Sigbot “Bodo” Winterhelt 1926-2018

By Patti Carter and Joan von Hardenberg

Sigbot Winterhelt was born in Mainz, Germany in 1926 into a prosperous family. The nickname Bodo came from his mother. Bodo’s father, an architect and avid antique collector, specializing in pewter, was not a hunter or fond of dogs. When asked by his young son for a pet dog, the answer was that dogs were too expensive to own because of the onerous “dog tax” imposed by the German government. Nine-year-old Bodo’s attempt to override that argument was to write a letter to Adolf Hitler requesting an end to the tax. Bodo never received a response. Apparently, Hitler had other things on his mind. Bodo did finally get his first dog four years later. He learned what kind of poems his father liked, memorized them, impressed his parent with his recitations and was granted his re-quest. This first dog was a hunting terrier, a Jagdterrier. However, Bodo’s history with dogs was nearly short-lived after this young dog destroyed one of his father’s favorite antiques, a chair which once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.Although Bodo’s father was not a hunter, his uncle and grandfather were. In fact, his uncle was president of a Ger-man hunting dog association. It is worth noting here that the Winterhelt family physician was Dr. Paul Kleeman who was instrumental in developing the prestigious Kleeman Seiger test. The Kleeman Title is one of the most sought-after awards for versatile dogs in Germany. Without the knowledge of his father Bodo worked as a helper at hunting dog tests from the age of fourteen. He put signs on trees, carried food and shells, laid tracks, and was a general “go-fer.” Bodo’s family lost everything during World War II, including his father’s priceless antique collection and their home, which was bombed and burned to the ground, leaving a deep layer of molten pewter in the basement. His older brother, Volkmar, was a lieutenant in the German military. At the end of the war and as the Allies were advancing into Germany, Volkmar swam west across the Elbe River in an attempt to avoid capture by the Red Army. He was taken by the Americans but unfortunately then handed over to the Russians. He spent the next five years in the harsh conditions of a Soviet prisoner of war camp where fewer than half survived (9,000 out of 23,000).Bodo was conscripted into the army toward the end of the war. He too crossed the Elbe, but via ambulance since he had a severe stomach wound. After capture by American troops he was taken to a British hospital. He was released from the hospital in 1945 into the care of Edmund Loens, a distant neighbor of the Winterhelt family. Herr Loens was a writer and also a very well-known breeder and trainer of dogs. He was designated the father of Small Munsterlanders because of his rescue and championship of the breed after World War I. Bodo states, “I learned a lot from Edmund Loens about dogs, breeding, training and handling. Through his help I became the youngest trainer, breeder, handler and judge of German hunting dogs. I also became his son-in-law. ”Germans were not allowed to have guns during the Allied occupation, so any hunting Bodo did during this period was with his dog and a spear. To the best of his knowledge, Bodo was the first German to eventually be given per-mission to own a shotgun, which he used in his work as a guide and dog trainer. Bodo’s brother was a dedicated horseman, competing in dressage events after his return from the P.O.W. camp. The two brothers found that post war Europe, with its overpopulation and lack of open space, was not conducive to their passions for dog and horse activities, so they applied for emigration to Canada, finally arriving in 1954. Unfortunately, Volkmar later died of cancer, competing in horse events as long as possible. After his arrival in Canada, Bodo worked picking tobacco leaves in southern Ontario and then cutting trees in the depth of winter farther north. On the advice of his brother he relocated to Toronto where he chanced upon a newspaper photo of a veterinarian, Dr. Allen Seecord, pictured with an English Pointer at a hunt trial. Bodo walked miles through ice and snow to locate Dr. Seecord and to ask for a job. The doctor replied, “I have been waiting for you. Start right here.” Bodo never forgot that response. He was hired on the spot and worked for the veterinarian for many years. It was through him that Bodo became manager of the Nicholson Island Club. On this 500-acre island Bodo raised dogs and also thousands of pheasant, chukar, and quail each year. It was also on the island that his idea for a versatile dog organization germinated. He and his growing family lived there for about ten years, moving finally only because they wished to obtain better educational opportunities for their three children. Eventually Bodo applied for Canadian citizenship. How-ever at the courthouse for the final swearing-in, he realized that he had to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth as head of the British Empire. This he refused to do, saying he had once pledged allegiance to an individual, the leader of Ger-many, when he was in the Hitler Youth and then in the military, and look at the trouble that had resulted. He would pledge loyalty to the country, but not to a person. As Bodo left the courthouse, still not a citizen of his chosen country, he was approached by an attorney who said he would take his case. Bodo responded that he had no re-sources to pay a lawyer, but was told that was unnecessary. The attorney would work pro bono because he liked Bodo’s position. Two years later the law had changed and Bodo became a Canadian citizen. He lived there for twenty-two years before moving to the United States. He now has dual citizenship. Meanwhile Bodo had come to realize there were no hunting dog organizations or tests in North America similar to those he had left behind in Germany. He decided to see if he could change that situation. After observing North American field trials extensively, he decided to compete. In Germany he had grown up with and worked with Munsterlanders since Herr Löns had been active in improving that breed. However, distemper had decimated