scottie, who had been bought from the Duke of Buccleuch’s kennel. Her breeding was therefore almost pure Buccleuch and Malmesbury. Single was destined for a success in field trials and shows that all others have sought to follow. Single had already won prizes in the show ring, including a CC at the KC Show, when, in 1904, she was entered in the IGL field trial at Sherbourne. As the first Labrador ever to appear at a field trial, she attracted much interest. The newspapers of the day recorded: Only those who were at the Meeting know how very nearly the Stake was carried off by the finest Labrador bitch ever seen on or off the bench. We refer to the Hon Mr Holland-Hibbert’s blue blooded Munden Single – up to a certain point nothing could have stopped her winning the highest honours at the trial. One of the best shots in England, a man who has handled retrievers all his life, declared to us that Single was the best game-finder and the steadiest retriever he had ever seen. Sadly, she didn’t win because she mouthed a bird when bringing it to hand. Lord Knutsford wrote in his record book, ‘she was too gross and I was to blame for not getting her finer. She was out of breath after a strong runner and resented its struggles’. Single had, however, done enough to ensure that Labradors were now well and truly on the map. She won a CoM (Certificate of Merit) at that trial, then went on to win others and continued to win well on the bench. When she died in 1909, her body was preserved and put on display, and it is believed still to be held in a museum vault. Lord Knutsford wrote: ‘It is a bad representation’. In the early days of owning Labradors, Lord Knutsford regularly showed his dogs and enjoyed some considerable success with them. In 1904 he won the first bitch CC ever awarded with Munden Single, and Munden Sentry won the only dog CC, awarded in 1905. In 1909 Munden Sooty won two CCs at Crufts and Darlington. In fact, during the first six years of ownership, when a total of 29 CCs was available, dogs owned by Lord Knutsford or bred from Munden dogs won 15 CCs. In 1923 Munden Scarcity was mated to Dual Ch Banchory Bolo. There were six surviving puppies; Lord Knutsford kept two: Solo, a dog, and Singer, a bitch. Another bitch was given to His Majesty the King and a dog went to Lady Howe. Lady Howe’s puppy turned out to be Ch Banchory Danilo, a dog described by Lord Knutsford as ‘winning more championships than any dog ever known – or nearly so’. Munden Solo also did well at shows; at Crufts in 1927 he was entered in ten classes, won six, was second in two and third in another. The judge wrote of him, ‘if there had been a little more of him in size, I think he would have been very near perfection.’ Michael explained to me that, alongside his great grandfather, it had been Mrs Quintin Dick, as she then was, who had been instrumental in the formation of the Labrador Retriever Club in 1916, becoming the first Secretary and Treasurer – offices she held until her death in 1961. She also became the Chairman in 1935 when Lord Knutsford died. She was in every way the driving force of the club and the champion of the breed in its formative years. Lady Howe owned some of the most influential Labradors of all time: dual champions Banchory Bolo, Banchory Painter, Banchory Sunspeck and Bramshaw Bob; champions Ilderton Ben, Banchory Trueman, Banchory Danilo, Bolo’s Trust, Ingleston Ben, Orchardton Donald and field trial champion Balmuto Jock, to name but a few. Lady Howe purchased many of the dogs she made famous, her keen eye quickly spotting the potential of any young dog. Her undoubted favourite was Bolo, though, a dog that did so much for the breed. Born in 1915, sired by Scandal of Glyn (a FT Ch Peter of Faskally son), Bolo was an eighth generation from Lord Malmesbury’s Tramp (1878), through Munden Sixty and Sentry. His start in life was not a happy one and until Lady Howe took him on at the age of three, he showed no sign of the greatness that was within him. Lady Howe worked tirelessly for the club, and by her example and encouragement the Labrador attained a position as the most popular retriever – which it still holds to this day. In the early days dogs were expected to be dual purpose and most of Lady Howe’s dogs achieved success both in the field and on the bench. Served well by her trainer/handler Tom Gaunt, Lady Howe ensured that her dogs performed their task successfully at the highest levels. It is very significant that four of the ten dual champions in the breed were owned by Lady Howe. Together, Lady