Life Working In Kennels Forty Years Ago
By Mrs. Barbara Walker-Smith

I first met up with Pem Corgis in 1960 when my friend Annette Harris (nee Clarke) worked for the Stormerbanks in Wokingham. We had been friends since we met while working as veterinary nurses in a large practice in Reading. I would live in with Annette when the Hewan's were away. There wasn't the motorway system then and some of the longer distances required an overnight stop. I later went on to work in another breed kennel, but when the offer came to work with the Weys, I couldn't resist. It was more convenient for getting home, nearly twice the salary £4.10s (£4.50) as opposed to £2.10s (£2.50), two half days a week instead of one, and every other evening off. Far more freedom than working every day from seven o'clock in the morning until nine o'clock at night. I had a long weekend off in both jobs once a month.

Mrs. Nan Butler

Much of my knowledge of kennel management showing and judging was gained at the Wey Kennels. Mrs Butler had come from a background of showing ponies and the dogs were reared and conditioned like horses, well fed, well exercised, well groomed and well rested.

My day would start around seven o'clock when all the dogs would be let out and the house dogs would be given a short walk through the woods. Puppies, young dogs and any bitches who required it were fed. The main kennel usually housed twelve dogs, kennelled in pairs. Attached was a large grass run with logs for the dogs to jump on and off. Bitches in season, bitches in whelp, bitches with pups and young dogs had individual kennels with large grass runs. Any pup who was being run on was not transferred to the main kennel until they were six months old.

After cleaning out and a cup of coffee, the dogs were divided up into two walks; the adults went on a long walk, while the others just had a run through the woods. It was nothing to walk the dogs for two hours through fields and woods, over the steep hill between the lakes where Mungo (Sportsman of Wey) would always carefully survey the lane leading up to the kennels and if he saw a car he would leave us and go back just in case someone had arrived with a bitch for him. It was beautiful countryside to walk and I loved walking and watching the wildlife. In the autumn the dogs would pick blackberries off the bushes; those that liked nuts would eat chestnuts. Omo (Ch. Domabelle of Wey) was extremely clever at breaking open, the prickly outer shell to get at the nuts.

Ch. Domabelle of Wey

Sportsman of Wey

The dogs were exercised every day regardless of the weather - wasn't it a good job Mr. Butler had a laundry and dry cleaning business and all my towels were washed by the laundry. Anyone who can remember the 1963/4 winter will know what a terrible winter it was. The Wey Farm was snowed in for about three months; the dogs still went out but we were soon exhausted trying to get through the deep snow. On returning from exercise the dogs would be shut up to rest until they were fed in the afternoon about three o'clock. After our own lunch and a break we would prepare the dogs food.

The dogs' food was carefully calculated and every dog's food measured out for individual needs. Any kennel maid will remember the chore of cutting up pounds of raw meet on a cold winter's day. Feeding was very much 'Natural Feeding', fresh raw meat from the butchers, best cheek, breast of lamb, large shin bones for tooth care. On a Sunday they had offal which included brains, and the resultant soft bowels the next day. Puppies had best mince. Biscuit meal was Roberts Laughing Dog that arrived regularly via the train and carrier. The other thing the train was used for was visiting bitches. Could you imagine it now, your dogs would starve and you would be lucky to see your bitch again. Denes herbal tablets were added as extras, garlic and green leaf are two that I can remember. The dogs were let out again prior to feeding about three o'clock.

During the afternoon we would try and groom all the dogs, puppies included. By being placed regularly on a table they had no fears when being shown. Any that needed lead training or further show training would have time spent on them. We never went to ringcraft classes, in fact, I don't think they existed then. I did belong to the local training club where I worked my Border Collie and occasionally took a Corgi with me. The dogs would then be shut up until 9 o'clock when they were let out and puppies fed. That was the end of an ordinary day but we also had to work in whelpings, matings and shows.

