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Historical Borzoi Article

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A Trip of 15,000 Miles for a Brace of Russian Wolfhounds

from The Rider and Driver - an Illustrated Weekly of Ourdoor Sport Feb 9, 1907 pg 21

We present to our readers in this issue some rare photographs and an instructive letter from Mr. Jos. B Thomas Jr., proprietor of the Valley Farm Kennels, Simsbury, Conn., who has just returned from an extensive trip to the far East, where he journeyed for the sole purpose of getting some of the true type of Borzoi and to procure information from the most important breeders of this rare breed......

Editor Rider and Driver and Outdoor Sport:

Dear Sir - I am pleased to reply to your request for information concerning my recent researches re the Borzoi. There is a standard by which we have tried (most of us) to breed but so widely have the standard and the dogs at our disposal differed, that to arrive at the ideal seemed an impossible task. The lack of dogs approaching this ideal has caused much ignorance and controversy, both in England and America, as to what type to breed. Much discouragement to the breed has been the main outcome of this lamentable state of affairs.

Determined to clear up certain facts, concerning which I have in print never seen anything but controversy, and determined to ascertain what type should be bred and if specimens approaching the ideal could be obtained, I sailed for England and Russia in early July.

Three weeks spent in vain effort to find something definite in type convinced me that England was little, if any, better off in Borzoi than were the States. The principal kennel is mainly notable for the size and coarse aspect of its dogs, which characteristic, coupled with the practically straight hind legs of nearly every specimen, makes them anything but a running dog. Coarse heads with prominent stops were here in evidence. Hardly following the standard this.

The minor kennels were notable mainly for the lack of type and weedy appearance in many of their representatives.

Early August saw me at St.Petersburg, and here I nearly gave up my search for the ideal, for on visiting the Imperial Kennels at Gatchina, near the capital, I saw only two out of eighty grown dogs that I should have liked to possess, but what was more discouraging than this was the fact that no distinct type was visible. Some were well coated, others to the contrary: some had fairly good heads, while others were absurdly poor. The reason for the lack of type in England and America was immediately patent, as more specimens have gone to these countries from the Imperial Kennels than from any other one kennel. Fortunately, in spite of further disappointments, I did not relinquish my quest until I had visited the kennel of Grand Duke Nicolai Nicolaivitch and that of Mr. and Mrs. Artem Boldareff.

Leaving Moscow late one evening, the next morning found me at Tula, a town some hundreds of verts south of the ancient capital, and three hours in a "troika" across the trail of the Steppes finally brought me to Perchina, the grand duchal hunting lodge. Here a veritable surprise and reward for all my trouble awaited me for, met by Monsieur Dmitry Waltzoff (Chief du Comptoir), a most amiable fancier and judge, I had the pleasure of being conducted through a kennel containing the finest collection of dogs of any one breed I have ever seen.

Marvelous is the only adjective that will qualify here. Imagine a hundred grown dogs all stamped with the hall-mark of the "ancient type," the type that we have all read about, but rarely, if ever, seen. Fine long clean heads of straight lines, great bone and muscle, depth of chest, thickness of loin and general appearance of strength, with a coat of extraordinary length; in fact, the theoretical standard we have all been so confused over reproduced in practical perfection.

Such dogs I also found possessed by the Boldareff's at Woronzova in the Province of Tambov, from Tula a fourteen-hour trip over the route taken by the Trans-Siberian express. The dogs at Perchina vary in color from white to dark tan (no black) while the Boldareff kennel is especially noted for their white dogs and for their magnificence of coat. One's first thought is why have English and American breeders not secured specimens of these dogs, and why has not more been heard of them? There are three potent reasons answering this query. Primarily, these wonderful kennels are very remote from the ordinary traveled route; secondarily, owing to the English dog quarantine laws, very few Borzoi have in recent years left Russia, and, thirdly years ago when exportations did take place, this type practically did not exist.

