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Interview with Barb Heidenreich – Fernhill Scottish Deerhounds


An Interview with Barb Heidenreich, Breeder of Fernhill Scottish Deerhounds

Where did you grow up?

Barb Heidenreich: I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, with summers at a family property (since 1886) on Lake Simcoe, 45 minutes from downtown Toronto. Relatives in England, Scotland, Haiti, Schleswig-Holstein, and Bodensee kept me travelling from an early age.

Did you come from a doggy family? If not, how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?

Barb Heidenreich: My love of dogs was limited, as my childhood dogs were terriers. One had “Springer rage” and my scars reflect eleven years with this dog. Arabian horses and cats were my passion. In 1963, a solo bicycling venture as a young teen around Scotland exposed me to my first Deerhound on a couch at the Kilmartin Hotel, Argyll… the perfect cross between a horse and a cat! Acquiring one in Canada finally happened in 1970 with Jan Buchanan’s Alistair Of Auldstane.

Who were your mentors in the sport? Please elaborate on their influence.

Barb Heidenreich: Lack of mentoring was the norm… real learning started in 1968 with visits to “Auldstane,” “Gayleward,” “Sirhan.” My first pair of Deerhounds in 1973 precipitated my most influential “mentor” experience. They coursed and damaged a Whippet in a park. The owner was kind enough not to sue me but explained that I owned a sighthound, bred to chase and kill… “Start doing your breed research!” What a shock, as my single Deerhound helped me raise raccoons and kittens and showed no prey drive! So, the research began—and in this breed it never stops. There is always something new to learn. I have learned the most from:

  • Attending 48 SDCA National Specialties (starting in 1973) watching/entering both conformation and coursing events;
  • Attending three Dava Quaich Coursing meets in Inverness and the Borders… Deerhounds coursing on their home terrain is an INCREDIBLE learning experience!;
  • Open field coursing in the 1970s-early ‘80s with M.H. Dutch Salmon in Manitoba (after European hare), the Dakotas, Colorado, and New Mexico (after Blacktail, Whitetail and Antelope Jackrabbits) as well as countless NOFCA/ASFA coursing meets.

Starting in 1977, I have attended eight UK Breed Shows over the years and have had the privilege of judging Deerhounds in the UK (2000), a Deerhound Specialty in Finland (2007), and recently, I had a wonderful entry at Västerås, Sweden (2022). I met the key British breeders in 1977: Marjorie Bell (Enterkine), Anastasia Noble (Ardkinglas), Agnes Lynton (Geltsdale), Norah Hartley (Rotherwood), Leslie Edmunds (Duchally), Mary Girling (Pyefleet), and Kenneth Cassels (Sorisdale). They taught me so much! My visits over the years and their letters/photos are a treasure.

Before my first litter in 1975, a course by Canine Consultants Canada Ltd. taught me “puppy evaluation” at various ages from 2-3 days to 12 weeks. I still have the goniometer and measuring stick that help to find structurally balanced puppies in a litter, avoiding the pitfall of seeing the largest as the “pick.” Lack of mentors in the breed prompted me to publish Your Scottish Deerhound Primer in 1989 as a puppy raising handbook for newbies. A fifth edition (2023) is here:

Fernhill Deerhounds are widely known, successful in the ring and coursing field. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?

Barb Heidenreich: My vision of the “ideal” type is a functional, rough-coated, large Greyhound. Reading the incredible historical legacy on coursing red deer, measurements, illustrations of breed “greats” in the 1800s, and being heavily involved in open field coursing on my own 200 acres (deer and hare), but also in North America and Scotland, has given me my vision of “perfect type.” This includes Arthur Wardle’s 1908 drawing of Ch. Ayrshire, so like Ch. Ardkinglas Sonnet that I saw win the 1977 UK Breed Show and Coronach Luckpenny that blew the field away to win the Dava Quaich in 1996.

Barb Heidenreich
Ayrshire, 1908

I search for mates that bring me closer to that ideal. Eclipsing all to me is health-longevity, temperament, and function. I must see the dog, research health, and never rely on pictures and show wins. Keeping size moderate also helps with health and longevity. My sales contract has, for decades, guaranteed my puppies on a replacement basis up to “veteran” status should they die from the major breed health issues we know are hereditary: heart, bone cancer, GDV.

