The Blue Picardy Spaniel in Canada
By Don Fath, Alexcyril Sporting Dogs
In 1994 I decided to obtain a pointing dog for an upland hunting companion in addition to my young, flushing Flat-Coated Retriever. One day, while browsing through one of Calgary's Public Library magazine sections I stumbled across the January 1994 rare breed issue of "Dogs in Canada". In it was an article entitled, "Waiting in the Wings" which highlighted breeds that were awaiting official Canadian Kennel Club recognition. One of the feature breeds was the Blue Picardy Spaniel. Three aspects about the breed were intriguing. Firstly, it was a breed I was unfamiliar with even after all the research I conducted. Secondly, the attached photo showed a strikingly attractive dog and thirdly, the description of the breed's temperament was similar to that of the Flat-Coated Retriever. Based on that article, I decided that was the pointing dog of my dreams. I wrote the CKC and in May 1994, they directed me to three Quebec breeders in existence at the time. Two of the breeders were not planning any litters and I could not reach the third.
In June 1994, I received a letter from Ronald Meunier of St. Jullienne, Quebec; the breeder I could not reach. Ronald was the first individual to import the BPS into Canada from France. During the 5 years between 1987-1991, Ronald imported 2 males and 3 females from 3 different families. His Canadian born bitch, Jocker Mo (whose picture was in the "Dogs in Canada" article) was due to whelp in July. I called him immediately and after a very delightful visit, reserved a bitch puppy over the phone, sight unseen. In September 1994, 10-week-old Morgan arrived in Calgary and my adventures with the BPS began.
In November 1994, I contacted Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to determine the status of the official recognition of the breed and was informed that although they had been contacted by the CKC, they had not received an official application for incorporation of the breed under the Animal Pedigree Act. One of the requirements for incorporation under the Act was to ensure that the application for incorporation had the support of all the BPS breeders in Canada. As that time, the CKC was not able to confirm unanimous support. In February 1995, Ronald and I pooled our resources and with the assistance of the CKC, we polled every BPS breeder and owner in existence at the time and, through a unanimous endorsement, we were successful in achieving official recognition for the BPS effective June 1, 1995.
Unfortunately, since 1995, not a single BPS breeder (with the exception of Ronald Meunier) bothered to register their litters and individual dogs with the CKC. As a result, all that genetic material has been lost! At the end of 1995, there were only 11 BPS registered with the CKC; the original 5 French imports, Jocker Mo and her five puppies.
In the spring of 1995, Morgan entered her first CKC Field Dog test. She received a qualifying score of 76/100. In the spring of 1996 Morgan earned a qualifying score of 86 in her second test. In August 1996, while on vacation in British Columbia, we entered Morgan in her third test and in the 31°C (90°F) heat of the late afternoon, turned in a qualifying score of 94 and earned her 3rd leg.
We also took Morgan through obedience and, although she hated the trials, she earned her novice CD title in January 1996.
It was always our intention to breed Morgan and in 1998 we got a wake up call. Morgan was diagnosed with mammary cancer. Fortunately, all the cancer was removed and she made a full recovery, but it drove home the point that fate could intervene anytime. Morgan and her mother, Jocker Mo, were the only two CKC registered BPSs in North America. It was clear that we needed puppies on the ground before they both were lost. Morgan was 4, her mother was 6 and time was starting to be a factor. Worse, Morgan's sire, Duc, was the only available CKC registered male. Duc was 10 years old.
Early in 1999, Ronald Meunier and I agreed to conduct a repeat breeding of Morgan's parents, Duc and Jocker Mo. A successful breeding would give us a few more puppies and buy us some time although it would do absolutely nothing to diversify our gene pool. We could not consider using any other Canadian born BPSs because none were registered and none had complete enough breeding records to facilitate registration.
The Duc-Jocker mating proved unsuccessful so that left only one viable option left to pursue.
In 1996 I joined the French breed Club "Epagneul Picard, Bleu de Picardie et Pont Audemer". Gathering information from their biannual magazine, I kept track of the breeders and dogs that participated and placed, on a regular basis, in both field trials and conformation shows. In the fall of 1998, I wrote letters to the secretary of the breed club, Mr. Jean Pierre Goubet, Mr. Jacque Honore (the breeder of Morgan's sire Duc) and 8 other French BPS breeders. In the letters, I informed them of my desire to import a male BPS puppy in an effort to begin the revitalization of the breed in Canada.