the Munsterlander population in the early 1950’s, and the Pudelpointer replaced them in his activities. In Canada he decided to stick with Pudelpointers and was the first to get permission from the German Pudelpointer Club to bring the breed to North America. He imported Cati v. Waldhof in 1956 and began to win prizes and gain respect from the other competitors. People started to listen to his ideas. While managing the Nicholson Island Club, Bodo be-came friends with Douglas Hume, an intelligent, experienced hunter who loved hunting dogs. The two men worked together to adapt the written rules of the German tests into the English language. Bodo would talk to Doug, telling him what he wanted to say and Doug would put it into perfect English. In this way the Pudelpointer Breed Club was established, and the basic ideas of NAVHDA achieved written form. Bodo states emphatically that without Doug Hume he could not have started NAVHDA.It took longer than he had anticipated to get a small group together with the enthusiasm and understanding to go along with his plans. The first versatile rules were established in 1960 with an organization named the All Purpose Gun Dog Association. In 1961 this group held its first and only trial. It was advertised as an “All Purpose Gun Dog Competition” and attracted fourteen entries. Bodo’s dog, Winterhelle’s Komet, off-spring of Cati, impressed observers with his performance. He won the event (see cover) and was acclaimed by the press. Bodo believes Komet did more to promote versatile principles than any other dog, laying the ground work for NAVHDA.Although the All Purpose Gun Dog Association did not continue as a viable club, the trial was a demonstration of what dogs were capable of doing. Bodo and Doug finally were able to convince the dog world that these dogs should be considered not all purpose dogs but versatile hunting dogs. Also the idea of tests versus competitive trials was introduced. It was a pivotal point in the conceptual development of NAVHDA.When Ed Bailey arrived in Ontario in 1964 with his Griffons, he was familiar with the history of the German tests and obtained a copy of the rules which had been translated from German to English by Bodo and Doug Hume. By this time Bodo had established himself as a professional dog trainer and handler. He was also manager of the exclusive private hunting preserve on Nicholson Island on Ontario Lake. In 1965 Ed contacted Bodo, and soon after, an initial hunting dog test was set up on the grounds of the Good-wood Hunt Club where the two men judged along with Jerry Knap. They found they could work well together. This demonstration test attracted a good number of people and kindled interest. A small group got together and set out a purpose and long term direction. Early efforts were slow, emphasizing quality of results and strong membership, not wanting to push too hard and grow too fast. The goal was not to establish a large competitive organization like the American Kennel Club. While the American culture tends to be competitive, Bodo and Ed felt there could be a place for the non-competitive hunter, an association that emphasized education, co-operative training and conservation. This new organization would have the responsibility of promoting hunting as an ethical and humane activity that respects all life. Its purpose would be to foster, improve, promote and protect the versatile hunting breeds in North America. They began to have tests in both Canada and the United States, primarily organized by chapters of the various breed clubs. The early tests were not NAVHDA sanctioned, since it was not yet firmly organized and did not even have a name. Tests were held in California, Virginia, Ontario and Maine. Eventually the organization became more formalized. By 1969 a name was chosen, and the NAVHDA logo was de-signed by Floyd Shikoski from the D.C. area. Tests were now being held under the NAVHDA auspices. Up to this point, entry fees had covered the cost of birds and insurance but little else. Other expenses had come out of the organizers’ own resources. A source of money was needed if the program was to go forward. Joan Bailey, Ed’s wife at the time, came up with the idea of a training book as a means of getting funds. In Ed’s words: “It was 1972 at a small get together at our house. We decided the book had to be just that, a training manual without all the anecdotal stuff, no stories, just a no non-sense step by step approach that would take a newcomer from puppy to utility dog… I would write a section, Joan typed it up and sent it to Bodo who okayed things, added comments and sent it back for what rewrite was needed. We published the book locally, had several printed on better paper, numbered, signed by both of us and leather bound. These were auctioned with the highest bid getting No.1, second No. 2 and so on. We paid for the first printing out of pocket, made enough to get most of it paid back and have a second printing, then several more printings. Though it was sold only through NAVHDA and all income went to NAVHDA as it still does, the book became a very popular training manual. Affectionately designated the Green Book, its official title is The Training and Care of the Versatile Hunting Dog. In addition to detailed directions for training with ample illustrations, it outlines the general history of the versatile breeds, describes the proper care of dogs in the house and field including first aid, grooming, feeding, and housing, and ends with the twelve golden rules for training and short biographies of the authors. The aim of the book is eminently clear. On page two the writers state plainly: “The main purpose of this book is to present training techniques and to teach how to use these techniques to enable you to have a truly versatile hunting companion. “At the 2011 annual NAVHDA meeting in Ottawa, Bo-do’s phone call was heard by all attendees as he stated, “If I could do it all over again, I would do the same.” That’s a pretty good validation for a man’s life.

NOTE: This article was adapted from “The Green Book and the Men Who Wrote It” by Patti Carter and Joan von Hardenberg, which originally appeared in the April, 2012 issue of the VHD.