Ian and Lesley Gray
The second wave of Swedish Vallhunds came about when Ian and Lesley Gray imported two dogs from the U.K. Their subsequent involvement in showing, agility, obedience, and trialing did so much to promote the breed here. For fifteen years, the Gray’s were the face of Vallhunds in New Zealand. Many people discovering Swedish Vallhunds for the first time did so as a result of seeing the Grays competing with their well-trained and capable little dogs in public settings. They impressed all who were fortunate enough to meet them.
So our story picks up again in Avondale, Auckland, 1982. Ian and Lesley Gray were in search of an interesting hobby to enjoy after Ian's retirement from a career in education, (due to occur at the conclusion of 1984). Initially a glasshouse was purchased with a view to grow orchids. Then Ian discovered pottery, attending night classes. He was aware though, that working away at a potter's wheel would involve much sitting and little exercise. So in a discussion with Lesley they determined that having a dog to walk would be a good idea. A dog would have to fit with their life that involved sailing their yacht. It could not be a big breed of dog. Nor were they interested in a breed that had, had it’s nose and ears intensively bred into ‘unusual shapes’.
Ian, who had grown up on farms, began researching dog breeds, and together he and Lesley visited dog shows. Pouring over dog books Ian stumbled upon the Swedish Vallhund and liked the look and description of them. But as they had not seen any examples at dog shows they realised they would have to undertake a search to find them
This search was of course in the pre internet days, devoid of instant emailing and instant replies to queries. They wrote to the New Zealand Kennel Club, The Australian Kennel Control and the English Kennel club. Eventually they heard back from the Swedish Vallhund Society in the UK. By this time the N.Z.K.C had put the Grays in touch with Maree Cooper and her mother. Puffin, seven years old by this time even went stay with Ian and Lesley for a few days early in the search. Ian recalls Puffin as a very likable dog and the visit cemented the desire to own a Swedish Vallhund.
Contact with the Swedish Vallhund Society in the U.K. was to prove successful. Ian and Lesley corresponded with the secretary, Nicky Gascoigne. Nicky owned Rosern Kennel in England. After much letter writing Nicky agreed to send a 9-month-old bitch she had bred called Rosern Vancy (Vancy) to New Zealand. Initially the Grays had considered possibly breeding their bitch to Puffin sometime in the future. But by now Maree and her mother had decided not to breed Puffin again. So Ian and Lesley asked Nicky to find a suitable dog puppy to accompany Vancy on her voyage out. It turned out that the Countess of Inchcape, who was the patron of the Swedish Vallhund Society, had a little dog pup of 4 months of age that she had bred named Santa of Rosern (Santa). The Countess was willing to part with Santa.
So in the March of 1984 Vancy and Santa flew on their long journey out to New Zealand. When they arrived Lesley reported,
"At our first glimpse of their little grey coats through the gratings of their crates, we thought there was some mistake. We'd been sent a couple of little possums! On closer inspection, it was all right. They were two beautiful Vallhunds"
Three weeks after Vancy and Santa arrived, and while the puppies were in their 30 day quarantine confinement at the home of the Gray’s, Ian invited one Mr Ivan Swedrup [and wife] to call at their home. Ian was aware Ivan, visiting from overseas, was an All-Breeds judge. Ian was unaware until the visit however, that Ivan had been the Secretary General of the Swedish Kennel Club for nearly 30 years. Mr Swedrup also was very familiar with Count Bjorn Von Rosen’s breeding programme having been closely involved with it himself. Ivan was invited to give the puppies and thorough assessment and examination. Ian and Lesley, already impressed with their new pups were further delighted to learn that both pups were, from a judges perspective, very well bred dogs with good movement and confirmation. Mr Swedrup was equally pleased to see quality dogs being exported for new breeding programmes abroad.
After Vancy and Santa became New Zealand Champions, Ian and Leslie embarked upon obedience training. They had discovered early the intelligence of Swedish Vallhunds. Lesley said,
“As these are working dogs they need something to think about and work towards. Practising our Obedience exercises gives focus to our early morning walks. It makes a great start to the day.”
Success in Obedience competitions followed. As did a trip to the U.K in 1985 where the Grays met and stayed with several breeders and friends they had made through the shared interest in the little Västgötaspets. It was in England that they were introduced to the dog sport of agility.
