Nestled in a country lane just a few miles from the hustle and bustle of the busy M74 near Carlisle are Bitcon Kennels, home of Moray and Kathryn Armstrong, names more than passingly familiar to anyone involved in the world of dogs.
It is also the home of another well known personality, Yogi, the Hungarian Vizsla or Sh Ch/Aus Ch Hungargunn Bear Itn Mind to give him his registered name. His fame is worldwide – how many other dogs can claim to having a Facebook page, a Wikipedia entry and countless listings in the chronicles of canine history?
Yogi's achievements are so incredible that even friends of mine who have no interest or part in dog exhibiting know about him and know exactly who you mean when you mention Yogi, the Vizsla.
His story and show records have been recapped scores of times and thousands of words have been written about him, so much so that it's going to be difficult to find something to give a different perspective on his story. I have to admit to a degree of pride in being able to say I was privileged to be there to report on the shows where he attained many of his landmark achievements.
I'll just give a quick review of some of the highlights of the Yogi story.
Bred by Naomi Cragg in Australia he was whelped on 22 December '02. He was best baby puppy in show at his very first show in New South Wales at only 12 weeks old. He gained his first CC/BOB at six months of age and secured his Australian title at just over a year old.
When John Thirlwell and Moray were on a judging trip in Sydney, Australia in October 2004, John was very impressed by the young Vizsla he'd seen at the show. Moray obviously agreed as the next day, he awarded Yogi the group.
Initial approaches were made to his owner/breeder Naomi Cragg and it was only after much persuasion and lengthy negotiations that she eventually agreed to allow him to come to the UK to be campaigned.
So in the summer of 2005, he was crated up and made the trip by air from one side of the world to the other. There was no quarantine period as he had been brought into the UK under the Pet Passport Scheme. He was campaigned in the joint ownership of Naomi and Kathryn.
A matter of days after his arrival here, Yogi was ready to make his debut into the UK showring. This must surely give an indication of his superb temperament and conditioning. His first appearance was at the National Gundog Association show in 2005 where he was awarded his first CC, BOB and Reserve Best in show. No less than 22 days later, at his third show, he achieved his UK title and his third group two place.
His first group win came at Richmond '05, fairly quickly followed by his second at Driffield where he went on to gain his first all breeds Best in show win. He was Top Vizsla that year – a precursor of things to come especially as he had only been campaigned for the last four months in the year.
2006 started with BIS at Manchester and by the end of the year Yogi's tally included 19 group wins and eight all breed BIS. Seven BIS awards had been won in 2006, a record held by only three other dogs. Not only was he again Top Vizsla, he was Top Dog overall in '06, an award he repeated in 2007. By 2008, he was unable to compete at a number of shows as he'd already been awarded CCs by the breed judges but he still maintained the position of Top Gundog. His successes throughout 2009 kept him among the top ten all breeds for that year.
Along the way, he secured the breed CC record which had previously been held by another dog campaigned by Moray and owned by Kathryn, Sh Ch Kazval Keats.
Interestingly, throughout his illustrious career, out of the myriad occasions Yogi competed in the group ring only twice was he unplaced in the group awards.
By securing his 17th BIS win at Manchester 2010, Yogi cemented his historical record breaking achievements by smashing the record number of BIS wins held by the Scottish Terrier Ch Heather Realisation for over 70 years, in fact since 1937.
He won the first Eukanuba Champion Stakes finals; his group win at Crufts in 2009 was the first time the breed had ever achieved this.
Every win has been special and Yogi has always been handled in the ring by either Moray or John. The bond he formed with both of them is obvious to anyone who saw him going through his paces in the ring.
Yogi's show career culminated with his BIS at Crufts in 2010. Since his arrival in the UK in the summer of 2005, he had amassed 18 BIS, 13 RBIS, 46 group wins and 64 CCs.
In her Crufts BIS report Valerie Foss briefly sums up her opinion of Yogi: 'A typy dog with the movement the Standard asks for but on top of that he has charisma and big ring presence, in excellent coat and condition, handled so well, note you only see the dog and not the handler which is what it's all about.'
