Almost every month since the group was started I have had an email or phone call: "Is there a group near me? I would love to come." Or: "When are you bringing the pack here?" (This was from Minnesota: I think their geography was a bit out).
While we do stretch from Dartmoor to Salisbury Plain, I think that's enough. Some drive more than two hours just to be with us. We have had members come from Highbury and Maidstone and even Lincolnshire – but they were on holiday at the time. They may have even arranged their holiday around one of our dates.
So my standard reply is "contact the Basset Hound Club, there may be a region near you that runs walks. Or start your own group." Regrettably I know what the BHC thinks: not a lot. This is sad. We have had Bassets for 40 years and we have come to realise that the BHC is really only interested in showing. There are two camps in Basset Hound ownership: those who show and what is rather disparagingly called "pet owners". As a BHC member I have several times submitted articles on the decline of the breed (which they deny) and what the Basset Hound Walkers try to achieve. None have appeared.
The Basset Hound Club view
I have formed the opinion that they are frightened about large groups of Bassets roaming the country, with the risk of being sued. Anyone who comes on our walks is told – and it is clearly stated on this website that "you are responsible for your own hound(s); we are just a group of friends having a walk; if your hound gets savaged by a sheep etc don't ever think of suing the walk leader, myself or the BHC."
Many of the hounds shown today, and that win prizes, are in my view poor specimens. While I have no interest in hunting – what did a hare ever do to you? – I strongly believe they should be true to their roots. The BHC issues an annual Breeder's Guide and all too many could hardly waddle round the garden, let alone do the 10-12 miles mine do most Sundays, or the five that our Group does each month. I firmly believe that all hounds should be judged on their ability to cover the ground: what's happened to their legs? One article I submitted to the BHC half-humorously suggested that they pass the "house-brick test". This was rejected, I was told they thought this was a joke. Well it was, but there was a serious point. This was before the BBC/Cruft's withdrawal where I think I can say I was ahead of the pack.
Can your hound pass the house brick test? Not many of our "Champions" can.
Starting your own group
So if you are not fortunate enough to live in the West Country, start your own Basset Hound Walkers. As an owner you will know how many people are captivated by the sight of a Basset, let alone a pack. Exploit it. When I started the group I sent the photo below to my local and regional press. Sorry about the bloke in the middle, but it got printed. The key to publicity is a great photo. And people turned up.
A website is essential, but it is not hard, or expensive. I am sure you can find someone with some IT skills to put up a basic website. The domain names (www.bassethounds-walk.co.uk and www.bassethoundwalkers) are mine, but you can find variations I am sure. This only costs £10 for two years. There are many web-hosters who offer a year's hosting for less than £30.
We have found that a 5-6 mile walk is sufficient to make it worthwhile to attract owners from a distance. While originally we started with one walk every other month, people seem to want more. The location is important: open hills or woods with little stock is desirable. The fewer stiles the better as not all are dog-friendly (see our Quantocks video). Easy car-parking and preferably some tea stop at the end is also nice, though not always possible.
But most important is to keep it low-key: no fees, no officers, no rules apart from the one above. It is great fun: we have made so many new friends and we hope benefited The Breed which is to us the most important.
Anyone who wants more advice, please contact me and I will be only too pleased to advise. Perhaps one day there'll be a Basset Hound Walkers group in every region. We can but dream.