Andrew Sallis: Puppy shows are fraught with danger [H&H VIP]

  • The painfully eloquent words of an office-weary President Obama reacting to yet another mass shooting may convince the US gun lobby to concede to tighter legislation on gun ownership — a right laid down by the Founding Fathers. However, American sportsmen should have little to fear from restrictions designed to curtail the private armouries.

    The chasseurs of the French Fifth Republic are equally protected by law, although anti-hunting groups are beginning to cause much Gallic beating of chests.

    Instinctively, we Brits do not like too many laws, preferring to live according to shared values and abide by the simple law of the land with pride.

    However, times have changed. European and North American cases have shown us that legislation is increasingly necessary, in part to guard against malicious litigation.

    Some people argue that we don’t need a repeal of the Hunting Act. Leave it alone, they say, and don’t make a fuss. But these are the very same people who, right up to the day of the ban, boomed that hunting would never be outlawed.

    Since the Hunting Act 2004 — the most controversial of Tony Blair’s 27,000 new laws — most hunting people have craved a repeal, unsure of whether the opportunity would ever arise.

    Well, it has — with bells on.

    Sadly, straight repeal would offer false hope for the future and leave us unnecessarily exposed to the whims of a future anti-hunting government, which could easily re-instate the ban. Hunting’s political elders need to strike a deal that will enshrine in law our ability to hunt, in a manner as near as possible to pre-Act, but protected from further tampering.

    To the lay hunting person, this may not look attractive. It may, however, be the most acceptable option to a majority of MPs, most of whom have no interest in hunting beyond the tone of their constituency mail bag. In modern parlance, MPs are desperate for “closure” on this thorny issue.

    The new state of affairs could permit hunting, while protecting masters, hunt staff and farmers against prosecution and safeguarding against animal cruelty. Considering the current situation, no true hunting person could disapprove.

    Recent celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta have reminded us how the people’s interests can be better protected from bad governance. We know what we want to achieve and shouldn’t be afraid of this Parliament’s desire to permit, protect and safeguard.

    Dangers of the puppy show

    After the post-hunting point-to-point, hunter trial and team chase season closes, the focus falls back on the hounds, more specifically, the young hounds.

    The puppy show is the highlight of the summer season, but it is fraught with danger and not just for the puppy walker who turned up in the same dress as the lady master. The day is full of elephant traps for master, huntsman, judge and spectator.

    Our tea used to be organised telepathically, a system that had worked perfectly well for generations until one year, when someone obviously forgot to feed the mythical carrier pigeon. As the judges set about their important task, the tea tables looked alarmingly bare. Fortunately the 200 guests enjoying the show were largely oblivious to the mad supermarket dash. Since then Mrs Sallis has written to 50 bakers a month before the big day to avoid a similar near-calamity.

    To be asked to judge a puppy show is a great honour — there are few greater. To fall asleep during the master’s lunch was not so honourable. When the same judge snoozed during the prize-giving, too, the masters were none too happy.

    The judge’s speech is a minefield. Everyone needs to be thanked. Puppy walkers and hunt staff must be duly congratulated. Jokes must be selected with care (a little research on the audience is advisable). A young master must not be too blue for fear of a clip round the ear from the huntsman’s wife.

    Huntsmen go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that hounds enter the showring in tip-top condition. Imagine the horror of one huntsman, a generation ago, who went in for lunch, happy that everything was ready, only to realise that the hounds weren’t actually singing. They were hunting alone with a glorious cry around the park woods — 35 couples, nicely up together, young entry and all.

    The puppy show is a wonderful occasion for the whole hunt and for many, signifies the countdown to autumn hunting. If you get a front-row seat for the judging, make sure you aren’t too close to the fence. Doghounds have a nasty habit of stamping their territory, even the young ones.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 2 July 2015