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Learning About The Dogs At Shelborne

In mid-October we vacationed in Vermont, renting a cottage on Shelburne Farms, on the shore of Lake Champlain, and very close to the Shelburne Museum. We love both of these places for many reasons, but as a dog writer, I’m always trying to find a link between dogs and everything else.

J. Watson Webb, and his wife, Electra, who started the Shelburne Museum, were active in the Shelburne Hunt and raised Foxhounds until the hunt was disbanded in 1952. I love foxes and am not sorry the sport has dwindled, but I’m fascinated by anything relating to the dogs. I contacted the museum and Archives and Library Manager Allison Harig pulled several volumes, and I spent an afternoon going through several ledgers that recorded the Foxhounds of the Shelburne Hunt.

The hounds were listed by name, alphabetically, with information after each name. Some entries were brief, others were longer, like a dog named Rundle. His entry appears to have been annotated by more than one person. His date of death was 1922. In black ink, it says, “put down acct. age…could barely get around. He did the pack a world of good.” Then in blue ink, someone added, “in fact made it.” At the top of the page in pencil, “best sire we ever owned.” Then in red pencil, “the hound that made the Shelburne (hunt).”

Another listing was for Chantress. Date of death: March 29, 1916. “Killed by afternoon train on the RR track near Fletcher’s crossing…great worker…great loss. Heavy in whelp & due in a few days…”

Not all hounds were praised. Diver’s note reads, “A coarse hound that would not hunt. No use to breed to-bad shoulder and no neck.” Plato is called “a useless old hound. $50 wasted.”

I was surprised by the number of dogs who died from either pneumonia or distemper. A 1933 note says that a veterinarian came to inoculate for distemper, but maybe the vaccine wasn’t as effective then as now. One entry says, “Put Lordy down…went off his head.”

In the entries for 1914, ’15, and ’16 the Webbs won several ribbons at the Westminster Kennel Club dog shows. There’s a small note of pride in the 1914 list, “I beat the Brandy Wine in every class I showed against them.”

While I was enjoying the ledgers, Allison, and Director of Collections Barbara Rathburn mentioned that there were grave markers for several dogs at the Brick House, the Webb’s home on the grounds of Shelburne Farms. The house is off limits to the general public, so Barbara offered to take me there.

Lined up between two trees were eight dark green markers with white lettering. One read, “Cricket 1911-1923. First Shelburne Terrier.” The breed never caught on, but J.W. Webb had tried to create his own breed of small terrier. The other dogs were Sherry, Tickle, Peter, Fellah, Boots, Vicky and Raffle, with dates from 1923 to 1954. I asked if all the dogs buried there were Shelburne Terriers, but Barbara didn’t know. She did say that the museum curator thought all the others were Fox Terriers.

Days later, I had a chance meeting with Dundeen Galipeau, granddaughter of J. Watson and Electra Webb. She believes that the other graves are those of her grandmother’s Border Terriers, the breed she had her entire life. Dundeen’s own mother, Kate Webb, was active in the Border Terrier Club of America her entire life, and Dundeen is carrying on the tradition of having Border Terriers.

Still, it seemed that there should be even more. Dr. W.S. Webb, who started Shelburne Farms, had four children, who married and had children, who had children, and many of those descendants live at Shelburne Farms. It seemed strange that there wouldn’t be other favorite dogs buried somewhere. Farm archivist Julie Edwards had no records of a pet cemetery, and a friend suggested that the graves were unmarked, but I couldn’t let it go. Finally, Julie emailed me that Marshall Webb remembered “a couple of markers” leaning against the wall of the Coach Barn that had been moved when a water line to the barn was laid.

I drove to the Coach Barn and found, leaning on the back wall, six stone markers, each about ten inches wide by about 18 inches high. They commemorate Sandy, Nippie, Tuck, Ivy, Shiela, and Fun, with dates from 1904 to 1931. I’m sorry they no longer mark the graves of these beloved pets, but I’m glad they weren’t destroyed. I loved finding evidence of at least 14 beloved pets.

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