One crisp fall morning in 1967, Anne H. Bowes arrived at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club in Connecticut to find that the polo field where she always rode her horse was engulfed in a sea of yellow-and-white-striped tents. The dog-show bug bit her that day – hard – and the following February Bowes found herself at Manhattan’s original Madison Square Garden, where she selected the breed that would obsess her for the next half-century: the Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
Today, Bowes, who lives in Duxbury, Massachusetts, continues to breed double-digit generations down from the first Heronsway litter she produced in 1970. She judges not only both Corgi breeds, but also Shetland Sheepdogs and Pugs, and taught conformation handling classes for 40 years. More than one hundred Heronsway champions and many accolades later – Bowes was named the Herding Dog Breeder of the Year in 2007 by the American Kennel Club – she still remembers that day at the Ox Ridge Kennel Club show that ignited her love for the sport. “I walked down onto the grounds of that dog show,” she says, “and into the rest of my life.”
Here, Bowes talks about heavy lifting, royal connections and the best compliment she ever got.
Raison d’etre: “I am a dog breeder – that’s what I am. I love to show dogs. I love to breed dogs. I love to hold that newborn puppy in my hand, raise it, go into the ring under judges whom I respect, and have them point at me. I’m telling you – there is no better high. And I don’t know if anyone else can name a profession where if you do it right, you can sell love.”
Choice from on high: “At the old Garden, you weren’t allowed on the floor unless you were showing, so you had to go to the mezzanine to look down on the dogs. The Corgis were standing there all on their own. No one was touching them, and they were looking at their handlers so lovingly … I didn’t know the handlers had hot dogs in their hands! The tricolors and reds looked like polished jewels. I was mesmerized. That’s when I set my heart on the breed.”
Weighty issues: “I thought that since I might be doing this a long time, I should pick a smaller breed. But Pembrokes are a big dog on short legs. If they had legs, they would be the size of a Springer. I’ve had two major back surgeries, all because of the Corgis. Picking 30 pounds of dead weight up off ground and making it look good – that’s not easy.”
Royal treatment: “Queen Elizabeth has had Corgis since she was eight years old, though it was actually her mother who loved the Corgis and picked one for her two daughters. That escalated the breed: Suddenly, people wanted them, and breeders jumped in and started working on the breed. Our breed has the Queen Mother to thank for that.”
Meanwhile, across the pond: “When the Pembroke came to this country in the 1940s, it was put into the Terrier Group because that’s what they were – scrappy, short-legged dogs bred as a barnyard dog for Welsh farmers. They killed rats and mice and herded cattle by biting them on the legs. They still have that scrappy temperament, but we’ve done a really good job of breeding the worst of it out.”
Tables turned: “Today the breed is much more popular in the United States than any other place in the world. In 2007, tail docking was banned in England and the breed really suffered as a result. People figured, if they are going to have a Corgi with a tail, they’ll have a Cardigan. In the breed’s heyday in the 1970s and ’80s, at a little club show in England, there would be 200 to 300 Pembrokes. Today, if they have an entry of 70, they’re thrilled.”
Formula one: “I breed only from AKC champions. I think this is very important to ensure that the puppies will have good health and good temperament and will be outstanding examples of the breed. I never breed from Pembrokes that do not have OFA clearances for both hips and eyes, which is required by the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of America. Also, both must have outstanding temperaments and be outgoing and friendly with adults, children, and other dogs.”
Paying it forward: “I register every puppy from my litters myself. I also microchip and enroll every puppy with AKC Reunite. I will often pay for the puppy’s first show and offer to show the puppy until the owner has enough training to show the dog him- or herself. I also offer to help teach the new owner how to show the dog.
Living large: “A Pembroke is a small dog, but it’s not a small-dog personality. They are the can-do dogs: Whatever you want them to, agility, dock diving – you show it to them, offer them some hot dogs for their efforts, and they are there. When you take a Corgi for a walk, it’s like taking a walk with a friend – they’re right there next to you.”
Sounding off: “When you weigh 25 pounds and you were originally bred to move around cows that weigh a half-ton, you have to make yourself heard. So there’s not a lot you can do about the barking. And they shed. Other than that, they are the perfect dog.”
Ringwise: “[Top handler] Bill Trainor was one of my mentors. He handled a lot of Corgis, and he would tell me what to do. One day, after about 10 years, I finally beat him, and I think he was as happy as I was. ‘You know what you are? You are a professional amateur,’ he told me. ‘Those are ones we as professional handlers watch out for.’ It was the highest compliment ever paid to me.”