“While in England, Jacqui Bayliss took us to watch the Dalerose Agility Club practicing. We became infected with the zip and zest of the activity. On return to New Zealand we were dismayed find that the New Zealand Kennel Club had tied up agility with heavy regulations to "prevent it being abused”.
Ian realised that the New Zealand rules only allowed dogs to compete in agility if they had high level obedience qualifications prevented much participation at all. The agility scene in New Zealand was virtually dormant. It was with Ian’s tireless lobbying and effort that the N.Z.K.C finally relented and brought the ability to compete in agility inline with the U.K. rules. Agility was to flourish under the new system. Ian started a magazine called “Agility Link, and he was instrumental in the formation of the Dog Agility Training Association.
With the breeding of Vancy to Santa, Ian and Lesley had begun their kennel Valdemar. Vancy proved a very good little mum with her first litter of five puppies, (the A litter), whelped August 1985. The puppies were named; Valdemar Adele, Valdemar Aroha, Valdemar Ariki, Valdemar Alpha, and Valdemar Aster. Ian and Lesley initially just kept Alpha from this litter. All the others were sold on as pets for families. Then when the puppies were all about a year old Aster, through no fault of her own, came back to live at Valdemar.
Lesley recounted the difference between Aster and Alpha, "Valdemar Aster was the last puppy born in our first litter. She was smaller than the others but she was such a go-er, that she was the same weight as all the others at 6 weeks. She has been a go-er ever since. She was sold, but owing to circumstances beyond her control, came back to us a year later. She had done no Obedience or Agility, but took to both like a duck to water. She obtained her CDX at the same time as her sister Alpha, at the Palmerston North RNDDA. Tracking was so exciting Dad. Lets hurry and get to the end was her motto. This was refreshing for her handler who had worked only with Santa who is very careful and methodical in his tracking. Aster is inclined not to notice articles on the track, she is so busy getting along the track in double quick time. The same eagerness is apparent in her Agility and whereas Alpha spent a long time being correct and not quite fast enough, so that she was placed in Starters, Novice and Open, but never won any of them. Aster soon found herself with Santa, only able to enter Open and Senior.
The competitions and being active with the dogs continued. Lesley enjoyed trialling believing that Vallhunds were naturals at tracking as they had good noses and determination to keep working. In 1988 the Grays visited Australia for three weeks. Taking Santa and Alpha they entered the Australian Bi-Centennial Tracking Competition. Of the 12 dogs that competed on two courses over two days, Santa did so well placing fourth!
The next litter for Valdemar was the (B litter), whelped in July of 1989. There were 6 puppies this time. Four dog pups and 2 bitch puppies. Valdemar Beau, Valdemar Bella, Valdemar Beltane, Valdemar Beowulf, Valdemar Bruce, and Valdemar Brunehild. Four were sable greys, and two puppies, one boy Beau and one bitch puppy Bella were grey and white. Beau competed in agility and Bella was exported to Australia, where she was bred. Two generations of breeding down from Bella, and the Valdemar bloodlines returned to New Zealand in the form of Steppenwolf Zip, stud dog for Valkrista.
Vancy's last litter the (C litter) resulted in just one puppy, Valdemar Carl.
In 1992 the Grays were approached by an author writing a book for Reed publishing. The book, 'GRAHAM MEADOWS, An Illustrated Guide to Dogs, their selection and care (1992)', includes a photo of Aster as a ‘well marked and typical Swedish Vallhund’. She sits with several other breeds on the steps of the Auckland Museum. Graham also photographed the four dogs together in their home setting, he was fortunate indeed to have such fine examples of the breed for his book.
The titles earned by these great little ambassadors reflect the dedication and effort of their owners and happy, active, well-led dog lives. Ian and Lesley admitted that the importing of two little puppies from the other side of the world in 1984 was a real leap in the dark. But also reported that their “little grey dogs” changed and enriched their retirement. Dog owners beyond Swedish Vallhund circles have benefited greatly from the efforts of the Gray’s particularly with the ressurection of Agility in New Zealand.
Valdemar has indeed gone down in the history of the breed in New Zealand was well respected and admired.