Ch. Gayelord & Snowman of Wey

Ch. Georgette of Wey

I had the freedom of the weekends to attend shows if my weekend girls were there. I had Hazel Walker-Smith who was to become my sister-in-law in 1965, when I married her brother John. Hazel was later to return to the Weys as manageress, 1973-76. When Hazel left, she was followed by her cousin Elizabeth Knight who later trained and qualified as a Veterinary Nurse, wonderful reliable girls we never had any qualms about leaving them in charge all for 7/6 (37.5p) a weekend.

The dogs were prepared naturally, no trimming, no sprays and they were rarely given full baths, except after whelping or to get rid of a moulting coat. The whites were washed for every show and then the dogs were rough dried with a towel, no electric dryers were ever used. A little chalk was used when we arrived at a show to clean the feet. Remember we walked! No cages and trolleys like today. We did a lot of Open Shows, and all the Championship Shows. If we had a lot of dogs going I would accompany Mrs Butler. It often made a long day, up early to get the dogs exercised and the whites washed, no early removals. Crufts was an eight o'clock finish, but you could get quite a good meal in the restaurant at the Olympia for 10s (50p). I made lots of friends from other, kennels and, we looked, we listened and we learnt.

I would often take the young Corgis to Open Shows on my own. If it was combined with Obedience, I could get a lift with Mrs Trevelyan, Mrs. Butler's sister who always worked a Wey corgi. As I didn't drive, all my other shows were done by public transport. I never remember any young dog being unduly worried, and took their outings on buses and trains quite casually. As I pointed out before, except if Mrs. Butler was staying away in a hotel, cages were never used. Perhaps this is why we were never worried about socialisation.

Wey Corgis

One day Mrs. Butler received a telephone call asking her if she could supply a young corgi for an advertisement. I was deposited at Woking Station, took the train to London, found my way to Oxford Street and the advertising studios at the top of a very steep flight of stairs, surrounded by pictures of models with legs that you would die for. Yes, I was in the right place. My eight month old puppy had to stand on a blank sheet of yellow paper and was photographed from all angles. She stood like an Obedience Champion doing a stand stay. Everyone remarked how good she was. Her modelling duties over we retraced our steps up Oxford Street and home on the train and the bus and then we had a good mile walk up to the kennels, a long and exhausting day for dog and handler. Some months later, while browsing through a magazine, there was our advertisement, Rose with a large tin of Pedigree Chum superimposed in front of her. Rose became Ch. Rockrose of Wey who won well in this country and of course went on to do well in the States.

Advert with Rockrose

Rockrose of Wey

The Wey Kennels were often thought of as a large kennel, but generally only twelve adults were kept with maybe a couple of oldies kept as house pets. Mrs. Butler had very strong views on the type, temperament and showmanship of the dogs. Any that didn't meet these criteria were removed from the breeding programme. A lot of bitches were put out on breeding terms, and then spayed and given to their foster carer. Mrs Butler did not believe in over breeding from a bitch. The maximum number of litters taken was rarely more than three, her opinion being if the bitch had not bred anything decent why were you breeding from her again. Alternately, if the bitch had produced decent dogs you had no need to enlarge on those blood lines.

Mrs Nan Butler with Ch. Luther of Wey,
who was BIS at the Welsh Corgi League's Golden Jubilee Show in 1988.

A lot of the champions and young winning dogs were exported. There were never many pensioners; any brood bitches or stud dogs not to be included in any further breeding programmes were found good homes. There was never any shortage of homes. Champions Duskianna and Georgette spent their retirement years with my in-laws and loved their Yorkshire holidays running in the fields trying to keep up with my Bearded and Border Collies. Ch.Sea Mist went to live with Elizabeth and her family and I know Ch. Sealion spent his old age with a lady in Horsham.

I left the Wey kennels in early 1964. I remember it as a time of freedom, a lovely stress-free way of life. I especially remember the monthly luncheon parties when members of the Southern Section of the Welsh Corgi League met at each other's kennels and viewed the dogs and all the up and coming youngsters. What a wonderful way to learn!

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Text reproduced from Our Corgi World, Christmas 2001, with kind permission.

Mrs N. Butler died in December 1997 und her husband in May 2000. The kennel prefix Wey was protected by the Welsh Corgi League for 20 years.