Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

The Flatcoat Fables
A Christmas Tail
Miss Rooge

Miss Suki Charmain Rooge was a most respected and respectable breeder of Flatcoated Retrievers, indeed she had been just that for most of her long working life. There was not a Championship that she had not won with her much sought after lines of dogs and not a country where Flatcoats are known which she had not graced with her sharp eye as a Judge of the Breed. She had served on the many committees and sub-committees of the Society and was now in the honoured position of either Vice-President or Patron of at least three International Breed Clubs. To sum up S.C Rooge was THE authority on Flatcoats - and she knew it!

Although it was Christmas Eve Miss Rooge was not going to be disturbed from her 'work' by any untoward festivity, indeed she blessed her good fortune to find herself quite alone that evening as she settled down to work out a most intricate arrangement of bloodlines that just might prove illuminating regarding an antipodean breeding of uncertain lineage.

An evening passed in such a manner tends to dull awareness of a heavy fall of snow and rising wind and so when the lights at first flickered, and then expired, Miss Rooge noted with some surprise what a wild night it was to have a power cut. Nothing daunted however she arranged a couple of candles and a Tilley Lamp and, for a while continued with her research, until an overwhelming tiredness seemed to consume her.

The shooting seemed remarkably close, just over the Blackthorne hedge. Miss Rooge peered through the thick brake to try to catch a glimpse of what was going on, and as she did so she was aware of a Flatcoated Retriever by her side, also poking its nose through the thorns. But WHAT a Flatcoat. Clearly he had had a day in the Field as he was caked with mud and his long straggly feathers were matted and tangled. He was not a very good specimen either thought Miss Rooge, running a professional eye over a rather too pronounced stop and a tail carried much too high .

"Hello!" Said the Flatcoat.

Miss Rooge did not, for some reason find the idea of a conversation with this dog at all extraordinary, "Hello," she said, "and who are you?"

"I am the Ghost of Flatcoats Past", replied the muddy looking phantom wagging his tail in a very friendly manner and making to put his muddy front paws on her ample chest.

Miss Rooge said "DOWN" very firmly and looked at him archly. No Flatcoat had dared to take such liberties with her for many a long year, indeed as the author of 'Firm Flatcoat Training' she her reputation to consider!

Flying Flatcoats The Ghost took the reprimand in good part and the two of them struggled through the hedge emerging just to the left of the shooting party. Miss Rooge noted the Plus Twos and the Norfolk Jackets and wondered why she should, amongst everything else that was happening to her, be subjected to Edwardian fancy dress.

Her companion must have guessed her thoughts, "No," he said, "it really is 1908 and as you can see the Breed is very much in vogue. We are the Best Gundog Breed by far and as you can see from my fellow flatcoats out here we are fit, healthy and, I can assure you, diseases such as cancer just do not exist within the breed".

"Oh!", said Miss Rooge "but what a rag, tag and bobtail lot you all are. Why I wouldn't let any of you in the Society, let alone into any show ring that I was in charge of".

The Ghost shrugged his rather over-large shoulders, smiled an ethereal flatcoat smile, and vanished!

Pawing dog Miss S.C. Rooge was pleased to find herself back on home territory although a little surprised to discover herself out in her architect designed and scrupulously maintained kennels on what appeared to be a perfect summers day. Actually something seemed a little odd . . she must be kneeling down because the iron railings seemed higher than usual. She stood up and rested her hands on the railings - only to discover that her arms were covered in black fur! She looked round - only to bang her long black nose on a brick pillar. "Ouch" she said - although it sounded more like 'squeak'!

"Steady on", said a voice "I know it takes a bit of getting used to - but you will soon get the hang of it". A friendly black muzzle shoved itself into her right ear and snorted at her. "I am the Ghost of Flatcoats Present", her new companion said, "and I have to take you on a journey across a Great Ocean to see what is happening in the New World at this very moment". Almost before she realised it Miss Rooge and her friend were whisked into the air and set down in a foreign country.

