"Laund Loyalty of Bellhaven"

By Gayle Kaye


In 1929 a Collie puppy, named Laund Loyalty of Bellhaven, was awarded the greatest honor in Dogdom — Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club. He took the dog world by storm and to this day, is the only Collie to ever go Best In Show at the world’s premier dog event. He was nine months old and up to that time, was the only puppy of any breed to go to the top at Dogdom’s best. He did so in the days when Westminster was the greatest of all dog shows and not since the 1940s has another Collie even come close.

American Collies were in pretty good shape in those days and American breeders were just starting to breed their own quality dogs on a regular basis. However, there was a handful of breeders still importing, hoping to find next year's winner. By 1929, Mrs. Ilch of Bellhaven Collies was considered one of the premier Collie breeders, known not only for her own breeding program, but also for her knack of always importing a good one. She imported "Loyalty" in a package deal that included his litter brother, Ch. Lucason of Ashtead O’Bellhaven (went on to become one of Bellhaven’s biggest winners) and two other top winning bitches. Bred by R.F. Roberts of Ashtead Collies in England, Loyalty was sired by Lucas of Ashtead out of Jean of Ashtead. His breeding was the best of the Laund Collies, with multiple crosses to Eng. Ch. Magnet. He traced in tail-male to Eng. Ch. Anfield Model, one of the premier sires of the early 1900s.

A noted winner in England, Loyalty’s first show on this side of the Atlantic was Westminster on February 13th, 1929. Entered in only one class, “Open, Any Color” (a rarity in those days, as most dogs were entered in multiple classes), the Collie entry of 125 was the largest in years. Loyalty defeated many of the day’s top Collies, including the previous year’s winner, Ch. Laund Lindbergh of Bellhaven. This was in the days before “puppy flyers,” when most dogs took years to finish their championship.

Loyalty was groomed and handled to perfection by the Bellhaven kennel manager Mike Kennedy, one of the most respected men in the dog game. He went Winners Dog and easily won Best Collie. Bellhaven had won top Collie honors for years in succession, so this was not that extraordinary a win. It was unusual, however, for a Collie to place in the working group, let alone win it. Loyalty defeated the well-known Doberman, German Shepherd and the Old English Sheepdog. "Best In Show" was normally judged by Terrier men and terriers had won for many years in a row, but this time it was judged by Dr. Carlton Ford, a Canadian collie man from way back (he had also been the breed judge). Loyalty was awarded the top honor over the finest in the land, in a record entry of 2590, which included several previous "Best In Show" winners. Along with the prestige of this great win, came $100 in Gold!

An AKC Gazette columnist commented about the remarkable composure of the puppy winner, “moving so quietly to his position with grace and beauty.” Dr. Burrows, a well known columnist for "Dog Fancier Magazine" wrote, “he was in full bloom, full of life, and has a sweet expression, carries a wealth of coat, good head and ears, and is sound all over, and a good mover.” It was hailed as the day all Collie lovers were hoping and praying for and following the win, Collies were said to have come into their own!

The next day after the show, handler Mike Kennedy wrote, “I knew I was well in the running for the cheers of the people told me that. I showed him on a long lead, and that is the way you have to show a Collie. There is no posing or holding your Collie’s tail. What there was to see of Mrs. Ilch’s Collie, everyone could see and that is why I am the proudest kennelman in the world today! Loyalty was shown with a free hand – a long lead. His tail and chin hadn’t to be held. The puppy won on his own merits.”

Unfortunately, this would be "Loyalty’s" only American show. Today, as then, it’s not hard to imagine the exciting thrill of winning the most coveted of all dog shows, only to be followed by the tremendous disappointment of never exhibiting the dog again. Loyalty retired amid threats to his life and rumors that acid had been thrown into his eyes. A 1966 New York Times article, announced the closing of Bellhaven Kennels, and stated that after Loyalty’s Westminster win, “acid was thrown into the dog’s eyes.”

Mrs. Ilch herself deepened the mystery by writing conflicting letters during the 1970s when the Collie Club of America was collecting Champion pictures for Volume I of the Library of Champions. In the first letter (undated) written by a bedridden Mrs. Ilch, she revealed her overwhelming disappointment that Loyalty could not be included in the Collie Club of America Library of Champions — “the only reason he was withdrawn from shows after his first big win, was because of the threats on his life, were he ever shown again, and we loved him too dearly to risk his life for a championship.” However, a second letter dated September 3, 1974 clearly contradicts the first and adds a more puzzling and disturbing aspect to the mystery. She wrote......“He was as near perfection as any Collie could be and to think that after his great win, he was blinded, never to be shown again. Someday I will hunt up a clipping of the dreadful death of the jealous fiend who did it - a person who from my first success, tried in every possible way to drive me out of Collies.”

Which is the true story?? Were the contradictory letters just the rantings of an aging/bedridden, deeply disappointed individual? Who was the jealous fiend who died a dreadful death?? What person had tried to drive Mrs. Ilch out of Collies?? So many breeders had been jealous of her huge success and there were actual documented incidents of cruel hoaxes played upon her at dog shows. Unfortunately, since all the parties alive at the time are long gone, no one will ever know for sure whether the blinding incident actually happened or not. Nor will we ever know the identity of the “jealous fiend” who supposedly blinded the beautiful puppy. I can only think of one Collie person that died a dreadful death during Mrs. Ilch's lifetime...........and many who knew that particular breeder found it hard to believe she would have been capable of such an act!

As it turned out,"Loyalty" (better known as "Don") was not used much at stud. Of course his $150 stud fee following his big win could have been a major factor in a day and age (during the Great Depression) when most fees were typically $25-50 (actually his brother, Ch. Lucason Ashtead O'Bellhaven, a big winner in his own right, was used more extensively and went onto sire several important dogs, including Ch. Bellhaven Black Lucason sire of 17 champions). Laund Loyalty sired exactly one champion, Ch. Bellhaven Loyalty II and by virtue of this one dog, he is in Tokalon pedigrees multiple times. In 1934 Elisabeth Browning purchased Tokalon Loyalson, (CH. Bellhaven Loyalty II ex Phyllis of Beechtree) to incorporate into her breeding program. Loyalson is behind most of the latter day Tokalon dogs such as Storm Cloud and Stormy Weather.

There is absolutely no doubt that Laund Loyalty put Collies on the map and will remain forever etched in Collie history, by virtue of his one and only prestigious win.

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