History of the AHA
A Look Back on the oldest Afghan Breed Club in the world
by Susan Rhodes
In compiling this short history of the Afghan Hound Association I owe a debt of thanks to the writings of others and to the help given by the AHA’s archivist Heather Bunney. AHA archives stretch from the 1920’s to the present day and are always growing.
“The AHA is not quite as old as the breed in Britain but it has served the breed for longer than any other club.”, wrote Ann Adams on her retirement as Secretary in 1984. There was an earlier one, the Afghan Hound Club, founded in 1925 through the efforts of Miss Evelyn Denyer, the holder of the first Afghan Hound affix ‘of Kaf’. This club devised the first standard based on the famous Zardin and its founder members were largely involved with Major Bell Murray’s hounds established at the Cove in Scotland. In 1925 Major and Mrs Amps also arrived in the UK with their Ghazni hounds. Look in any of the books giving the early history of the breed and the ensuing differences of opinion are well-documented. Charles Harrison (Vishnu) speaks of the controversy that raged in the press and says, “Mrs Amps seems to have been a formidable opponent and I cannot suppress a certain sympathy springing up for the Major in his battle …”
Against this background the AHA was founded in 1927, with Mary Amps as President and this new club was, at first, almost entirely confined to a membership of owners of ‘Ghazni’ stock. However, as finally the breeders worked to combine the best qualities of all the rather various early types, the AHA soon came to represent the interests of the whole breed and by 1931 it was the sole Afghan club.
In the early years, its principal aim was to promote the breed’s popularity and to provide opportunities for Afghan hounds to be exhibited. Among other functions, a Standard of Points was adopted, again based largely on John Barff’s ‘Zardin’, imported in 1907, and then the first list of approved judges was drawn up.
Those accustomed to the breed’s present size may have difficulty in imagining a time when the annual total of litters could be counted on a pair of hands. Even by 1938 there were still only nine sets of CCs and, at most of the championship shows, entries did not justify sex-dividing the classes below Open, so that sometimes there were no bitch winners at all in the classes up to and including Limit. The first sets of CCs were awarded at Crufts in 1927, the DCC won by Taj Mahip of Kaf and the BCC by Ranee, both bred by Bell Murray.
The first Chairman of the AHA was Mrs Phyllis Robson, editor of Dog World, owner of Ch Asri Havid of Ghazni, the breed’s first black/tan Champion, and ‘being a lady of means, played an additional part as an ambassador, by campaigning her dogs widely, up and down the country.’ She was also the proprietor of ‘Dog World’ and so able to offer generous press coverage.
The AHA functioned without a committee until 1939. During the years up to and beyond World War II the AHA never tried to organise a show for the breed but concentrated on supporting clubs with sponsorship for any classes scheduled. Finance was a burning issue in these years but at the AGM of 1937 it is noted that “a collection was got up for a presentation to Mrs Couper on her retirement as hon.sec. and the sum of £7. 17s. 6d not only obtained the small bureau she desired but allowed her a cash balance of £1.7s. 6d.”
The last minuted meeting before the war was that of July 1939 and the first after it, recorded on the same page, was that of July 1945. The post war zeal to rebuild the sadly depleted breed was combined with a new ambition: for the club to have a show of its own.. Prevailing optimism would settle for nothing less than a Championship show. The first one was held in June 1946, with Brig.Gen.Lance as judge. There were sixteen classes and seventy three exhibits. Mollie Sharp (Chaman) took both the CCs and two other classes, and Eileen Snelling (Khorassan) won First and Second in Junior with two home-bred brothers, one all black and one white.
Unfortunately, the success of this show led to an over-reaching of resources, in the holding of three championship shows the following year. Until very recently it was thought mistakenly that there were only two CC shows that fateful year and for this reason the celebrations for our Ruby CC show may have been a year late – an unexpected outcome of the AHA’s post war ambitions!! After this, the club did not recover sufficiently to be granted CCs again until 1952.
However the AHA was by no means moribund during these years. At the request of the Kennel Club, a sub-committee was set up in 1946, to review and revise the Standard of Points, which had stood since 1927. It is worth quoting the relevant minute, “It was agreed that a lead be given to Continental clubs and American organizations, which had indicated their need for further information and a lead from the AHA and that, for the purpose of discussing the Standard of Points, a sub-committee be appointed.”
