Fairies or Collies ?

by Thelma Gray  

Two distinct colours - blue merle and brindle - have come to be regarded as exclusive to the Cardigan breed. The blue was never known in Pembrokes, although there was at one time a brindle Pembroke strain; it was eventually decided that this latter stemmed from a Cardigan cross, and this colour was excluded from the Pembroke standard of points.  

I have been told that gossips whisper that the "fountain" from which all present day merles have sprung was the result of a collie cross, and that fears have been expressed as to the faults that might be introduced into the breed as a result. This rumour can only have been started by someone who did not have the privilege of seeing the beautiful pre-war merle Champions, or who is not qualified to judge the breed today, for reasons I will now explain.

In the first instance, it is almost certainly a fact that Corgis - Pembroke and Cardigan - were originally crossed, not only with each other but with Welsh Collies as well as other types of dog. The Pembroke and Cardigan crosses were comparatively recent and took place right up until 1934, when the Kennel Club recognised that there were two entirely separate breeds of Corgi and gave them dual registration. The other crosses occurred long before, but we see occasional throw-backs in most strains, and in Corgis of any colour. They are, if anything, less apparent in the merle lines than in some others.  

What faults would we expect to find from a collie cross? Long coats, long legs, very long, narrow heads, and small, pointed or pendant, ears are the likeliest.  

Long Coats Re-Appear

Long coats, scarcely ever seen pre-war, made their appearance shortly after hostilities ceased and stemmed almost entirely from one well-known red/white Champion bitch; she had no known merle blood, but nobody ever suggested that she was derived from a close collie cross!    

The pre-war merles were all good looking, short coated and typical, but they came from Geler stock exclusively and Miss Wylie had lost the strain that produced them by the time she was ready to recommence dog breeding. 

For several years it seemed likely that the merle Cardigans had vanished for ever, but the colour suddenly cropped up again, dramatically enough, on both sides of the Atlantic. In California, a brother to sister mating (the pair being bred from solidly red and brindle stock) produced beautiful merles, much to everyone's astonishment and delight.    

Shortly afterwards a Mr. Jones, of the "Taxicar" prefix, bred a litter which contained a nice red dog with one wall eye. (There was nothing very odd about this that great Cardigan pioneer, the late Mr Griff Owen, showed a beautiful wall-eyed red bitch at the Crystal Palace in the breed's early show days.).  Mr. Jones put a tricolour bitch to his dog "Minor" and the litter contained a beautifully coloured merle dog, Samswn Bach. There is, therefore, no mystery about Samswn's antecedents, even though he was not an especially good Cardie, being rather on the leg, and small and pointed in ear. Against this he had a perfect coat and a nicely shaped, triangular head. He was the first blue merle to be shown in this country since Miss Wylie's Ch. Geler Caressa and Ch. Geler Cledwyn.

"At   Last"

All my life I have longed for a merle Cardigan, so I decided to try to re-establish the merles. I wanted Samswn's exquisite colouring, but not his faults. The obvious step was to buy a very good tricolour bitch to mate with him, in order to follow the geneticist's rule that one should never mate reds or sables to merles if merles are sought. But at the time tricolours were very scarce, and I failed to find a good enough female to make a start. I already had some bitches of other colours, having acquired Goldie of Greenfarm (litter sister to Ch. Lisaye Rebecca of Greenfarm), a red/white, and her brindle daughter, Rozavel Cariad. by Ch. Withybrook Caesar, plus Cariad's daughter by Ginger of Rode; the latter was light red/white. I put the two young bitches to Samswn, several times, and as expected, got mainly light reds, some with one or two wall eyes.

The wall-eyed bitches were mated back to their merle sire, sometimes without the desired result, but one thrilling day, Brithwyn produced two well-marked blue merles, male and female. The dog was triumphantly registered "Rozavel Blue at Last" but the bitch unfortunately died. Blue at Last is the firm foundation from which all present day merles in this country have come. Unlike Samswn he was ultra-low to ground, ideal size, perfect coat, head with large rounded ears. His mouth was not level, and he never passed on this fault, but because of it he could not be shown. 

He proved prepotent even to the extent of siring a good merle from a red bitch with no known merle blood - a rare occurrence - and he sired and grand-sired many winners. Some people like one colour and some like another, and naturally there are those who do not care for merles while others think them beautiful, but it is beyond dispute that taken as a whole the merles are very typical.    

They are free from the all too common faults in other strains - soft coats, long narrow heads with insufficient width between the ears, and over-large, flat, splayed feet. They rarely have these faults, even though they are mostly inbred on Samswn Bach - the dog accused of having "collie blood".  I have before me the pedigree of one of the best litters I have seen, and Samswn appears in it five times. The puppies are typical Cardigans, with coats, heads, legs, etc., to satisfy the most critical. We have already seen three blue merle Challenge Certificate winners since the resuscitation of the colour, as well as numerous other successful show specimens.  

Outcross Problem

  In recent years, the problem of an outcross has bothered breeders of Cardigans. At one time the narrow bloodlines made it almost impossible to avoid consolidating faults as well as virtues, and for this reason alone the merles should be welcomed, since they bring with them fresh blood that appears to nick in well with the successful Kentwood and Withybrook strains, names which appear often in most pedigrees. 

The recognised custom of breeding merles to either tricolours or black and whites gives best results, though tricolours and blacks/whites bred from merles may be mated with reds or brindles. Merle to merle matings should only be undertaken with an expert knowledge of the bloodlines and the stock, and under these circum­stances can be outstandingly good, but cannot be repeated ad lib. There is evidence to show that the merles have considerable appeal, enquiries for them coming from many parts of the world and exports having gone out to Tasmania, Canada, U.S.A. and other countries most recently.    

In closing, let us remember that there is nothing new about the merle Cardigans. They were the subject of Welsh folklore scores of years ago, the story being that they were originally brought by the fairies one night. Well, the fairies took them away again in 1939, but hard-working breeders have brought them back, this time in such numbers and now so widely distributed amongst their keen admirers, that they are, we hope, here to stay for all time.                                                                                       

 Published in the CWCA year book 1962  


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