The Saxonsprings story

The late Ken Woosnam reflects on Jean Blyth's life

and her legacy to the breed

I CAN remember very well the first time I met Jean - it was at Leeds ch show where the late Thelma Morgan introduced us. Thelma was a great friend of Jean's, whose help and advice soon got Jean established in the breed. In those days you did not just walk into a breed, you had to do a long 'apprenticeship', and Jean was no exception.

It wasn't long after this first meeting that Jean and I developed what was to become a long and lasting friendship - I had very few dogs to show so Jean was always happy for me to give her a hand, even if it was just to pull the trolley!

Jean always used to get very worked up before she went in the ring and if anyone approached her while grooming or before judging they would get the sharp end of her tongue - you soon learnt there was a time and place to talk to Jean.

It was always a great honour to be invited up to Ilkley, to see the kennel full of wonderful Apsos in immaculate condition.

It was when Jean moved south to Suffolk that I became more involved. Jean loved to travel and I would occasionally get a phone call to take her to the airport; and she was lucky to have a good friend in Phyl Alsop who would always step in to look after the dogs.

Jean had been plagued with cancer for several years and upon her return from Australia she discovered a lymphoma which needed immediate surgery. It was after this that Jean asked me if I would help with the gardening - she loved her garden - and it wasn't long before I spent every weekend at Saxonsprings.

Jean was still into dog showing but only on a limited basis because she didn't like driving long distances, so I became her chauffeur!

The Saxonsprings kennel was full of quality dogs - Ch S Buccaneer was looking fantastic along with Hank (Ch/Ir Ch S Hackensack), Jean's beloved companion.

Frederico won a ticket at an early age but Jean wasn't happy showing him. He had a super nature but seemed to hate men, so she suggested he spend some time with me in London and we soon bonded.

I campaigned him to his title and was privileged to win BOB with him at Crufts and go on to group 4 under Harry Jordan. Despite all the TV cameras and me being petrified on my first big ring appearance, he rose to the occasion and put up a splendid performance. In total he won nine CCs.

Phyl Alsop had a great bitch, S High Society, who I was privileged to campaign to her title, plus BIS at Driffield.

Due to the discomfort in her knees, Jean was not keen to show anymore, her last appearance being at the Pedigree stakes final with Hank at the age of 13 - they both retired from the show ring that day. He took her round the big ring at a rate of knots, finishing third!

Jean did so enjoy the Pedigree stakes finals and had so much success there with Fresno, Hank and later Tradition. Hank and his son Lineka both won the veterans final and Buccaneer qualified several times.

Shortly after this Jean underwent a knee replacement operation.

Jean still had the occasional litter - Hank was mated to Lady-B-Good which produced the exceptional '[' litter of Lineka, Lothario, Ladykiller and Lollipop. Jean was not going to keep anything from this litter so Madaleine Lewis chose Lothario and Victoria Watterson's Ladykiller. No one came along for Lineka so he remained at Saxonsprings with Lollipop, who didn't take to the show world so was kept as a brood bitch.

Lineka won his first CC from junior, which Jean always used to say was the kiss of death because a dog of that age is not fully mature. He was taken out of the ring to mature and upon his return was soon made up, winning 20 CCs in all, several groups plus BIS at the Welsh KC.

The next major success came with S Treacle Toffy, a result of a Lollipop/ Frederico mating. Jean thought very highly of her, saying that she was the best bitch she had ever bred. Being a typical Apso, she didn't always like the show ring, but gained her title and ended her career on nine CCs before retiring to produce some incredible stock.

Jean was so pleased with the success we were having and often said "I wish we had got together earlier".

Jean decided she would like to introduce some new blood but thought at the time that it was too late to have another dog from Joan Kendall (Orlane's), so she decided to have a puppy from Flo Fahey and Fr Jo Shire, hence the black and white dog, Bentarsna Ecclesiastical (Casey), joined the Saxonsprings kennel. Unfortunately Jean felt that he didn't really fit in, so he came to live with me in London - and he won three consecutive CCs to gain his title.

It was agreed that Casey would return to Ireland after Crufts, but when Jean realised I was heartbroken she promised me a puppy from her next litter, which was between Lineka and Treacle Toffy. At an early age we both fell in love with a dog and a bitch, who came to live with me in London once they were weaned - they turned out to be Trady and Tilly (Ch/Ir Ch S Tradition and Ch S Tillandsia).

Tilly was a constant winner in puppy classes but it was Trady who had a spectacular puppy career, winning 18 BPIB and qualifying for the prestigious Pup of the Year competition.

It was at POTY that Jean received the Tom Horner Memorial Trophy for outstanding achievements in the dog world. It was a very emotional occasion when Ferelith Somerfield read out Jean's achievements and it wasn't until she was halfway through the speech that Jean realised she was talking about her. She received a standing ovation.