Nearly four score [???] years ago the "ancient type" did exist, then began a mania for "improvement" which provided nothing moor nor less than the general spoilation of the race, so that from that time up to the recent regeneration brought about by the Grand Duke and Mr. Boldareff Russian kennels in general contained dogs similar to those in the Imperial Kennels of today. The short coated white Polish, his cousin; the English Greyhound and the long-eared Crimean hound supplied the foreign blood. What the effect of this promiscuous crossing had on the ancient type is only too evident, prominent stops, poor coats, large ears, short and gaily carried tails were the most prominent legacies of the foreign invasion, not to mention a motley and ill-bred appearance in the packs. Nineteen years [1888] ago the Grand Duke Nicholai gathered the progenitors of his now wonderful kennel. Eight [1899] years ago he won his first gold medal at Moscow; the first, by the way, that had been awarded for twenty years [the first since 1879]. To briefly explain the method of regeneration, it is necessary only to state that it was brought about by a violent out-cross; for example, a strain containing Russian and English blood was crossed with another strain containing Russian and Crimean blood. Some of the progeny of such crosses reverted to the ancient type, and by the most careful selection of these for years in succession the above-mentioned result were brought about. In the last seven years the Grand Duke has won in the single class seven out of the eight gold medals ever offered at Moscow and three out of the five gold medals for wolf teams (two dogs and a bitch). The other two gold medals for wolf teams have been won by dogs of Mr. Boldareff's breeding.

I know very well that some skeptic will ask how it happens that so little has been seen or heard of these extraordinary dogs. May I ask the question, how many Borzoi authorities have ever visited Russia, and what is more to the point, how many have ever visited the kennels I mention, and in recent years? I have already said that ten years ago [1897] the type did not exist in large numbers; even to-day it is held practically in two kennels, and from these two kennels no good dogs are ever sold, except as a special favor or mark of courtesy. To say the least, I was very much flattered in being able to secure from the kennels of the Grand Duke such a dog as the white and brindle Bistri, by Almaz, winner of the gold medal in single and team classes, out of Ptachka, and with every grand sire and grand dam a silver medal winner. From the Boldareff kennel I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase the great silver medal white bitch Sorva, by Lioubezny, winner of the great silver medal, the prize for wolf coursing, and in a team the gold medal. In addition to this pair I brought out as a gift from that most keen of fanciers and genial of hosts, Mr Artem Boldareff, the bronze medal white bitch Atamanka, by Koptchick, thrice a silver medal winner and pronounced the best all-white dog in Russia. Atamanka is a litter sister to the gold medal team winner Karatai, the best coated and perhaps most typical dog in all Russia. It is interesting to note that the grand dam of these two bitches, the famous twice great silver medal winner Lihiodka, said to be the first profusely-coated bitch in the regeneration of the breed, was imported to England a few years ago by a man who was not "in the swim." Lihodka, being the only one of her type on the island was actually"thrown down" in the judging ring because she had too much coat. Poor Lihodka, she died the day she arrived in America, a few weeks ago, brought here by me as an object-lesson in breeding.

It is not only a great satisfaction to have secured such specimens, but it may be considered doubly so, when one can import them, knowing exactly what their breeding is and having seen a large numbers of their progenitors and kin. By this very lack of information re the characteristics of the progenitors of most Borzoi, American and English fanciers have been "up against" an almost insurmountable obstacle to good breeding. In this connection I might mention that I secured the pedigree of Ch. Imp. Marksman and the Duchess of Newcastle's Ch. Imp. Tzaritza, a fact which should interest a large percentage of English and American Borzoi fanciers.

The most common method of hunting is in connection with a guanchi (foxhound) pack.

As a rule, 20 Borzoi, i.e., 10 leashes, make a hunt. The leashes being held by the hunters, mounted on Khirgez ponies at allotted stations silently awaiting the game which is driven from the woods by the foxhounds. At sight, the leashes are slipped and a wild race for life and death takes place. In the case of wolves being caught and held by the dogs, the hunter throws himself from his mount and with a clever thrust from his long Caucasian dagger puts and end to further resistance.

The finest dogs from a show standpoint are not spared from this work, and in every instance I found these working dogs perfectly kind even with strangers, in spite of all foolishness and gibberish that has been written to the contrary.

Trusting that what I have been enabled to ascertain may throw light on many a mooted question, and may be the means of advancing the breed in England and America, and inviting anyone who may desire further information to do me the honor of looking over my collection of photos, I remain,

Very truly yours,
Joseph B Thomas, Jr.
Valley Farms Kennel, Simsbury, Conn.

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