AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - April 2000

Farewell to a Pioneer

The Berner community has lost a valued friend in the passing of Harold W. Howison, of Sablemate Bernese Mountain Dogs, on Oct. 3, 1999. In 1966, when Howison acquired his first Bernese, Wendy v. d. Grasburg, the total number of BMDs registered with the AKC was a mere 137. The breed was indeed rare. Wendy's special niche in the history of the breed in America was established when she became the first OFA-certified Bernese Mountain Dog (designated as "OFABMD 1"). Later, she was joined by Sablemate's Impossible Dream (Imp), who was co-owned with Howison's son, Charles. Imp would become "OFA-BMD 2." Harold showed Wendy to her championship by himself; Imp won hers as a shared effort by father and son.

Both Wendy and Imp had a significant impact on the breed as their offspring became the foundation stock for several kennels. Many present-day top winners and top producers of titleholders in the breed are descendants of Wendy and Imp, both of whom were BMDCA top producers of champions. More importantly, the goal for structural soundness through OFA certification was established early on in the breed's formative years in the United States.

When the BMDCA was formed in 1968, Howison and his wife, Sylvia, were among the original 33 members. Harold Howison served as the club's first elected vice president in 1969, and in 1971 he served as president. Gradually, over the years, Mr. Howison became the support person, with Sylvia stepping to the forefront in a kaleidoscope of roles: showing, breeding, judging, mentoring and serving the breed at national and local levels. Speaking at judges' seminars, Mrs. Howison always opened her presentation by describing how her husband had fallen in love with the breed and introduced it to their family. Mr. Howison's love for and pride in his wife was itself an inspiration as he accompanied her to specialties and Berner gatherings.

There is something very dear about people who take joy in the success of others. Mr. Howison was such a person. With his gentle manner and reassuring voice, he always had time to offer encouragement to both people and dogs. Mr. Howison bred his last litter in 1994, with his latest champion finishing in August 1998. Since 1969, Sablemate represented eight generations of attention to sound minds and sound bodies. The week before Mr. Howison died, he had the joy of seeing his beloved Berner Jezebel win Best in Match at the Heart of Michigan's Seventh Annual Fun Match in the Veteran 9 and Over class.

The familiar sight of Harold's gray beard and his vest weighted down with Berner pins will be sorely missed at this year's BMDCA specialty. In keeping with the specialty's theme, "a time to honor the past and imagine the future," timepieces will be awarded as trophies. Harold would have loved that, as he was a connoisseur and collector of clocks. Deepest sympathy is extended to the Howison family as we honor memories of a dear friend, and sorrow at a future without him.

BMDCA National Specialty - 2000. This gala event, hosted by the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Southeastern Wisconsin with the Heartland Bernese Mountain Dog Club, will be held May 2 to 7 in Delavan, Wis., at Lake Lawn Resort. The resort is an idyllic setting of 285 wooded acres on beautiful Delavan Lake. As the 25th annual specialty, the enthusiasm generated by this commemorative occasion could easily precipitate its being the largest-ever gathering of Bernerfolk and their dogs. For anyone interested in discovering more about Bernese Mountain Dogs, the breed's national is the preeminent source for learning about these dogs. For more information, visit the Web site at www.bmdcsew.org/national.html.

- Julie Crawford, 26591 May Twilley Road, MD 21875; breed Web site: www.csn.org/~pshaffer/bmdca (Note: website no longer functional.)