In the kennel where I was born, the story has been passed down from mum to pup for generations. And even though it took place before I was born, I have heard it told so many times that it is written upon my heart.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Thelma. She was nine years old when her dog was accidentally run over by a motorcar. Mind you, this was no ordinary accident. The motorcar happened to be driven by the Duke of York, the man who would one day be king of England. But our Thelma didn’t care a fig about that. All she knew was that she had lost her beloved friend, the light of her life. And her heart was broken.
The duke, as you can imagine, felt terrible. With deepest sympathies, he wrote to Thelma’s parents and offered to purchase a new dog for the family. Her parents felt Thelma was too grief-stricken to accept another dog. Ever so politely, they turned down the duke’s generous offer and let Thelma know that they had done so. After a few months, when Thelma’s heart had mended, she wrote the duke a letter. She’d take that new dog now, thank you very much, she told him. But the duke, not wanting to go against the parents’ original wishes, declined to make good on his offer.
There would be no new dog for Thelma at this time. But she soldiered on and eventually grew up to be one of the most famous dog breeders in all of England. At the kennel she founded—known as Rozavel—she raised many a prizewinner. Among them were Alsatians, Scotties, Airedales, chow chows, and Chihuahuas. But her very favorite breed was the corgi. And while she didn’t, strictly speaking, discover corgis, her work did go a long way toward making us famous and getting us officially recognized by the Kennel Club.
Thelma encountered her first corgi as a young gal on holiday in Wales. From the window of her roadster, she saw one dashing across a field on his short but sturdy legs, expertly herding cattle by nipping at their heels. Welsh farmers had been breeding corgis to herd for hundreds of years. What did we herd? Anything that needed herding: sheep, geese, ducks, horses, cattle, sometimes even the farmers’ wayward children. It was from these same farmers that Thelma purchased the very finest specimens of our kind, with an eye to starting her own line. At Rozavel, she set about breeding two types of corgis: the Pembroke Welsh corgi (smaller and with a naturally bobbed tail) and the Cardigan Welsh corgi (bigger than the Pembroke and with a long tail).
So successful was she in her efforts in the 1930s that her Pem stud, Red Dragon, became quite the dog about- town. Thelma sold one of his excellent pups to a member of the royal family, Viscount Weymouth. Now, the viscount’s children happened to be playmates with the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose—the daughters of the very same Duke of York who had crossed paths with Thelma as a child! The young princesses were so smitten with the viscount’s corgi that they begged their father for one of their own. In short order, the duke summoned Thelma to his residence. She came bearing three charming Pembroke Welsh corgi pups, from which the children were to pick one.
Did Thelma let on to the duke that she was the same little girl whose dog he had run over all those years ago? Like a mysterious stranger in a fairy tale, she chose to keep her identity a secret. After all, that had been a lifetime ago. In this lifetime, breeding superb dogs and finding outstanding homes for them were what interested her.
Naturally, the princesses wanted to keep all three of the pups. But that was not going to happen. Not even princesses get to have everything they wish for. So after much snuggling and soul-searching and royal dithering, they chose Rozavel Golden Eagle. The way I heard it, Golden Eagle became so stuck-up and full of himself from being the pet of princesses that the staff took to calling him “the Duke.” The girls, delighted with the nickname, dubbed him Dookie. Three years later, Dookie was joined by a second corgi from Thelma’s kennel, Lady Jane. Lady Jane and Elizabeth—known as Lilibet to those nearest and dearest—soon became inseparable. The most adorable little book titled Our Princesses and Their Dogs came out just in time for Christmas 1936. It was a picture book full of photographs of Elizabeth and Margaret Rose frolicking with their beloved corgis and other royal dogs.
The same month of the book’s publication, the Duke of York ascended to the throne of England. When the people of England looked upon the pictures in this book, they saw a family with a keen attachment to and understanding of dogs. They knew that their king was a fine master, a good father, and a gentle man. Thanks in part to dogs, the people of England welcomed with open arms their new king, George VI.
Three years later, in 1939, a terrible war broke out between England and Germany. Enemy bombs fell throughout the land, destroying property and taking lives. As an example to their subjects, the king and queen chose to remain in London in the royal residence, Buckingham Palace. The princesses were sent off to the country, to Windsor Castle, behind whose stout stone walls they were kept safe. Watching over them were the officers of the Grenadier Guards, whose job it is to protect the royal family—and the royal corgis as well, although by now there was just one. Dookie had died of old age at the start of the war. Fortunately, Thelma found a mate for Lady Jane, and she soon gave birth to Crackers.
Copyright © 2018 by Kate Klimo; illustrated by Tim Jessell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.