It was chaired by a relatively new boy, Bill Riley (Bletchingley). By January 1947, the revised Standard was prepared.for submission to the Kennel Club. This is the historic Standard first published in the Breed Notes of ‘Our Dogs’ in October 1947.
From 1952 onwards, the AHA has held an annual championship show which, until 1968 was the only specialist championship show in our breed. The first overseas judge arrived in 1959, Mme M Deckers of Belgium, sometime owner of Belg/Swed Ch Amanullah Khan of Acklam and also incidentally an active member of the Belgian Resistance during the war!
The largest entry to date was the famous show of 1977, when 391 exhibitors entered 607 Afghans, to make 794 competing entries, with another 18 Veterans and 21 Champions parading. This is a world record which still stands today. The judges were dogs, Bill Kelly (Sherdil) and bitches, Ron Adams (Badakshan). BCC and BIS was the future Champion, Badakshan Pink Pearl and the DCC was the great black/tan Ch Koolaba Horningsea Eboni Earl. For an idea of the size of the competition, Postgraduate Dog had 52 entries and Postgraduate Bitch had 49.
As the breed expanded, in the later 1960s, so did the club and its activities and areas of concern. A particular aspect of the escalation of numbers, with its attendant increase in shows to serve them, was the need for a supply of competent judges. Very serious thought was given to the education of aspiring judges and the assessment of their competence. In 1969 a sub-committee was set up chaired by S.Pollock (Tarril), specifically to make recommendations on criteria which could be generally applied. Thus began a process which has proved a tremendous influence for the maintenance and improvement of standards of judging and which is still being refined. By the 1973 AGM, a complete set of criteria for judges at all levels and the formulae for examining junior judges were passed and, in January 1974, the first AHA judging examinations took place.
The examination system and other judging criteria, standards of competence which are continually being improved in the light of the AHA and Breed Council experience, have sought to make a major contribution to the breed, in the upholding of the Standard of Points.
The late 1960s and the manifold demands of a rapidly increasing breed was a period of great challenge to the AHA and one which it met with considerable versatility. Concern at the number of puppies being sold with virtually no instructions as to care, brought about the publication of the first three of a set of advisory pamphlets which were still best sellers to new members and owners in the 80s – if you have a set now they are collectors items. Today you will find a more up-to-date version elsewhere on the Association website.
Another AHA publication, which was actually started in 1956, is the Pedigrees of British Afghan Champions. The first edition gave the four generation pedigrees of all the Afghan champions made up between 1927 and 1959 and is a source book for all who study our breed. It is now published in annual supplements at the beginning of each year and since 2000 includes photographs of the hounds.
With the upsurge of often indiscriminate breeding in the late 1960s came the need for more immediate care than could always be afforded by a pamphlet. A Rescue Fund was set up. A diseases sub-committee tried to monitor the incidence and sources of inherited abnormalities, which could increase rapidly from the population explosion of such a narrowly based breed. Later, another fund was established, in memory of Marna Dods (Horningsea), for the financing of veterinary research.
A further sub-committee drew up a Code of Ethics, setting out the minimal expectations of conduct and care from breeders and owners.
Perhaps one other aspect of the club which had an impact, both on itself and the breed as a whole, was the introduction of AHA Racing. Again in response to the population increase and largely to find a common pursuit for members who, for one reason or another, did not show their hounds, it was decided in 1969 to start Afghan Racing on a club basis. Since then racing enthusiasts have continued with this sport and on occasions are hosted at a greyhound meeting where an exhibition race is staged with betting proceeds donated to Greyhound Rescue. Racing has now been joined by an enthusiastic and growing number of owners who take their hounds Lure Coursing and a brave few who try Agility.
Our current Chairman is Susan Rhodes (Shadowfax).
Over the period from the 1960s to the 1990s numbers of the breed continued to be high and many other regional clubs became established. Now, like many countries around the world, in the last decade the AHA has seen numbers of the breed decrease and with changing times and economics the numbers of new entrants to the breed also diminish. We have also lost a number of famous names, most recently Joan Wonnacott (Isfahan) and Patricia Kean (Ajman). Nonetheless the Association continues with its aims to promote the breed and to support its members by organizing shows, arranging education and training on all aspects of the breed, supporting the research into inherited diseases, supporting the work of rescue and always taking the opportunity to explain to anyone who will listen why this incorrigible breed is the BEST IN THE WORLD!
Photographs courtesy and copyright of AHA Archives