There were Flatcoats everywhere, all prancing and dancing and dandering up their (rather short) feathers. Clearly they had arrived at the Specialty. "No," said her travelling friend, "we are not here to look at the dogs - just listen to what the Humans are saying".

" . . . no darn good at all, I quite agree, why how DARE such a person own one of OUR breed, why it will become quite COMMON if we let this sort of thing go on . . "

" . . . well, my dear, it's the COE, I mean did you ever HEAR of such a thing, if you ask me it's hereditary so we will have to neuter the whole litter . . "

" . . . yes, sooooo cute, all dressed up in a Snowman outfit and pulling a little sleigh with bells on . . "

" . . . of course I have to shut him up in his crate when we are not there or he would swing from the chandeliers, but at night he is just super-cuddly under the duvet . . "

Flat at wall Miss Rooge saw the scene fade slowly as she felt herself being dashed back home again. She looked one last time at the gentle face of Flatcoat Present and thought she had never seen such a wistful expression . . and was that just the start of a tear rolling out of the corner of an eye . .

She was a little shocked at the appearance of the third Ghost. Beside her now stood the most perfect Flatcoated Retriever that she had ever even dreamed of. From its streamlined Borzoi head to its beautifully shaped hocks it was everything Miss Rooge had ever dreamed of breeding.

"Of course you expected me," he said, "I am the Ghost of Flatcoat Future."

"But you are so perfect", said Miss Rooge in a manner close to adoration. "All my life I have tried to breed a dog as beautiful as you".

The ghoul looked as modest as a ghoul can. "Come", he said, and they were immediately looking down across half the shoots in England - and not a Flatcoat to be seen. Miss Rooge pondered, "These are all Labs and Goldies, she said. Show me some Flatcoats."

Again they were looking down, not at the wide open countryside now with its fresh air and healthy exercise, but at a series of funny little concrete squares in the centre of towns. "There you are", said Flatcoat Future,"Flyball Parks - that's what we do now".

"Oh!", said Miss Rooge, "But what of the Show Ring, surely Flatcoats must be taking Best of Show now - that is if they all look like you?".

"You won't like it", said her companion, but already they were in the midst of the judging. Miss Rooge thought she was in heaven, she had never seen such Flatcoated Perfection. She felt enthusiastic and excited about the future of the Breed, never mind that they no longer worked in the Field, here in the ring they were The Best.

She thought it a little odd that her fellow judge and she were in a chain-link enclosure, but rising, as ever, to the occasion she opened the barred gate and walked boldly into the ring better to discharge her duties as a respected Judge. Without hesitation fifteen snarling black (and two liver) brutes hurled themselves at her, jaws gaping, paws clawing at her. . there was slobber, blood, flesh . . and then calm as she rose up and away and away and away - and a ghostly whisper from her beautiful, perfect companion "It's the Temperament you see, they forgot the Temperament. . "

Kennels Miss Scrooge opened her eyes as the lights blazed on again. She got up very slowly and walked to the window. The snow had stopped falling and the wind had dropped. For a long time she stared out into the night. In her mind's eye she saw all the flatcoats she had ever bred and she assessed them all once again. Slowly she nodded. She walked back to her desk. She picked up the COE, she picked up the Breed Standard, she picked up her life's work on pedigrees and very deliberately she pushed them into the glowing embers of the log fire. Then she went outside.

She walked across to the kennel run and greeted each dog as it came to nuzzle her. "Flatcoats," she said, and there was a new strength to her voice now, "I have made many mistakes, but from now on we start afresh. I will welcome the opinions of owners who are not breeders, I will breed for all-round ability and not for show, I will never rush to judgement about fellow Society members, I will never debase and denigrate my dogs, and, above all, I will learn again to love you all not for what I can make of YOU, but for what you can make of ME.

And then it really was Christmas Day!

  I am indebted to Rieko Mamaoto for her charming illustrations
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