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Jane Lilley recalls how a Tibetan Spaniel called Wonk changed her life forever.

The simple answer to the question as to how and why I started showing dogs is that it was, by and large, all due to Fate.
My family had always had dogs: Golden Retrievers, Pekes, Scotties, Wire Fox Terriers and a dearly loved Lab Cross to name but a few and I cannot imagine life without them.

I had always wished for a pony as a young child and when I was 12, my wish was finally granted. Through my enthusiasm for this Welsh Mountain pony, my mother met my eventual stepfather, a near penniless retired cavalry officer and renowned international polo player whose life was, simply, horses. Life was hard and he was a stern taskmaster but an unbribable and much sought-after judge, he could spot a ‘good un’ from afar simply by its make and shape, be it filthy dirty and tied up to a gypsy caravan at the time. I was, frankly, terrified of him but owe him a debt of gratitude for what I learnt from his expertise.

I showed various ponies, hacks and hunters in my ‘teens, besides schooling the polo ponies – a record of eight in one morning – and thus the seeds for showing animals were sown.

We lived in Kensington when I was first married and after the first six months we felt that neither of us could live without a dog but the question was, what dog? We agonised for weeks as no breed that we knew of seemed exactly right for us.

This was until 1967 when a mistaken shortcut en route to Dorset proved to have a profound effect upon my life.

We were stuck solidly in traffic and I felt ill at the time caused by a mixture of travelling in our James Bond type Aston Martin, which though ultra smart always made me feel car-sick and the fact that I had just submitted a first-time pregnancy test (taking days then as opposed to minutes nowadays) to our doctor! Having decided it would be better to keep moving, we chose a narrow unmarked side road and were swept, entirely by mistake, into the Bath & West Agricultural Show.

We were very late anyway so decided to wander around in the hope that the fresh air would make me feel better and we ended up at the dog show section, wherein my then other half insisted we might find just the right breed.

I remember my distinct lack of enthusiasm and to my eternal shame, being woefully ignorant of the dog showing scene at the time, thought these types of exhibitors to be rather ‘silly’, primping and preening their unnaturally trimmed pampered pets. How wrong I was!

We went round the benches and there was a real live teddy bear. My sickness vanished instantly so entranced was I by this seemingly miraculous animal, and astonishingly, my now ex was gazing in wonder at another next-door. We watched these two in the ring and to our mutual astonishment, there was no fussing or preening involved. They were happy natural dogs, obviously enjoying themselves with their owners laughing at them whenever they refused to do as they were told. Not how we had imagined dog shows at all!

We were hours late in arriving down in Dorset and yes, the test resulted in my son, Robert who was born three weeks before we collected a very stout Tibetan Spaniel puppy, named Kensing Ano-Rak of Amcross. Wonk, as he was known, was by coincidence the offspring of the first two we met whom, although he was not bought as a show dog, we took to Crufts, which was then half a mile from where we lived, and no qualifier was necessary. He lay on his back and I, too, did everything wrong but nonetheless he won a first and third prize under the now legendary Joe Braddon. I was back to the thrill of the show ring once more and Wonk was the beginning of the Kensing Tibetan Spaniels with all our current seven being descended from him.

It has to be said that winning any prize and especially a first prize, be it at an open or championship show, is still as thrilling as it ever was. The excitement never fades.


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