A shaggy dog story
Country Life UK|September 08, 2021
These big bundles of fur have advertised Dulux and danced with David Bowie, but numbers of old English sheepdogs are plummeting, warns Katy Birchall
Katy Birchall

WHEN The Beatles released their eponymous 1968 album The Beatles, fans believed one of the songs written by Sir Paul McCartney, Martha My Dear, was perhaps an indirect message to his former fiancée, Jane Asher. With lyrics such as, ‘You have always been my inspiration’, you can understand the assumption. Years later, however, the musician revealed the true muse behind the song: it was about a real-life Martha, his beloved old English sheepdog (OES).

To fans of the breed, it is no surprise that an OES might inspire poetry. An instantly recognisable dog, it is striking in both its large size and heavily coated appearance. To put it simply, it’s a big, soft bundle of fur, known for its gentle nature and a comical streak that melts the hardest of hearts. The Kennel Club (KC) standard fittingly reads that, when walking, the OES ‘exhibits a bear-like roll from the rear’.

‘My first OES had two black legs, so it looked as if he was wearing pyjamas,’ laughs Helen Woods of the Greater London OES Club. ‘They’re clowns, but they’re also intelligent and affectionate.’ Miss Woods knew it was the dog for her when one-starred alongside David Bowie in the 1986 film Labyrinth—‘two of my favourite things in one film’—and is the owner of three. ‘They’re a great family pet and fantastic around children,’ she enthuses. ‘Wherever you go in the house, the OES will be at your feet. I simply wouldn’t have any other breed.’

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