Make mine a mon­grel

They might be the un­der­dogs of the ca­nine world, but true Heinz 57s–whether born by ac­ci­dent or de­sign–will al­ways hold a spe­cial place in our hearts, says Katy Bir­chall

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Jilly Cooper, Jeremy Irons and count­less oth­ers have fallen for the scruffy charms of Heinz 57s. Katy Bir­chall finds out why

I love that mon­grels have got through the world on their own tough­ness

Look, a fox!’ It takes a few mo­ments to reg­is­ter that the lit­tle girl, who has made the ex­cla­ma­tion in south Lon­don’s Dul­wich Park, is re­fer­ring to the bright-eyed, pointy-eared crea­ture sit­ting at my feet. Her fa­ther hastily cor­rects her. ‘No, that’s not a fox, it’s a…,’ he fal­ters, ‘some kind of dog?’

It’s as good an ex­pla­na­tion as any. Bono is a mon­grel, a stray who was found wan­der­ing the streets of Ro­ma­nia. ‘Per­haps there’s corgi in him,’ a res­cue-home worker sur­mised when I picked him up. ‘Good­ness knows what else.’

The mon­grel is the un­der­dog of the ca­nine world. From the be­gin­ning, it’s been left to fight its cor­ner with­out pur­pose or so­cial sta­tus to suit mankind—we’re not talk­ing de­signer cross­breeds here, but proper Heinz 57s, the sur­vival-of-the-fittest vic­tors. With no breed stan­dard or fam­i­lytree cer­tifi­cates, the mon­grel is im­pos­si­ble to cat­e­gorise and dif­fi­cult to re­search. How­ever, the British have al­ways loved an un­der­dog and, ear­lier this year, the mon­grel came a sur­prise run­ner-up to the in­evitable labrador as Bri­tain’s Favourite Dog in a poll con­ducted by ITV.

These scruffy scamps have a firm place in the na­tion’s hearts, evok­ing un­par­al­leled af­fec­tion from their cham­pi­ons.

‘They’re beau­ti­ful in their own way. I love that they’ve got through the world on their own tough­ness,’ en­thuses au­thor Jilly Cooper. After grow­ing up in a fam­ily fond of mon­grels—‘my aunt once sur­rep­ti­tiously added the name of her mon­grel to the bot­tom of my grand­mother’s prayer list. The Mother’s Union was thus en­cour­aged to pray for Raggety Bones’—mrs Cooper ac­quired her first mon­grel, Fort­num, in the 1970s and he fa­thered two pup­pies, Ma­bel and Bar­bara.

Mon­grels are ter­ri­bly jaunty. If you have one, you have a com­pletely unique dog

‘Fort­num was the most won­der­ful dog,’ she re­calls. ‘He was bouncy, loyal and in­cred­i­bly lov­ing. They all brought such cheer to the house­hold. I was de­ter­mined to write a book on mon­grels be­cause they, too, de­serve a voice.’ She pub­lished Mon­grel

Magic in 1981 on dis­cov­er­ing that there were no books ex­clu­sively de­voted to them.

Post­ing an ad­ver­tise­ment in The Times and The Daily Tele­graph, she asked that mon­grel own­ers send in their dogs’ sto­ries and pho­to­graphs, adding: ‘It is time mon­grels got a fair deal.’ The re­sponse was over­whelm­ing—she re­ceived more than 1,000 replies from pas­sion­ate own­ers telling their mov­ing, hi­lar­i­ous and some­times heart­break­ing sto­ries. ‘Mon­grels are ter­ri­bly jaunty dogs with such char­ac­ter,’ she points out. ‘If you have one, you have a com­pletely unique dog.’

British ac­tor Jeremy Irons is rarely seen with­out his dog, Smudge, a res­cue from Bat­tersea Dogs Home. ‘She is, of course, a cross­breed as all my dogs are,’ he says proudly. ‘Their breed­ing, I think, makes mon­grels stronger than pedi­gree dogs. Smudge was a divine puppy and has de­vel­oped into the most ex­tra­or­di­nary com­pan­ion, who trav­els with me ev­ery­where and copes with my dis­parate life­style.’

When Mr Irons says ev­ery­where, he does mean ev­ery­where: ‘She rides with me on

Stud­ies con­clude that cross­breeds show bet­ter prob­lem-solv­ing abil­i­ties than pedi­grees, spark­ing much de­bate

my mo­tor­cy­cle, on my trap, in my boats and sits back­stage in the the­atre and on film sets. She’s been to Broad­way shows with me, flown on pri­vate jets and been to the White House. Only once has she em­bar­rassed me—we walked into the Face­book of­fices in New York and she threw up all over the foyer floor, hav­ing eaten some­thing she shouldn’t have the day be­fore. Face­book dealt with it quite well and I was pleased that real life was im­posed on the rather un­worldly en­vi­ron­ment in which she found her­self.’

Christo­pher Holdoway, the proud owner of mon­grel Fal­low, agrees that these dogs have a one-of-a-kind charm. ‘There is no other dog like ours, vis­ually as well as ev­ery­thing else,’ he says. ‘We get a lot of at­ten­tion on walks as peo­ple are al­ways keen to know what she is. A lot of the time she gets more at­ten­tion than the pure-bred dogs around her, which is some­what sat­is­fy­ing.’

A res­cue dog found grossly un­der­weight with shot and burn marks on her body, Fal­low now lives hap­pily with Mr Holdoway and his fam­ily in Sur­rey. ‘The most prom­i­nent breed is grey­hound or whip­pet, but we’re un­sure of the rest of the cock­tail. She’s got a won­der­ful na­ture. She loves to be with peo­ple, which is re­mark­able given her back­ground,’ he ex­plains.