A few days out of PUPPY, Tradition went to Bath, with his father, Lineka, who was in open. They both won their classes, with Trady winning the ticket from junior plus BOB; Lineka won the RCC, handled in the challenge by Jo House. Trady went on to win the group and then BIS (later he made history at this show when he won three consecutive BIS there).

Ten days later he became another Saxonsprings champion and a spectacular career was to follow: 8 BIS, 3 RBIS, 18 groups, 40 CCs and 5 RCCS. He also gained his Irish title, won the Contest of Champions, the Wales and West Contest of Champions, the Pedigree stakes final, plus he was Top Dog all breeds in 1998.

My health was not good at this time so I decided to take early retirement and move to Saxonsprings; Jean's health was also in decline and after a bad spell over Christmas 1997 she discovered that she was terminally ill. After some hospital treatment I was called in to discuss Jean's future - they had offered her a hospice bed but of course Jean would rather come home.

Jean lost her sister shortly after her move to Suffolk, and so her brother-in-law, a niece and nephew were her only remaining family, all of whom were unable to help. Social services were contacted and a package of care was set up.

Jean was still very much interested in the dogs and in the days and weeks to come she had daily visits from friends who kept her spirits up. She had carers night and morning and daily visits from the District Nurse.

Jean became great friends with one of the District Nurses, Pam Shekyls, who spent a lot more time than was allocated looking after Jean. They spent hours talking about the dogs and Jean's life, which Pam found very intriguing.

Jean's courage in her illness was incredible and after a month at home she was starting to sort out the future. Being on several committees over the years and the breed representative at the Kennel Club, and somewhat of a hoarder, her drawers were full of confidential paperwork which she managed to sort out because she didn't want to leave me this job. She also invited Madaleine Lewis and her niece to come and clear all her clothes, many of which brought back happy memories.

She ploughed through the house room by room, putting labels on articles she wanted to go to her friends. Her courage at that time was incredible - she didn't want to leave me the job of sorting it all out; she said that I would have my work cut out looking after the dogs.

Her dear friend Anne Matthews (Hardacre) spent a lot of private time with Jean, discussing what was to happen to the dogs. It was decided that they would be left in my charge and that I was to remain at Saxonsprings.

During this time Trady was on a roll and Jean insisted, much against my wish, that I should continue to campaign him as he was in contention for the Top Dog title - and thanks must go to Pam for not only looking after Jean but also feeding the dogs when I was not there.

Jean remained reasonably well and with no pain. She wanted me to have some respite so would attend the day hospice and would come home looking so glamorous, having had her nails polished, a facial, hair set, massage etc.

By LKA 98 Trady was neck and neck for the Top Dog title and what happened there would be the deciding factor. Margaret McLaughlin was down from Scotland to spend some time with Jean, and so I went to LKA with Trady who got the necessary points to crown him Top Dog all breeds Jean was on Cloud 9!

Margaret was to go home shortly, so she decided to make a Christmas dinner for Jean and me, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Jean also indulged in a glass or two of wine and she enjoyed the afternoon talking dogs with some visitors, which went on until early evening. The carers came as usual to get Jean to bed but instead she insisted on staying up quite late, which was unusual for her.

In the morning I arose as usual and didn't take any notice when there was no call from Jean as she had had such a late night. There was a peep-hole from the kitchen to her bedroom, which had been moved downstairs months before, and when I looked through I saw Jean sitting on the side of the bed, bending down putting her slipper on, so I took her her tea, only to find that this very special lady had passed away.

Jean's wish was to have as many flowers as possible on her departure, which all her friends adhered to - she would have been so proud of all the lovely floral tributes. The crematorium was full to capacity and her special friend Mrs Joan Kendall came all the way from America and gave a heart moving tribute to her friend Jean.

Special thanks to all who attended the service - and a special thank you to Britt-Marie Young for the lovely food and hospitality afterwards. I would also like to thank all the people who gave their time to visit Jean while she was so ill - this was so very much appreciated.

To sum up my special friend's life - she had her ups and downs like most of us. All of Jean's successes have been highlighted - of course, Hank winning BIS at Crufts; also when the Queen of Spain visited Saxonsprings and being invited back to stay at the Royal Palace in Madrid. But with all her success it never went to her head winning or losing, Jean would always take everything in her stride.

One of the few times I remember Jean shedding tears was when she had to say goodbye to her beloved Hank.

Jean has left such a legacy, not only to myself but to everyone in the breed. I would like to think this will be appreciated by all - Jean's wish was that everyone in the breed would get on, appreciate other people's dogs and work together to further the breed.

Jean's final wish was for the Saxonsprings legend to continue and this we are endeavouring to do.

KEN WOOSNAM

Jean and Ken pictured with Tradition when he won the first of his three BIS at Bath