Basset hounds: incorrigible and infuriating, vocal and entertaining … and seemingly almost human


The basset hound is a force of nature, says Flora Watkins.

When cartoonist Alex Graham was asked to create a cartoon about a thinking dog for the Daily mail in 1963 the obvious choice was a basset hound. He’s a “one-of-a-kind dog,” he said, after Fred Basset and his tongue-in-cheek observations crept into the nation’s consciousness, with a “rather expressive face”.

Their Queen Anne legs, sad eyes and ears sweeping the ground make the basset a gift to designers and advertisers. They are absurdly endearing; As I write, our two Hush Puppies residents, Wellington and Churchill, are sprawled on my feet, making the kind of 80-decibel snore that would get my husband a sharp bang in the ribs at 2 a.m. Yet, they simply elicit an indulgent smile.

Rosie Wilson with five of her Bassett Hounds. © Millie Pilkington for Country Life

His compatriot Basset, Orlando Fraser, is “completely blind” to the faults of his dog Basil, according to his wife, Clementine. “All thefts, damages and thefts pass by and are forgiven,” she said. Ms Fraser bought Basil for her husband last Christmas, after years of hearing childhood memories of her mother’s basset hound, Lady Antonia.

Oddly, she adds: “Orlando came back from London the other day and said, ‘I went through the albums with mum over dinner and the horrible thing was that Bertie the Basset died three years before I was born! It’s a testament, Ms. Fraser thinks, to the strength of the personality contained in this comic body.

Basil is adored by the Fraser’s four children, ages six to 14, with his trailing ears – “He was like Dumbo when we first had him” – and impresses with his “incredible ability” to fly. the food.

“It’s my ‘pre-wash,’ laughs Ms. Fraser.“ It goes straight into the dishwasher and licks it all up and down. ”

Basil Fraser the Basset Hound owned by Clemmie Fraser and her family. Credit: Clemmie Fraser

Like my own bassets, Basil comes from hunting lines, so he’s a slimmer and more streamlined model than the Kennel Club (KC) basset hound. They came from France to England in 1866 (low means “low” in French), imported by Lord Galway. He sold them to Lord Onslow in Clandon Park in Surrey, who was said to have been the first person in Britain to hunt hares with a pack of bassets.

Early aficionados included Sir Everett Millais, son of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John and an ‘influencer’ of his day, and Princess Alexandra, who established a pack at Sandringham in the 1880s, making the breed very fashionable.

Yet within a few decades a story sadly familiar to so many purebred dogs has emerged. The type of basset who found favor in the exhibition world had become a caricature of the breed; heavy, stuffy and bulky. For this reason, the Association of Masters of Basset Hounds was established in 1912, to encourage the breeding of dogs purely for hunting.

The Basilisk of the Frasers was bred by Andrew Sallis, master and hunter of the Kimblewick Foxhounds. His bassets are “remarkably fast creatures, since they don’t seem made for that.” Piglet and pumpkin sleep on the children’s beds and refuse to go out with the foxhounds. “I think they are worried about being kicked out,” Sallis reflects. “They’ve really made their claim to be domestic dogs and think they’re superior.”

As with all bassets I know, “no food is safe” with them. “They don’t have a filter and eat things other dogs would never tolerate: lettuce, tomatoes,” he adds. (Wellington’s Red Letter Days include a whole Victoria sponge and a beef sirloin that had been taken out of the oven to rest before carving, but he’s not averse to wet wipes and Play-Doh.)

The piglet and the pumpkin are purely pets. Yet unlike many working dogs, bassets can move from field to fender very happy when they retire. Four County bassets have been relocated “across Oxfordshire”, says Miss Wilson (including five with her, “although only three sleep on my bed”). Churchill was gifted to us by the Albany and West Lodge at the age of five because, like its namesake, he proved too independent to stand in the pack. It’s the perfect pet, endlessly tolerant of the baby pulling its ears (the trade-off being how easily it relieves her of snacks).

© Millie Pilkington for Country Life

Two Albany bassets – one, Isla, a daughter of Churchill – fit into their new life just as well in the Master’s Lodge at Selwyn College, Cambridge. Roger Mosey, the former BBC editorial director, acquired YoYo shortly after his arrival in 2014, followed by Isla in 2018.

YoYo is a local celebrity. Traditionally, the Master’s Lodge has had a cat rather than a dog. “Technically, I didn’t need permission, but I thought it would be nice to ask the College Council,” says Mosey. ‘The secretary thought it would be fun to put in the record that Master was allowed to keep a “Very Fat Cat”.’

Later that year, Mr. Mosey wrote a journal for the New statesman. “There was some pretty controversial stuff in the first part,” he recalls. “Then at the end I put something on the dogs taking over Cambridge. It took off completely, ”he continues, slightly amused. ‘The story was in the To post and The temperature and YoYo was “Woof of the Week” on Sky News. ‘ Even today, Mr. Mosey is stopped in the street and asks “Is this the famous cat from Selwyn College?” YoYo is answered in the IQ quiz book and there is a photo of her on a Cambridge tea towel.

Either way, it’s hard to see the “Selwyn College Cat” story take off in such a way if YoYo had been another black lab. There is something about a basset hound that catches the imagination. On the one hand, they are quite rare. Although Fred Basset’s popularity led to a six-fold increase in KC recordings during the 1960s, it has since waned. When I go out with Welly and Churchill, old people often say, “Oh, you don’t see a lot of them these days.”

Handler Gavin Robertson kisses Jilly le Basset Griffon Vendeen after winning Best in Show on the last day of the Crufts Dog Show in 2013.

I’m biased, of course, but I don’t think any other race comes close in terms of character and traits that seem almost human. “Their weight – emotional and physical – is very heavy,” says Ms. Fraser. Mr. Mosey’s Isla is “incredibly affectionate”, though less outgoing than YoYo, who greets May Ball revelers in a tiny bow tie and “ugly at their feet, hoping they let go of a couch.”

They are extremely vocal dogs, and a pack of them can create an extraordinary, deep and resonant noise. Welly enjoys opera and sings on Radio 3, although her tastes are more Classic FM; his favorite tune is the duet of the Pearl Fishers. He has an extensive vocabulary of growls, growls, sighs and moans: a “talkative basset hound” is our family code for someone who has too much to say for themselves.

The Duke of Edinburgh used to call the horses ‘great levelers’, but I think it’s the basset hound. Caspar Withen tells me he has known several who refuse to live in kennels, but will run around the field all day before returning home, sitting on the couch and watching Come dance strictly‘.

Note that the basset watch from the sofa. Their owners are probably sitting on the floor.

Indeed, while I was working, Churchill made his way to the sofa next to me and, after an hour of sighing, breathing heavily and leaning on me, I gave up and moved on. in the office. In fact, I hope to catch Strictly myself. I just need to make him a bacon sandwich first.

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