On the outskirts of Kansas City, Kansas, set off a new freeway spur, stands an old house with clapboard siding and a stone foundation. It sits on nearly two acres and is shaded by huge, old trees that dominate the lawns. Everything about the place is old, except for the new, asphalt driveway repaved in September of this year. One night before the day the driveway was redone, we stayed in an upstairs bedroom with two puppies and Danny on our way to the Travelling National in Sullivan, Missouri. This old place is a part of us from our earliest days. A dog whelped here in September 1965, became the foundation for our line and many others. He ran in this yard, barked at the fence when people came up and probably had the full run of his house. He was a great dog, in his day, and a seminal sire in our breed. This was Ch. Melbee’s Chances Are, and we slept in his house.
This was my first trip to Melbee, but my parents had been there over thirty years before. They had stood outside the front door, under the big trees, and watched as their ready-to-breed bitch tapped her foot while another famous sire, Ch. Ballycastle’s Hi-Shenanigans, ran in circles around her. The breeding finally took place and after sixty-three days seven puppies were born. One became a Best in Show winner, one went to someone who is now a judge and the others are lost to memory, sent out into the world as family pets. The place is not so different from our home. The rotary dial phones were just recently removed and every wall in every room is wallpapered with patterns befitting the era in which it was hung. The wood, at the time of year we were welcomed inside, was heavily painted and slightly sticky from the Kansas City summer. The current resident, and our host, has lived in this home for over twenty years. He was a dear friend to the surviving female owner and was with her when she died. He gave us the grand tour, including a trip into the stone-walled basement. The dog runs and bathing facilities are in this basement and I could imagine our Casey’s father getting his bath in one of the rooms.
Inside the house some of the rooms have been re-purposed, as people say today. A wall into the dining room was removed and undoubtedly this was a good decision. Some of the wallpaper has been removed and rich paint covers the walls of the dining and living rooms. A sunroom has paneled walls full of art. A Kerry picture hanging here was painted by one of the judges of this year’s Futurity. According to the legend associated with this painting, it was supposed to be returned to the painter upon the death of the dame of the house. It never was and remains there to this day. The room is small and cozy and I could imagine the original owners contemplating shows and breedings over wine in this room. We saw the sunny, upstairs room where the woman groomed the dogs, now a computer room, and laughed with our friend about how impractical working in the room must have been.
The house was a contrast in the old and new. In many ways mirroring the progress of the line that was first whelped here over fifty years ago. Most of the old trophys are packed away, replaced by art belonging to our host. There are only two dogs living here now: A dog half from this old line and half from people much newer to the breed and a bitch puppy who is related and sired by a dog long dead from yet another line. Our host is really second generation, through his long association with the home’s original owners. He has honored the past in his breedings, but found his own vision. The house still clings to its past and will be slow to relinquish its history. Standing in the dining room, staring out into the front yard at the old trees and rock wall, I felt proud to be a part of this place, if only through a dog.
Looking at our puppies outside the side door in an ex-pen, I watched them maybe a little more than usual for signs of awkward movement, or an undue clumsiness, both harbingers for the dreaded PNA found in our breed. The rooms whisper about the condition past through the line long ago. With no genetic test available for this fatal neurological disorder, every breeder whose line originated from the Melbee line holds her breath until the puppies are twelve weeks old and out of danger. Rumor and innuendo fanned the flames of a fire that nearly burned this house down, figuratively at least. I’m sure it saw many tears over these rumors, both from frustration and sorrow. From these tears came the moving words written by the owners, in a dog magazine in 1989, years after the dog’s death, about this heartache: “There has been much pleasure and much sadness, as there is in anything worthwhile. Our greatest pleasure was also accompanied by our greatest sadness, the single imperfection in an otherwise prefect dream come true, our Ch. Melbee’s Chances Are.” Every breeder has had challenges not easily overcome. We certainly have had ours. Laying in the bed upstairs late at night my thoughts raced about the future of our puppies.
Our host served us breakfast in the morning and we agreed to meet later that day at the show sight four hours away. His barely six month old puppies were related to our puppies on both sides of their pedigrees. We had contacted the owners of the stud dog he chose for our own bitch. On paper it would have been a good match. After a lot of debate inside our own home we chose a different path. Our host is very happy with his puppies, and they are very nice. He has high hopes for them in the future. Our puppies were still too young on this weekend, to tell how they will look on the eve of their first show, but we are optimistic.
Danny roamed the back yard searching for whatever a boy dog looks for when confronted by a new place. Did he know he was following the trails worn by dogs from his pedigree? This show season has been like this house for us. Connections to our past and impatience for the future. Sitting in the old kitchen, talking dogs with the man who now is to many in our breed the face of Melbee, I felt at home. It was a reunion of sorts, maybe with the home’s ghosts as much as with our friend who opened his home and its history to us. I’m not sure how much value people newer to our breed place on its history. There doesn’t seem to be many people learning from those with a lifetime in the breed. The old names are forgotten and old ways seemed dated. Certainly people in our past were competitive people who enjoyed their wins. Knowledge was acquired by sitting with somebody and talking face to face, feeling their convictions instead of studying a computer screen to see the latest brags on Facebook.
Leaving Melbee and driving to the showsite we talked about the beauty of the old house and how familiar it seemed. We vowed never to wallpaper anything and how glad we were to live in a drier climate with central air. Our weekend was fun, even though we did no winning. Our host was luckier. His dog was Best of Opposite at one of the specialties. The old house would see another trophy.