How many dogs do you currently house? Tell us about your facilities and how the dogs are maintained.

Barb Heidenreich: We average 5-10, all house pets. We field course daily on our fenced 200 acres. That has had its perils with porcupines and deer coursing, but their sheer joy of the chase would never let me deny them this freedom. Whelping takes place in my “study,” and from four weeks on they live in a puppy room off the kitchen with their own stereo set. Youngsters join us on a daily 1-2-mile hike from eight weeks on, learning how to track back to us (thanks to an ultra loud STORM® whistle) after running off. The varied terrain helps to build muscle, appetites, strong bones, and especially their gut flora as they sample soil, plants, and turkey poop. Unlimited free-play is required to raise a Deerhound puppy properly.

Who were/are some of your most significant Deerhounds?

Barb Heidenreich: Kira in my first litter was placed First by Miss Noble (entry of 24) in the Open Bitch class at the 1977 SDCA Specialty. A star, living well past 13 years. From Kira in 1978 came two-time BIS Ch. Carerra Genoble Of Fernhill. Then Trefor x Kira produced Int. Ch. Fernhill’s Thor O’ Maropa’s Arran, 1985 World Dog Show (Amsterdam) Best of Breed. Ch. Crannoch’s Fenris Of Fern Hill, F.Ch., entered my life in 1982 finishing in the US with three straight 5-point majors. At the 1983 Specialty, Fenris was ASFA BOB/Best in Field (over an entry of 42) and he then at the 1985 SDCA Specialty went Best of Opposite as a dual Ch. & F.Ch., a breed first!

Barb Heidenreich
Fenris, 1984

In 1991, Ch. Fernhill’s Phantom became the first Deerhound to win the Hound Group at Westminster. Lots of BIS and BISS over the years (honestly, I can’t bother counting!), especially by Am. Can. Ch. Fernhill’s Esprit, Am. Can. Ch. Fernhill’s Kendra (#1 in Canadian-bred of all time), and Am. Can. Ch. Wyvern (#1 in the US 1996 and Canada in 1995, 1996). Breed history was again made by GCh. Fernhill’s Opal At Jeffcairn, winning a Specialty ASFA Coursing BOB/BIF in 2018 (over 28 Deerhounds) and a BISS at the 2021 SDCA National Specialty.

Barb Heidenreich
Esprit, 1994
Barb Heidenreich
Opal, 2021

Please comment positively on your breed’s current condition and what trends might bear watching.

Barb Heidenreich: Since its function was displaced by the Purdey rifle, Deerhounds have gradually increased in size. The show ring has rewarded size and coat, and the Breed Standard has been altered several times with size increases from the original 1892 Standard. A segment of our breed is tending to morph into a “smaller, more athletic Irish Wolfhound” and current DNA testing is even finding some purebred Deerhounds with IW genes! But there are still lots of wonderful “large rough-coated greyhounds” in North America (and Scandinavia) in the ring and coursing fields.

The sport has changed greatly since you first began participating. What are your thoughts on the state of the fancy and the declining number of breeders? How do we encourage newcomers to join us and remain in the sport?

Barb Heidenreich: Breeder-judges in the past, like Anne Rogers Clark, knew breed history, form, and function. That seemed to change in the 1990s as retired handlers became judges and professional handlers began to dominate our show ring. Adding Owner-Handled classes seemed to confirm the dog is no longer only being judged. Better informed breeders and judges, and more accurate judges’ education material, could guide the breed back to a functional type. Certainly, more affordable 2- to 3-day Specialties as in the past, with conformation one day and coursing the next, would attract more attendees. Mentoring newcomers is key.

Finally, tell us a little about Barb outside of dogs… your profession, your hobbies.

Barb Heidenreich: Professionally, for 45 years, I have focused on environmental protection, research, and university teaching: Currently, my goal is to complete a book on Scottish Deerhounds that compiles work from a range of experts and my 50 years of breed research. It is almost ready! Thank you for this opportunity!

Barb Heidenreich
Barb Heidenreich with Vesper & Bella