In a matter of weeks, I received a letter from Jean Goubet, an e-mail from Jacque Honore and letters from four of the eight breeders I contacted. Every response was very enthusiastic and supportive. Unfortunately, there weren't any puppies available or any immediate litters planned. Although disappointed, I was encouraged by the responses I received. It was clear that if I hoped to maintain the momentum and establish a mutually beneficial working relationship with these people, it would be necessary to travel to France.
The First French Trip
I left Calgary at 1:30 PM March 30, 1999 and arrived in Paris 11:00 AM, local time, (3:00 AM MST) Wednesday March 31st. At about 4:00 PM I caught the "Yellow Bus" to the city of Amiens, in Picardie Province, about a 1.5 hours north and west of Paris (at 130>km per hr; half a car length behind the vehicle in front of you). Dead tired after 21 hours of travel, interspersed with a few cat-naps, I checked into the hotel and called my contact, Thierry Honore, to inform him of my arrival and make arrangements to meet him and his father, Jacque, within the next couple of days. His reaction? "Oh, my father and I were expecting your call. I'll pick you up in 15 minutes so you can have supper at my Father's home in Camon (a suburb of Amiens)". Little did I know, their hospitality was a precursor to a consistent feature of all my French hosts; "Those people really know how to eat and drink!"
"Supper" consisted of champagne, followed by a tomato salad with bean sprouts and bread, followed by chicken and cubed potatoes, followed by a mousse and a selection of cheeses and bread and butter. Of course as much red wine as you could drink was always available. Jacque and Cézanne even arranged to have an English-speaking friend, Benedict, present to be a translator, although after the 3rd bottle of wine, we pretty well adopted "Franglais" as our language of choice. During the course of the evening we spoke of dogs, hunting, game birds and our respective countries. We also talked about our itinerary over the next 10 days, which included a field trial, and a day with Jean Goubet to tour about the countryside to see various BPSs and meet a few breeders. Even though Jacque didn't have a BPS at the time, he did have a wonderful video of Morgan's grandparents and father at work and play. The surprise of the evening occurred when Jacque broke the news that the club may have found me a dog. Jean-Pierre Goubet, secretary of the Club Epagneul Picard, Bleu de Picardie et Pont Audemer would talk to me about it at the field trial. It was a fantastic evening, which ended all too soon even though it was after 1:00 AM before they drove me to the hotel.
I spent Thursday and Friday touring the beautiful city of Amiens. It was just as well I had the days to myself: it took me both days to recover from the night before and jet lag.
The Field Trial
One of the highlights of my trip to France was an invitation to attend an inter-club Spring Field Trial sponsored by the "Club Epagneul Picard, Bleu de Picardie et Pont Audemer." French field trials are not public events so having the opportunity to see one the only Saturday I was over there was a stroke of extremely good fortune. My host, Jacque Honore, picked me up at my hotel at 8:30 AM for the hour and a half drive to the village of Brancourt. Jacque brought along Veronique, who spoke perfect English, to act as translator (and navigator) for the day.
Driving through the French countryside is an adventure in itself because the highways run through the center of most of the villages and towns. Many towns and villages come complete with one or more traffic circles and each traffic circle has one or more signposts pointing the way to the adjacent villages and towns. If you look at a map of France, it looks more like a map of a city in some areas rather than a map of a country. To navigate your way from one point to the next, you must know the names, and order, of all the towns and villages along your route so that you can leap-frog from one place to another to reach your destination. Everybody I rode with had detailed maps in the glove box and a designated navigator.
We only got lost once and arrived in Brancourt shortly before 10:00. The weather for the previous 3 days had been sunny and warm but, because this was the day of a field trial, it was pouring rain.
We found the community center where the pre-registered participants were checking in with the field trial officials. The participants verify their dogs' identity and health records with the officials and complete any missing information on their entry forms. There were a total of fifty participants at this particular field trial plus guests, families and officials. When registration was complete, everyone gathered outside (it stopped raining for a spell) and the field marshals explained the rules and logistics for the day.
Under the rules, there can't be more than 12 dogs in any one contest, so the 50 dogs registered in this field trial were divided, by draw, into five autonomous groups. The dogs in each contest were directed to a different cluster of winter wheat fields (where each group went was also determined by draw) near the village of Brancourt. On this day there were 19 Drahthaars, 13 Epagneuls Bretons, 9 Braques de Weimar, 6 Epagneuls Picards and 3 Epagneuls Bleus de Picardie entered in the trial. The contest group that I was with consisted of 4 Drahthaars, 3 Brittanys, 2 Blue Picardies, 1 Picard and 1 Weimeraner. Our group had one judge, and a pair of apprentices. Everyone left the community center at the same time and how anyone in that traffic jam managed to wind through the streets of Brancourt with their designated group and yet find their way to the correct location on schedule is beyond me.
