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Thoughts on Thursday: Fate of the English Water Spaniel

Betty Bolté




Writing stories set in the past often yields a few surprises during the research phase. Whenever possible, without becoming a dang history lesson, I like to weave these facts into my stories. Not every detail, of course, but enough to share the most interesting aspects to bring the time period to life.

In my most recent release, Samantha’s Secret, I chose to have a very special dog adopt Samantha, a healer/midwife. This story takes place in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1782, right as the American Revolution is winding down. While she and Trent, the young doctor, are walking home, discussing their patient, a friendly dog takes a liking to her:

“Say, looks like we have company.” Trent stopped, bending down to greet a medium-sized white dog with caramel colored splotches that had trotted up and halted before them.

“I wonder where it came from. Oh, it looks like it’s a bit bloated, too. Maybe it has worms?” Samantha paused beside the pair, smiling at how friendly the young dog appeared. She offered it her hand to sniff and then patted its head. The soft fur slid easily through her fingers, and she rubbed its chin. “Whose is it? Do you know this dog?”

Trent shook his head, scouring the passersby for any one who may have missed the animal. “Appears to be a stray, so it could be worms inside.”

“Let us continue. Surely someone will come looking for him.” Samantha started down the street, aware of the late hour and afraid she’d miss bidding her parents farewell. For the last time. She choked on tears and swallowed them. She’d not cry in front of Trent.

Trent caught her up in two long strides. “Her, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Her who?”

He indicated the dog walking beside them. “I believe she is a female Water Spaniel, a good hunting dog by all accounts.”

“Shoo, now.” Samantha waved a hand at the dog, but it smiled up at her, tongue lolling out one side of its mouth. “I don’t need a dog.”

Never heard of this breed? It’s not surprising, as it went extinct by the early 20th century. But it’s believed to be the foundation of our present day spaniels and retrievers. In fact, it’s been compared to a heavy golden retriever or a Welsh springer spaniel by at least one blogger.[1] It may also be part of the heritage stock of the American Water Spaniel. [2] This is an ancient breed, one that even Shakespeare included in at least one play, and yet today is unknown except in histories on dog breeding. It’s rather a fun fact to me, to use the same breed as Shakespeare in my story. I hadn’t realized we shared a love for this specific kind of dog!

English Water Spaniel-1.jpg

This painting is titled, “Quaille, An English Water Spaniel” and is what I referred to when writing the scene above. Isn’t this dog a beauty? Only old paintings exist that show what the English Water Spaniel looked like. But there are several descriptions, which I used to provide the details of the silky hair and the reputation as a good hunting dog.

This breed is said to have hair that is “long and naturally curled” with “legs feathered but not curled.” Of a medium size, often the dog is depicted with liver and white coloring, though other colors like black have been mentioned. The water spaniel is said to be “that kind of dog whose service is required in fowling upon the water, partly through a natural towardness, and partly through a diligent teaching.”[3] In other words, the dog is eager to retrieve the felled bird or is easily trained to do so.

What I find intriguing is the fact that dog breeders allowed the water spaniel to disappear. What was it about the breed they didn’t want to continue? Maybe the longer hair proved an issue in the winter, freezing after they came out of the water with the fowl? Or maybe there was something in their personality, like whining or barking, they wished to avoid. Nonetheless, apparently traces of the breed’s nature and characteristics do continue to reveal themselves in present day spaniels.[4] I particularly liked the aspects of this dog’s personality to be loyal and attach to their owners. Samantha needed a friend and companion!

Most of the time, we decry the event of an animal going extinct. This is why we have endangered species lists and the like. Yet in this case, it appears this breed was intentionally bred out of existence. What do you think? Should dog breeders, or any animal breeders, have that right?

Award-winning author Betty Bolté writes stories featuring strong, loving women and brave, compassionate men. In addition to her fiction, she’s the author of several nonfiction books and earned a Master’s in English in 2008. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Historical Novel Society, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and the Authors Guild.




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[1] Dalziel, Hugh. British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, and Exhibition. Chapter XXX: The English Water Spaniel. Accessed 6/2/2015.

[2] Henriques, Harry. “History of Spaniels-Norfolk and English Water.” Spaniels in the Field and Flushing Retrievers Foundation. Accessed 6/2/2015.

[3] Retrieverman, Canis Lupus Hominis: The Retriever, Dog, & Wildlife Blog. Accessed 6/2/2015.

[4] “American Water Spaniel.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Accessed 6/2/2015.



Twitter pitch-a-thon - Pitch your WIP or latest release to us in 140 characters or less

We're having ourselves a mini twitter pitch-a-thon. Queen of Misrule today is Xio Axelrod, who set us this little challenge. As this is a hop you can jump forward and backwards and see what our other Romance Writers Weekly authors can do with 140 characters. If you missed Victoria Barbour pop back and have a read. 

I have two new releases coming up soon. I'm going to give you a twofer here today.



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Keep going to read if Brenda Margriet is a master tweeter. Shouldn't there be a name for one of those?