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A Visit With Toni Pratt of Meistersinger Kennels
by Melanie McAdams
Four years ago I purchased my second Great Dane, Annie. My first is Nic, who is lying by my side even as I write this story (ever devoted, always my friend, and now one of seven; all with the same love and affection that he has given me since I rescued him in 1996). I did not think I could be more blessed in my life, but that was just the beginning

When I brought Annie home and watched her grow into a beautiful dog I began to notice how gracefully she moved and how very different she was from Nic. It was almost like they were not both Great Danes. It was then that I decided that I would like to be a breeder and that there is a BIG difference between knowing how to produce a dog like Annie and throwing two dogs together without thought or consideration and at least a basic knowledge of bloodlines, traits and character. So I researched and researched and then researched some more. The more I learned the more I wanted to know.


Mrs. Pratt, Maria & Puppies

I bought Annie from MVM Great Danes, a local breeder and a great admirer of the Meistersinger dogs. Maria had grown up watching Toni Pratt in the showring and like many, thought them to be the most beautiful Danes she had ever seen. In 2000 she was able to buy a dog from Toni, Sasha’s Top Star, and went to Kentucky to meet with Mrs. Pratt. Maria later added D’Hondt’s Jericho, a grandson of N.O. Dice Meistersinger and a great grandson of Top Hat V. Meistersinger. It was on this visit that Mrs. Pratt asked Maria to use the Meistersinger name because she didn’t want it to be forgotten”, this was a request that Maria took to heart. Mrs. Pratt’s whole life had been dedicated to the Great Dane and I have to think that the chain of events that led to her suspension must have broken her heart.

All this had happened long before I came into the picture, but her life fascinated me and of course I had her dog’s bloodlines so I dug deeper and deeper into her life history and that of her kennels. Every time I asked about Toni Pratt I was told she had passed away. It took me four years and a million questions later to find out that she was very much alive and living in a nursing home. I was given her phone number and wasted no time in calling her to tell her that the Meistersinger line was not gone, but was very quietly and sometimes under great duress from the Great Dane community, still thriving and that I had several of her dogs and that Maria had a litter on the ground that was Meistersinger top and bottom. I don’t think she believed me at first so I asked her if Maria and I could visit her and bring up two of the puppies. I could hear the tone lift in her voice as she asked me “How soon could I be there”.

On June 18 2007 Maria and I made the trip to Louisville Kentucky, about 5 hours from where I live, with a male and female Harlequin out of the Meistersinger bloodlines. I had called the nursing home several days before to make sure we had permission and that we would be coming with puppies in tow. So when we arrived, a very excited woman named Sally (who is Mrs. Pratt’s nurse) met us at the front desk. She asked us to bring in the puppies and we were given a heartfelt welcome by all. Then we were told that Mrs. Pratt had suffered a heart attack and had been moved to the cardiac unit of the Baptist hospital. She was no longer there and they did not expect her to return. I think it took us both a moment to really comprehend what we were being told. We asked the nurse to call the hospital (maybe there was a misunderstanding?) and maybe we could visit her there? We couldn’t just leave without her seeing the puppies! While I was discussing options with Sally, Maria was doing the same with the nursing home’s receptionist. We were told that Mrs. Pratt was on oxygen and not doing well. We were given the name of the head nurse at the hospital and directions to get there. When we got in the car to leave, Maria and I decided we had to try to see her and to see if they understood the importance of our visit. Maybe they’d let us wheel her down to an outside patio to see the puppies we had brought. We would not go back without trying, and if nothing else we could visit her and show her some pictures and pedigrees we had taken to give her.

We found the hospital and I went up to the cardiac unit to talk to the nurse while Maria stayed with the puppies. Much to my surprise they were expecting me and asked me where my “visitors” were. I whispered back “do you mean the puppies”? The nurse told me that everything had been cleared through the hospital and that I should bring them up to meet Mrs. Pratt who was expecting us also. I was so stunned and so excited that I had to ask again “are you sure we can bring the puppies up here”? With reassurance that “yes” we could bring up the puppies, I practically ran hopping and skipping back to the car to get Maria and the pups.


Mrs. Pratt, Little John (left) & C'est Si Bon (right)

You can imagine the looks and questions we got as we walked through the hospital with two nine-week old puppies. The most frequently-asked question were “are those Dalmatians” and “can I hold the puppy”? We were both very nervous, we were about to have our puppies critiqued by Mrs. Pratt who produced some of the greatest dogs of her day. The puppies are Meistersinger lines top and bottom; what if they were less than what she expected? As we walked by the nursing station we were asked not to leave until her doctor “making his morning rounds” could see the puppies. With the entire nursing staff following us, we made our way into room 642 and found Mrs. Pratt.