During the morning, we watched six dogs including a couple of Brittanys and Drahthaars. Every one the morning dogs were big running, talented, enthusiastic, well trained hunters that would be right at home anywhere on the Canadian prairies. Not all the dogs found game, and at least one Drahthaar found a hare more interesting than the partridge, but all performed well. Every one of those dogs quartered exceptionally with big, long, looping casts in front of the handler. It was a pleasure to watch.
During the normal course of events, only the, judge and apprentice(s) are allowed to accompany the dog and handler. The gallery must stay back from the course and often it is difficult to see what is going on. However, with kind permission of the handler and judge, the club arranged it so I could accompany one of the Blue Picardy Spaniels, Jupiter du Clos des Bleus Allerois and his owner/handler Didier Lebel. It was a wonderful experience to see a talented, well-trained BPS perform in its native country. After Jupiter completed his run, the judge took the time to come over and explain to me exactly what criteria he was judging and how he evaluated Jupiter. Although I did not always understand each of his words, I always understood what he was describing. He concluded his explanation with a thumbs up and a "tres bon" to describe Jupiter's run. It was one of my fondest memories of the trip. Jupiter was one of a handful of dogs that received a qualifying score before lunch.
At noon, everyone attending the trial returned to the community center for lunch. Like all the meals in France, lunch was a major part of the day. The tables were set up banquet style, complete with linens, centerpieces, china, crystal, wine and bottled water. The main course was "Choucroute", a generous plate of sauerkraut, potatoes, ham, bacon and three types of sausages. That was followed by bread and cheeses (and more wine), which was followed by a monster cream-filled pastry and coffee. Despite the fact I was stuffed, the pastry was so delicious I kept looking for a second one.
After lunch we went back into the fields and mud to watch a few more dogs. A Drahthaar "took a point" but the Picard, Fanny did not. The Weimaraner was a huge disappointment and was clearly not qualified to participate in a spring trial. Wet and cold, we left before the last couple of dogs ran their course. I missed the BPS, Hugo du Marais de Favieres, who ran last." Hugo, owned by Jean-Pierre Goubet, is one of the top BPS in France. Hugo won the 1997 "Cup of France" winner; the highest award attainable for a field trial dog
Despite the weather it was a perfect day.
During the field trial lunch, I sat with the Jacque, Veronique and Jean-Pierre. Veronique acted as a translator when required, Jean-Pierre told me everything he knew about the dog that became available and Jacque did his best to keep my wine glass full. Jean-Pierre related how the owner, Jean Bernardeau, had contacted the club a couple of days before my arrival requesting assistance to place Ness, his 22-month-old male. Ness' sire was Jean-Pierre's male, Hugo. If I wanted to see Ness, Jean-Pierre would drive me out to see him the next day. I couldn't wait to get going!
Next morning, Jean-Pierre and his daughter, who spoke English, picked me up at the hotel and we started off for Freneuse to see Ness. Although Freneuse was over an hour from Amiens, we only got lost twice along the way. I was very happy I didn't have to find the place on my own; I might still be over there. Freneuse is a small, quiet, picturesque village situated in a recreational area of golf courses and small lakes. We found the Bernardeau residence without incident. Jean Bernardeau is an elderly gentleman who lives with his wife and 3 Blue Picardy Spaniels; Ness, his mother Iris and his grandmother, Fiesta. Jean decided it would be best to find Ness a new home because his wife was gravely ill and he could no longer manage 3 dogs and give proper care to his wife.
If I had scripted what qualities I wanted in a BPS to take home, I could not have done better than what fate and circumstance dealt me. Ness is structurally sound and a handsome boy. Many of the dogs in Ness's pedigree had field titles of some manner and both Ness' parents were CHD tested and clear. Mr. Bernardeau had all of Ness' health records and SCC (the French equivalent to the CKC) documentation in order. Without any hesitation or doubt, I bought the dog.
When it came time to go, the old man cried.
Monday morning, Ness and I drove to the beautiful home of Jean-Pierre and Claudine Goubet in the village of Morcourt about half an hour east of Amiens. After we arrived we sat down for coffee and a visit until a neighbour arrived with his female, Melodie, for a "rendezvous" with Hugo. Shortly thereafter, Jean Louis Hecquet, arrived with three of his dogs, Huss, Orane and Frime, a puppy. Jean Louis is the breeder of the other top field trial and conformation Blue Picardy, Huron du Clos Moise, who I understand, has now won the Coupe de France two years in a row. Coincidentally, across the street from the Goubets lived a pretty female Blue Picardy named Nellie, whose sister, Neeta, is in Marinette, Wisconsin. It is truly a small world even in doggie terms.