They may be a lit­tle rough around the edges, but when it comes to mon­grels, it’s all about per­son­al­ity. ‘At­ti­tude,’ states his­to­rian Adam Zamoyski of his lit­tle dog, Doris (My favourite paint­ing, Oc­to­ber 24, 2018). ‘She has it in spades.’ It was the first thing he no­ticed about her on vis­it­ing the res­cue home. ‘Although she was ema­ci­ated and had lit­tle fur, she’d perched her­self above the rest of the pup­pies on the roof of a ken­nel and, pay­ing no at­ten­tion to us, looked down at the rest with ut­ter con­tempt. When we drove into our farm­yard, she leapt out of the Land Rover and im­me­di­ately cased the joint.’

Doris is brave—‘a ter­rific rat­ter’—and de­ter­mined. ‘The day after she ar­rived, we went out for a hack and she in­sisted on ac­com­pa­ny­ing us,’ he re­calls. ‘It was about 10 miles across dif­fi­cult ter­rain and plenty of scrub, at the end of which we did a gal­lop of about a mile and a half. As we fin­ished, we looked back and saw a tiny dot about a mile away fly­ing along as fast as her lit­tle legs could carry her.’

He con­cludes that Doris ‘adores us, but is every­body’s and no­body’s (with a strong sense of hi­er­ar­chy) and a tow­er­ing per­son­al­ity’.

Mon­grels are of­ten noted for their in­tel­li­gence—stud­ies have con­cluded that cross­breeds show bet­ter prob­lem-solv­ing abil­i­ties than pedi­grees, spark­ing much de­bate —and they can be ex­cep­tion­ally coura­geous, per­haps in part down to the har­di­ness re­quired to sur­vive un­sta­ble ori­gins.

Sev­eral of the dogs that were awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal dur­ing the Sec­ond World War were mon­grels, in­clud­ing Bob, the plucky dog who ac­com­pa­nied the 6th Royal West Kent Reg­i­ment to North Africa and saved his pa­trol from a night am­bush, and Rip, a stray trained to lo­cate vic­tims trapped un­der rub­ble.

Mon­grels have proven time and again to be as train­able and ea­ger to please as their pedi­gree peers. Ser­vice Dogs UK, a char­ity that pro­vides Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der (PTSD) as­sis­tance dogs to mem­bers of the Armed Forces, works with the Dogs Trust to spot po­ten­tial among their res­i­dents. ‘Whether they’re pedi­grees, cross­breeds or to­tal mutts, res­cue dogs can be­come ex­cel­lent as­sis­tance dogs,’ says Ser­vice Dogs UK co-founder Ju­dith Broug. ‘What we’re look­ing for is char­ac­ter—lov­ing dogs, who thrive on learn­ing, can prob­lem­solve and en­joy a work­ing life. They come in all shapes and sizes.’

Cassie is one such dog, a res­cue mon­grel who spent nine months train­ing along­side sol­dier Shaun Faulkner be­fore grad­u­at­ing as his as­sis­tance dog. Di­ag­nosed with PTSD after four tours of Iraq and Afghanistan,

❍ Fa­mous fans in­clude Sir Ran­ulph Fi­ennes, whose mon­grel, Bothie (left, with Sir Ran­ulph and his wife, Vir­ginia, in 1982), ac­com­pa­nied him on the po­lar Trans­globe Ex­pe­di­tion; TV pre­sen­ter Kate Hum­ble, who has two; and Gra­ham Nor­ton, who is of­ten pic­tured with his ter­rier-cross, Madge

❍ The Ken­nel Club in­tro­duced Scruffts, the cross­breed com­pe­ti­tion, in 2000. There are four cat­e­gories: Most Hand­some Cross­breed Dog, Pret­ti­est Cross­breed Bitch, Child’s Best Friend and Golden Oldie

❍ In 2008, a study by Aberdeen Univer­sity con­cluded that cross­breed dogs have bet­ter spa­tial aware­ness and prob­lem-solv­ing abil­i­ties than pedi­grees

❍ Dolores, a Bat­tersea mon­grel, bagged a role in the 1957 film Across the Bridge. She re­ceived the fol­low­ing favourable re­view in the News Chron­i­cle: ‘St Se­bas­tian never gazed sky­ward with so mon­u­men­tal a look of mar­tyr­dom as Dolores in her fi­nal an­guish. Land­seer never found a sit­ter whose nose was more moist with de­vo­tion’

❍ Mon­grels get a men­tion in Of English Dogs by Dr Jo­hannes Caius, pub­lished in Latin in 1570. It’s not a par­tic­u­larly gen­er­ous de­scrip­tion of our scruffy friends, but it does note that mon­grels can be ‘taught and ex­er­cised to dance in mea­sure at the mu­si­cal sound of an in­stru­ment’

Jilly Cooper with her as­sorted ca­nines of mixed an­ces­try in the 1980s. She took a break from sen­sa­tional fic­tion to pen Mon­grel Magic

Above: In­sep­a­ra­ble com­pan­ions: Jeremy Irons goes nowhere with­out his res­cue dog Smudge. Right: Three ruff-ke­teers, linked only by bags of char­ac­ter and zest for life

Sadly, many mon­grels, such as whip­pet-mix Fal­low, have a tough start to life. Now, Fal­low has set­tled into the Holdoway home and adores peo­ple of all sizes, in­clud­ing lit­tle Bry­ony

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.