It wasn’t that the dog she got couldn’t work. The breed had herded sheep in the Scottish Highlands and Northern England for generations.
It’s that the dog that arrived wasn’t the breed she had asked for.
It was towards the end of WWII when Englishwoman, Gwendoline Olive Willison, decided that she wanted a working dog. A Shetland Sheepdog, to be exact.
Sources differ on whether Mrs. Willison “ordered” her dog from a puppy broker, a Scottish kennel, or a Scottish farmer – and one supposes that it could have been a Scottish farmer with a kennel. The salient point is that the brown puppy bitch that Mrs. Willison got was a mighty funny looking Sheltie, and this was because the pup was a Bearded Collie.
A mistake, of course.
Mrs. Willison could have returned the dog, but she became so taken with the puppy’s affectionate temperament and intelligence that she decided to keep her.
She named the dog “Jeannie,” and it wasn’t long before Mrs. Willison decided that Jeannie was good enough for a show ring, and worthy enough to be bred for her fine qualities. Mrs. Willison named her new kennel Bothkennar Bearded Collies, and its foundation bitch would be Jeannie of Bothkennar.
The search was on to find a mate for Jeannie, and here the story has two versions, but whether Mrs. Willison encountered the man with a Beardie while walking along the beach one day, or obtained the blue stud dog in some other way, what is common in both versions is that the dog was named “David,” his owner was a Scottish emigree, and David was similar to Jeanie in type and temperament. David became “Bailey of Bothkennar,” and with Jeannie, the pair became the foundation of the modern Bearded Collie breed.
Gwendoline Olive Willison went on to help establish a Bearded Collie Club in 1955, and four years later, the UK’s Kennel Club recognised the breed.
In 1989, a Beardie named Potterdale Classic at Moonhill won Best in Show at Crufts. “We’ve come a long way, baby,” comes to mind.
We were tempted to subtitle this post, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” but the Bearded Collie is as far removed from being the canine version of a lemon as it’s possible to be. This enchanting breed is amiable, personable, and certainly beautiful. Nor has its working ability been neglected. There are too many dual titles, AHBA, herding and Masters Titles to mention here. There is also a Working Bearded Collie Society in the UK that was formed in 1999, and thus far over 600 Bearded Collies have been registered.
Mrs. Willison couldn’t have gone wrong had she gotten that Sheltie as it is another amazing breed, but that she did what she did with the unexpected is to her credit, to our benefit, and is worth sharing here.
Image: Bearded Collie by Kyle Reynolds/iStock