Guest blogger: Kim Campbell Thornton

French hounds, as photographed by Kim's husband, Jerry Thornton. The couple traveled to France this summer for the World Dog Show in Paris and also visited the famous hunting kennel at Cheverny.

Kim Campbell Thornton is well known in the dog (and cat!) world for her many articles and books. You can find her work in Dog World, Popular Dogs, and on MSNBC.com, among other places, and she’s also well represented at local bookstores with such books as For the Love of Dogs (co-authored with Virginia Parker Guidry)  and, most recently, Careers with Dogs: The Comprehensive Guide to Finding Your Dream Job. This summer, Kim and her husband Jerry–frequent travelers from their home base in California–visited Paris for the World Dog Show and also traveled to Cheverny for the famous “feeding of the hounds” at the chateau there. Kim kindly offered to describe the trip and the hounds they saw, and Jerry generously provided his photographs. Enjoy!

England is home to scores of dog breeds and of course has a long-standing tradition of hunting, but I discovered on a recent trip that France—country of origin for many hound breeds–has much to offer dog lovers. I was in Paris this past July for the World Dog Show—a story in and of itself. The city is well known for its welcoming attitude toward dogs, and as I walked through the streets on my way to a place I had long wanted to visit, I happened to pass a café. Staring out the window, as if waiting for his order to arrive, was a German Shepherd Dog.

A winning hound at the 2011 World Dog Show in Paris. Photo by Jerry Thornton.

A little farther along I passed Le Bouledogue, a café that I believe has a couple of French Bulldogs on the premises, although I didn’t have time to stop and look. I was on my way to the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature, which has been on my Paris “to-do” list for some time. I am always intrigued by art that features dogs because it’s sort of a window back in time. It lets us see what different breeds looked like, how they might have lived—even seen through the prism of artistic license—and how they have changed over the years. This hunt museum, housed in the Guenegaud building in Paris’s 3rd arrondissement, is a trove of art, weapons, game animals and hunt paraphernalia.

Sheet music from Chateau Montpoupon depicts a French hunting scene. Photo by Jerry Thornton.

The Salon des Chiens and the Salle du Cheval are of special interest to dog and horse lovers. In the Salon des Chiens are a number of beautiful paintings, some on loan from the Louvre. Among them are depictions of huntsmen releasing Bassets from their kennel, two Pointer-type dogs staring longingly at a deer hanging above a table, and portraits of Tane, Blonde and Diane, some of Louis XIV’s favorite hunting dogs. Of special interest to me were the paintings showing the Porcelaine because I had seen the modern incarnations that morning at the dog show. They looked to have changed very little in the two centuries or so since the paintings’ completion. Hunting horns, bird calls, dog collars, sculptures and taxidermy are among the other items on display. Materials and descriptions are primarily in French, but the language of art is universal and anyone can appreciate the beauty of the artworks in this museum.

The Cheverny hounds. The French hounds look much different from the English hounds in the Iroquois kennel! Photo by Jerry Thornton.

If the hunt museum was the amuse bouche, a visit to Cheverny, a chateau in the Loire Valley, was the entrée. There is a kennel on the grounds and tourists can watch the hounds being fed at 5 p.m. daily. It draws a crowd, so arrive 20 to 30 minutes beforehand to stake out a place in front, especially if you have children or want to take photos. (Anyone with a sensitive nose may prefer to stay toward the rear.) The hounds know the drill. The kennelman comes out and directs them through a gate and up some stairs to the roof of the kennel. There they supervise the proceedings with varying degrees of intensity, some watchful and waiting at the gate, others flopping over to take a nap. The kennelman takes buckets of water from a large trough and thoroughly washes down the ground. We have no idea why he didn’t use a hose; maybe it doesn’t look “authentique.” Then he spreads out the food: a combination of whole raw chickens and kibble. By this time baying frantically, the dogs are let back into the feeding area but respect the whip being used to draw a line beyond which they do not cross until given permission. A feeding frenzy ensues.

(The houndbloggers hasten to add that this isn’t how the Iroquois hounds take their meals! To see the Cheverny hounds on parade, as well as some of the chateau’s features, see this brief travel video: 

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/1986337/bring_out_the_hounds_cheverny_france/

Photo by Jerry Thornton.

Not far away is what’s described as a trophy room. It features antlers and paintings of the different stages of riding to hounds. It wasn’t of much interest except for the glorious stained glass window depicting the hunt.

The surprise main course of my trip, though, was a visit to Chateau Montpoupon. It’s not a monument to mustard but a very pretty chateau—the most “homey” of all the ones we visited—with an extensive hunt museum. It comprised several buildings, including a saddlery and a huntsman’s lodge with vignettes of the huntsman preparing for the day, then enjoying drinks in the evening with guests as they, presumably, rehash the hunt. Displays include gorgeous and detailed watercolors, photographs of early hunts, uniforms, vintage Hermes scarves with hunt themes, sheet music for and recordings of hunt fanfares, and framed breed standards accompanied by paintings of the dogs. It just went on and on, and every room was interesting. There are no dogs or horses on the premises, but I would love to go back and spend more time exploring the grounds.

France's Grand Gascon Saintongeois. Photo by Jerry Thonrton.

The hunt is alive and well in France, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see so many rare French hounds and sporting dogs at the World Dog Show, shown in packs by huntsmen in uniform. The only thing better would have been to see them in a more natural setting than a concrete-floored convention center on the outskirts of Paris.

“Some of these dogs live in castles and only come out once a year for a dog show,” said Belgian photographer Karl Donvil, who was capturing images for a book.

Maybe some other trip.

The houndbloggers know that at least one of the blog’s regular readers is a frequent member of hunt fields in France. To him and anyone else familiar with French hounds: we’d love to hear from you about your experiences and your view of the differences between the French, English, and American hounds. Please drop us a line!

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