Strutting your mutt

3

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Saturday afternoon and there is only one place to be – the Badley Behaved Dog Show and Fête on the Dunhurst pitches.  Zazu (usually benign, although sometimes dramatically not so, but always unthinking, black labrador) and I arrive a little late to find it all well under way.  There’s so much to do – much sniffing and greeting: gloating bulldogs, spry labradoodles, dopey Afghans (or it that a coat?) and even some mutts who look as if they have been specially coiffured up for the occasion.  Aha!  And there is little Toby, the most popular male mammal in the Petersfield area and one of the main reasons for visiting Bedales reception, where he presides. Another youngster wags in the distance – it’s Diggerty Cross.   And there is so much for dogs and their owners to do: Waggiest Tail, Cutest Puppy, Best Veteran, Best Pedigree Gundog, Dog Most like its Owner (steer clear of that one…) and Best Fancy Dress.  As for we two legged ones, the cream teas are beguiling, the Dalmatian Bouncy Castle inviting and as for the Waterfight Zone, well it’s soaking them up.

Zazu and I are having a nice, tranquil time: I am meeting people whom I generally know – or have met – she is meeting all sorts of new friends and is yet to have one of her cross / snarly moments.  I am not taking too many chances, having her on a (literally) very short leash.  Then, our quietish afternoon is suddenly changed by the request from the now hoarse chair of governors, Matthew Rice, that I take over the commentary from him. Whoops!  From being in gentle post-prandial, smallish talk mode to needing to sound canine-savvy amongst the doggy cognoscenti.  I haven’t even checked over breeds or warmed up the dog anecdotes. I’ve never listened to those legendary cricket commentators who can talk about nothing endlessly.  Never mind, just crack on.  It reminds me of when I was asked to  give a pep talk to a school pipes (ie bagpipers) and drums band one summer evening with about ten seconds’ notice.  I summoned up the “up and at ’em” and tried to avoid St Crispin Day echoes.

Off we go: and there is a soppy looking collie-ish creature, but what do I call it? And how can I say something not entirely fatuous about that fancy dress without it upsetting someone, probably the bearer? Things settle down after a bit. Funny how you discover – for better of worse – a kind of style.  Some of the old yarns come back.  There’s a seasonal factor here: in the summer term I need to think about dogs in advance of my annual dog assembly, so I am reminiscing about previous ones – the march of the labradors, and five things you can learn from a dog, being talks that spring to mind.  So, we have a bit of labrador breed history thrown in – and I have to break off to advertise those delicious cream teas before we get to the bit about that buoyantly woolly breed the Newfoundland.  Did you know…  Best thing is to give the microphone to the winners and to hear their stories – the rescue dogs’ owners’ being the best.

The sun continues to shine and our visitors depart, leaving the wonderful volunteers – parents and colleagues – to clear up.  More people now know about the John Badley Foundation: it enables children to come to our schools from families whose circumstances mean that a Bedales education would otherwise be completely out of reach. Perhaps they will associate it with panting geniality and cuddly hounds. There’s also something about this cranky and colourful afternoon that chimes with that fragile but precious thing, our ethos.  A medley of human and canine colour, it is a celebration of what we hold dear and of those wonderfully eccentric and precious bonds that tie us to our four legged companions: cheerful, a little quirky, certainly genial, inclusive, celebratory, colourful and proud to carve its own path.

Dog wagging tale

Ever since hearing Allen Parton and his famous dog, Endal, take an assembly here (promoting Canine Partners in 2003 or 4), I have tried to have a dog-based assembly every year. Sometimes it has been to illustrate how much more (I trust) a departing year group has learnt in its five years than one of my dogs has learnt in a comparable period: so with Ailsa, the Westie, September 2001- July 2006 vs the 6.2 leavers of 6.2, I am pleased to report a comfortable victory for the latter. Sometimes it has been a bit more discursive: the degree to which a recently shampooed and barbered dog can give you the illusion you have feelings dangerously on the edge of love towards it, whereas in its normal state your feelings are more prosaic; or last year’s 8 Things You Can Learn from a Dog  (conclusion: Dogs remind us of our need to care for other creatures but also the creaturely in us). This year’s assembly had an evolutionary element to it, with a touch of rough research. The chosen breed was the labrador retriever whose origins in Newfoundland tugging away at fishing nets and grabbing the odd cod has always struck me as exotic and intriguing; and how the smaller Newfoundland or St John’s dog (as what became the labrador retriever was known) started up as a breed in the UK, lit upon initially by two aristocrats – the Duke of Buccleuch and the Early of Malmesbury – and, then quickly becoming sought after as working dogs on shoots in the late 19th century.

After introducing them to Zazu, our two year old black lab, my quick spin over the history of dog evolution, which has arguably been a bit of a triumph for the breed, certainly compared to the progress of the wolf, and a recommendation that students read Michael Pollan‘s The Botany of Desire which looks at the clever evolutionary adaptation of various plants to suit humankind’s needs, we are into the field research, which involves us meeting almost all the teachers who have black labradors: 5 in all (2 Rowes, 1 Newman, 1 Coates and 1 Selby) and asking each owner what is a virtue and a vice of each dog. My research assistant, Freya D, records the answers. The conclusion is that labradors are generally quite gentle and patient but very greedy and occasionally show off. As far as the audience goes, they see some beautiful behaviour – no barking and only a small amount of unseemly sniffing – certainly plenty of patience; but the show is stolen by the final entrance – Toby Hardy’s Labradoodle puppy, Bella, who, in spite of being very small, walks on stage.

Hand-shaking involves a lot more patting and stroking than normal.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.