Howe and Lord Knutsford were great protectors of the breed. He frequently went into print to defend the Labrador. There were constant disputes as to the breed’s origins and Lord Knutsford was tireless in his endeavours to get to the true beginnings. There are notes of conversations with Major Radclyffe and Mr Stuart-Menzies, and letters to and from other early breeders. His kennel records describe dogs variously as being Newfoundland-type, Labrador-type, long-and rough-coated, smooth-coated, and frequently they had white markings. Like so many other kennels, Munden had to endure a number of serious distemper outbreaks. Many promising puppies, and indeed some good adults, were lost. Lord Knutsford worked very hard to find a solution to the scourge. Having had little success in his approaches to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Royal Veterinary College, he finally persuaded the editor of The Field to set up an investigation into the disease. Funds were raised, the research was successful and a vaccine was eventually produced in 1929. The Daily Telegraph in that year reported that two vaccines were now available, albeit in very small supplies. The report went on: ‘dog owners have every reason to be grateful to Mr Holland-Hibbert for the idea and to the great sporting newspaper for the manner in which it has been made possible.’ Michael is a charming man, oozing passion for Labradors. He has personally supplied many dogs to Her Majesty, and the Queen has often lamented to him how much she wished she could spend more time with her beloved Labradors. Indeed, Michael told me the tale of one such of her dogs. The Queen had a particular soft spot for one Lab and decided to bring it to Windsor Castle so she could spend more time with it. She fed it and walked it herself, but the poor dog pined for its mates back at Sandringham and so she eventually sent it back for the sake of the dog. Even the Queen thinks of her dogs first. It’s another anecdote of the powerful emotional command that Labradors have over us all. Smudge nuzzled my knee in an effort to gain my attention. Labradors do this; they try to lift your hand in an effort to encourage you to stroke them. Smudge had a litter of eight puppies. Michael recounted how horrified his wife had been to discover that only four were black. Of the two yellows, she exclaimed, ‘what a shame’, and of the two chocolates she lamented, ‘how disappointing’. Colour is still an emotive subject amongst the purists. It seems that, despite the Queen’s approval, many still agree with the old fashion adage, ‘any colour as long as it’s black’. ‘Would you like to see the kennel?’ asked Kate, as she led me outside. Nat Parker, the actor, sidled past me, as a director in a clichéd leather jacket and aviator sunglasses barked orders to the hundreds of foot soldiers. They were in the midst of filming Outcast. Next to the house was an anonymous empty kennel. ‘There it is,’ smiled Henry. ‘It’s not much to look at,’ he explained. ‘We don’t use it any more.’ Like the Hurn Kennels, it was a forgotten, neglected part of the Labrador’s history. Before I left, Michael told me a little about his great-grandfather. ‘The greatest anecdote about my great-grandfather, really, is from when he was speaking in his capacity as Chairman of the Labrador Retriever Club at the end of a field trial at Idsworth in 1935. He spoke, sat down with a drink in hand, collapsed and died. They carried him out in a box but everyone agreed it was the happiest way for him to go.’ Before leaving, I asked Henry about the provenance of their current Munden Labradors. He told me the story of a chance encounter. ‘When we got our Lab, who’s now 12 years old, my wife went to a breeder whose dogs she’d admired out walking. Knowing the family history, we explained that we were particularly keen to find a puppy that came from the Munden line. “That’s easy,” the breeder laughed. “Almost all Labradors are descended from the Munden line.” We thought we’d be unearthing something really special, but it turns out the Munden dogs are not dissimilar to Adam and Eve for humans!’ The breeder’s name was Sussie Wiles, someone I would later meet myself. Across the Atlantic at the end of the nineteenth century, things were picking up for the Labrador, too, although it wasn’t until the late 1920s that the American Kennel Club recognised the Labrador Retriever as a separate breed. The first registration of Labradors by the AKC was in 1917, and in the early 1920s an influx of British dogs had begun to form the backbone of the breed in the United States. Distinguished Long Island families began to compete them in dog shows and retrieving trials, but they were an elite presence. A 1928 American Kennel Gazette article, entitled ‘Meet the Labrador Retriever’, ushered in a wider recognition of its traits as both game finders and water dogs. Up until those words were written in the United States, the American Kennel Club had only registered 23 Labradors in the country. By the 1930s the ‘St John’s dog’ was rare in Newfoundland, and the 6th Duke of Buccleuch was only finally able to import a few more dogs between 1933 and 1934 to continue the line. The advent of the Second World War in 1939, with six tough years of food shortages and rationing, took its toll on breeding kennels. In many cases, dogs had to be fed on meat that was unfit for human consumption. Soon after the war, an epidemic of hardpad distemper killed significant numbers of dogs; a high proportion of the survivorswere left with crippling chorea, a nasty disease of the nervous system also known as St Vitus’s Dance. Nevertheless, a core number of top-quality Labradors remained. Over the next four decades, the number increased by 300 per cent. After the war, there was a marked increase in the popularity of yellow Labs, and in 1960, the first chocolate champion was hailed. The temperament of Labs and their abilities were perfect for all sorts of roles as working dogs; so much so that by 1952, the dog formerly prized solely as a sea dog, then wildfowling retriever, then gundog, became the popular all-round dog of today and the ultimate family pet. ‘The Labrador Retriever is without question the most popular retriever breed today, both for work and show,’ wrote P. R. A. Moxon in Gundogs: Training & Field Trials. ‘A comparatively “new” breed, Labradors have won the esteem of shooting men by their outstanding ability to be trained, find game and become companions and guards. The Labrador, as a breed, can be said to be both fast and stylish in action, unequalled in water and with “trainability” far above that of other breeds, and a devotion to master or mistress that makes them ideal companions. The smooth, short coat has many advantages readily appreciated by the housewife and the car owner. Dogs from working strains almost train themselves to the gun.’ As Wilson Stephens concluded in his definitive paper on the lost years of the Labrador, ‘Their versatility stems from a stolidity of temperament which makes them neither exciting nor excitable. It combines with an inherited eagerness to do what is expected of them. Their family tradition of jumping into a rough and icy sea whenever ordered to do so has now been transferred to many other functions outside sport.’ The wide-ranging usefulness of the Labrador sees them valued as guide dogs for the blind, by Customs officers for drug detection, by the police and the military for mine and explosive location, by rescue services, security guards and counterfeit detection experts as well as in a new field of medical detection. They carry out their duties with a sense of decorum. ‘Labradors set a tone for the occasions they grace. Their presence means that serious business is going on. The hazardous, often grim, North Atlantic scene seems a strange origin for these omnipresent participants in typically British occasions,’ wrote Stephens. I love that sense of decorum that is prevalent in Labs. It isn’t a nose-in-the-air kind of arrogance that some breeds exude, it is more humble. They hold up their heads with pride, assured of their loyalty and ability. Perhaps this is the reason why the Labrador Retriever has been declared the most popular breed in the United States for nearly 24 consecutive years. More than 60 years on, Labradors hold universal appeal which makes them the most popular breed of dog by registered ownership not just in the United States, but also in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Israel. (#ulink_a95741b9-07ac-539f-91f0-0cb42ad8053a) Inca, Inca-pinka, Incala pinkala, Pink, Pinky, Stink, Stinkalot, Incapotamus, Stincapotamus, Inca bazinka, Ink, Inky. Like most dogs, Inca had many names. I had thought about calling her Tatty when I first got her, but I eventually plumped for Inca, in part because I had known one other dog called Inca, a large black mongrel I had met while studying in Costa Rica. She had belonged to an English family that owned a macadamia nut farm in the rainforest. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». 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