He was retired from exhibition immediately after this. After all what more could any dog win?
However, this astounding dog, has also proved to be a successful stud dog reproducing his superb laid back temperament and passing on his show qualities. His pedigree blends bloodlines from Australia and New Zealand which originate mainly from British exports. His sire's side incorporates two American males.
He has several titled progeny in Australia and at least 14 UK titleholders to his credit, including a full champion. A number of his other progeny are also on the first rungs of the ladder towards a title. He was runner up Top Stud dog in '08, and Top overall in '09 and '10. More details of his prowess as a stud dog are covered elsewhere in this supplement.
So now he has retired from exhibition, how does he spend his days? The simple answer to this question is much the same as he always did!
Now eight years old he is still in robust health and full of life. He enjoys a walk down by the river with the other dogs every day usually for at least an hour but the length of time is dependent on the weather. He has always been a social dog, enjoying the company of others and happily mixes with Moray and Kathryn's other males. Yogi's day to day care is predominantly undertaken by Joanne, Moray and Kathryn's daughter, and she describes him as a real character who is often up to mischief. He sleeps with two other Vizslas and the three dogs are usually curled up in bed together every night.
Particularly during the winter, he wears a coat when out being exercised and like a recalcitrant child, can be loath to get dressed, running around in circles and playfully lying down whenever Kathryn or Joanne try to get his coat on.
He likes to act the fool but all the while is still very obedient and biddable. He's the sort of dog who likes to maintain contact with people and is especially fond of hanging on to your jumper!
Personally I can confirm Yogi's sense of humour as goodness only knows how many times I've watched him scramble on to a chair in the collecting ring at shows with a gleam of devilment in his eyes when he's thought John or Moray were not watching. He certainly has a penchant for climbing up onto things and likes to look down on everyone from on high. I'm told he has loved doing this since very young – Naomi has a brick built barbeque in her garden and even as a young puppy, Yogi would clamber up on it.
Yogi's notoriety has not diminished since his retirement and he gets visitors just wanting to see him! He went to a photo shoot at a show with John during last year and had his usual 'fan club' of admirers. He did a lap of honour at the last Eukanuba Stakes Final, which he thoroughly enjoyed and looked as good as ever. John tells me Yogi looked quite surprised when they left the ring so quickly. He obviously does miss going to going to shows as when John visits Moray and Kathryn's, Yogi gets excited when he spots him and I'm sure thinks 'Oh, goody, I must be going to a Dog Show'.
Dog World TV has produced a video of Yogi combining him enjoying life to the full in his retirement and including some filming of him in the showring. This should be available to purchase at the time you are reading this article – go to dogworld.tv for further details. I know the production team thoroughly enjoyed capturing the extrovert character of Yogi on film.
I'm sure there have been many amusing and entertaining moments during Yogi's show career and the tale of how John and Moray celebrated after Yogi's Crufts BIS win will never be forgotten. For those of you who don't know the story – they were staying in a Premier Inn and once they arrived back after the Crufts formalities, there was no food or drink being served. They had to get a friend to nip out to a local garage so ended up celebrating with sandwiches, crisps and a glass (or two) of wine!
Nobody could ever have envisaged the spectacular career Yogi accomplished and would never have anticipated the records this once in a lifetime dog would achieve. He truly is a legend in his own lifetime. However, he is very much a normal active dog with terrific character and a tremendous sense of fun.
** Copyright Bonnie Scougall/Dog World **
Sh Ch Hungargunn Bear It'n Mind - "Yogi"
(December 22, 2002 - December 10, 2012 (aged almost 10 years)
Sired by Aus Ch. Hubertus Dealers Choice ex Aus Ch. Hungargunn Unforgettable
63 CC's, 18 all breeds championship show best in show awards
"It was a privilege to have known and been able to write about this fabulous dog" - Bonnie Scougall