The puppies were presented to her and she smiled the most wonderful smile. She looked very frail and weak but the glow of that smile, well, that said it all. She looked each puppy over very carefully and told us they had very nice heads and stops. She looked over the pedigrees and told us we had done very well. To quote her words, “My dogs had a very distinctive look that was well known” and that “these two puppies were very Meistersinger” and as she waved her hand in the air from left to right, they should carry the “Meistersinger name”. The puppies laid down beside her on the bed and for the entire visit did not whimper, jump, bark, cry or, have an accident. They lay beside her content and quiet like they had known her their whole lives. For the first time I had a sense of sadness because I knew that the Meistersinger name is banned, and has been branded undesirable and questionable. I don’t know if Mrs. Pratt knew that, but I think she does.

We spent the next ninety minutes asking questions and going over dogs and bloodlines. She never missed a beat! I explained to her that I had done years of research on her bloodlines and that I had imported a dog from France that goes right back into Von St Magn Obertruabling, Von Der Nurburg, Von Der Stadt Hamburg and Munchhausen. The same dogs she started with in the 1940s and 1950s. She corrected my pronunciation of the German kennel names but I was rewarded with a look of approval that I had done my homework correctly. She remembered all her dogs and was able to fill in some areas that I was not able to find information on. We discussed every topic on her kennel and breeding. The only thing I could not bring myself to ask her about was the loss of her son and her suspension from the AKC.


Little John get "The Once Over"
One of the first questions asked was “Did you kennel the bitches and males together”? Her reply was no, when the bitches came into season they separated them. I did not kennel more than one of each together”.

When asked about the possibility of errors being made on her pedigrees, her reply was “I never wrote out a pedigree”. If somebody wanted a pedigree on one of my dogs they got it from the AKC. That way, nobody could say I wrote a wrong pedigree.

We asked if she had ever had a dog with hip dysplasia. She replied she had not but she could tell by the way a dog walked if they had it or not. She had her dogs X-rayed but she did not use the OFA. She felt that “a lot of damage had been done by veterinarians and remarked that whole litters were at times put to sleep because the vet said they had it. You cannot tell if a dog has hip dysplasia until fifteen months of age”. She asked us if we kept our puppies on a good solid ground and told us not to have them on slick floors.

We asked lots of questions, too many to write all of them in this article. One question in particular interest to us was if she had ever thrown Piebalds in her litters. “None” was the reply. Then she said “use the Merle and this will not happen”. She did have Whites but she culled her litters and any Whites where considered unhealthy and put to sleep.

As requested, we waited for the doctor to come in. He was listening to Mrs. Pratt’s heart and asking how she felt when she pushed his hand away and told him to “stop being a doctor for one minute and look at her puppies”. This he did, and I saw a glimpse of her strength and fortitude that she must have had in her younger years; what a remarkable woman! The doctor told us that Mrs. Pratt was doing much better and that she could go home later that same day.


Mrs. Pratt, Melanie & Puppies

We could see that Mrs. Pratt was getting very tired but we had one more request before we left. Would she name the little female? She thought for a moment and said “C’est Si Bon, that is a good name for her”. I had heard the name before but for the life of me did not remember where I had seen it. Maria and I did a little research and found it quickly enough. C’Est Si Bon was Mrs. Pratt’s foundation bitch and was bred to I.W. Harper Von Der Stadt Hamburg. Two of the best dogs she had ever had, in her opinion. C’est Si Bon v. Meistersinger was only shown for one year and got the Breed and the Group. The name means “It’s Very Good”.

It has taken me some time to publish this article. There is a piece of me that wants to keep this wonderful day all to myself and not have it marred in any way. Mrs. Pratt told me she has no regrets, she has had a great life with many good times. She never once said a disparaging word about the sadness she has endured. Only the goodness remains in her memories. I pray that it will be her accomplishments and unprecedented contributions to the Great Dane that will be remembered in history. Many have gained from her name and her lines and we should not let one event that seems to be shrouded in mystery overshadow or undermine all the good she brought to us.

Note from the author: It is my sincerest hope that the blessings I have received will be passed along to all of you that have chosen to take on the task of producing the Harlequin Great Dane. There are no “rules set in stone” to follow, there are whites, pies, and mis-marks to contend with, and there is a lot of controversy and adversity to wade through. It is not for the faint of heart! We all share a common respect for the breed when others look at us like we’ve lost our minds – just ask my in-laws! All we ever see are the delights that they have brought us and cannot pictures our homes, our families or, our lives without them. It is VERY GOOD!

-Melanie McAdams

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