Jean Louise stayed over for aperitifs and lunch - nothing special - just pheasant, wine, peas and carrots, vegetable cakes, more wine, a green salad with a selection of cheeses and bread and cookies. The conversation over lunch was great. It was very enlightening to listen to two of the most successful Blue Picardy breeder/trainers in France. I think I learned more about the Blue Picardy that morning than I did in the 5 years preceding the trip.
After lunch, Mr. Hecquet went home and Mr. Goubet took Ness and me for a car ride to meet a few other Blue Picardy owners. In all, we saw 3 more Blue Picardys, including Muse, a daughter of Hugo, whose claim to fame is that her head is featured on the breed club logo. We also stopped to see a Flat-Coated Retriever because Jean-Pierre knew we bred them too. Late in the afternoon we returned to Jean-Pierre's home to switch vehicles and pick up Hugo. We drove into the country and stopped at a collection of fields where Hugo gave us a demonstration as to why he is a French Cup winner. No matter what the country or what the breed, watching a dog of this caliber, instinctively doing what it loves to do, is a beautiful sight to behold. We returned to Jean-Pierre and Claudine's home and did nothing more than relax, celebrate our new friendship and enjoy the evening of a very pleasant day.
On Tuesday Ness and I spent the day together touring the sights in Amiens.
Wednesday we spent the day with Jacque Honore touring the countryside. Later, we wined and dined the evening away with Jacque and his family, celebrating our new friendship.
Thursday, I took Ness home.
It only took a short while for Ness to settle into his new surroundings but, initially, it was a little overwhelming for the poor boy. For 22 months his world consisted of a back yard a sleepy little French village. When he arrived to the wide-open spaces of Southern Alberta ranch country, he didn't know how to react. For the first week or so, he wouldn't stray more than about 20 yards or so from the house. Ness also had to contend with 3 Flat-Coats that were more exuberant than what he was accustomed with his mother and grandmother. Further, within a month of his arrival his new world was invaded by a litter of 10 Flat-Coat puppies. Today, Ness is fully integrated as a happy member of our chaotic family. We even have to take care that he doesn't suddenly disappear from sight in his quest to explore every square inch of the countryside.
In July 1999 we had Ness' hips examined at the University of Saskatchewan and his eyes examined by a Calgary ophthalmologist. He passed both with flying colors. Shortly thereafter, we leased Jocker Mo from Ronald and bred her to Ness. On September 29, 1999 the first BPS puppies (2 boys and a girl) born in Canada since 1994 arrived. The male went to a working (hunting and trialing) home in Calgary. The other male went to a pet home in Denver, Co; The female remained in Alberta. Two months later Morgan had 3 boys and 3 girls. Two bitches from Morgan's litter went to working homes Ontario and Quebec and the third went to a working home in Alberta. I kept one of the boys, the second went to a Falconer working home and the third to a pet home in Calgary. All the pups are doing very well.
Several BPSs have been occasionally shown in conformation but to date, Morgan is the only Canadian BPS to obtain her conformation championship.
We decided to breed Morgan to Ness again because Ness is still the only available male in North America, Morgan isn't getting any younger and a few more pups to choose from would potentially help our longer term breeding program. On December 31, 2000 Morgan had her second, and last, litter a boy and a girl. Morgan required a C-section and when we opened her up we discovered she was inflicted with pyrometra. We had her spayed and she is now fully recovered. The good news is that we got what we wanted. The male, Chase, is very nice and the bitch puppy, Roxy, who now lives in Ontario, also shows great potential. Time will tell.
In May of 2000, we imported a bitch puppy from France. Racy is a fine pup and certainly has the potential to set new standards for the breed in North America. In the fall of 2000, Catherine Boulet and Martin Sauliner of Quebec imported a male from France (Roosevelt du Clos des Bleus Allerois).
Three six month old puppies, two boys and a girl, were imported into Canada during September, 2001. Sim lives with us, his sister, Danny, is in Cambridge ON with Kim Spelmer and Sam is in High River, AB with Bob Merkley.
Two litters were born in Canada during 2002. The first was a breeding between Remy and Sim. Five boys and five girls were born in July. The second litter from Ness and Racy was born August 2nd and consisted of six boys and two girls. We have 3 puppies remaining from this litter.
Because of our exceptional working relationship with the breeders in France and the enthusiastic dedication of the Blue Picardy owners on this side of the Atlantic, the future of the breed in North America looks very bright indeed.
To be continued.