In Memoriam Bro Duncan PBGV

he Young Duncan: Ch. Soletrader Dunc 'N Disorderly: Photo © Gavin Robertson, used by permission
The Young Duncan: Ch. Soletrader Dunc ‘N Disorderly: Photo © Gavin Robertson, used by permission.

Did you know that Bro Duncan PBGV, the hairy sage of Howton Grove Priory, had a very different kind of life before entering the monastery? Before he gave up everything to live in humble obscurity, he was known as Ch. Soletrader Dunc ‘N Disorderly and had a huge impact on his breed, the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen. Gavin Robertson, who bred him (and the famous Jilly, who won Crufts and has since done lots of charitable work) recognized his exceptional quality, so now there are lots of little Duncans and Duncanesses and their sproggetts all over the world. Our man seems to have travelled widely in his youth, even spending a year in Sweden. When he returned to this country, Gavin and Sara decided that he would not be happy in kennels (there are rumours that he and Woody, another famous Soletrader PBGV, did not always get on) and began to think about what to do.

At the same time our D. Teresa was becoming more housebound and D. Lucy and I wracked our brains trying to think of ways of making life pleasanter for her. I, the dog-lover, had always said the community should not have pets. D. Lucy, the cat-lover, said a dog might be just the thing. I countered that if we had a dog, it could only be an adult male PBGV, thinking I had set an impossible requirement. Within ten minutes, thanks to the internet, she had found the Soletrader site and urged me to write to Gavin and Sara, which I did. The rest, as they say, is history. We went over to have a look, just to have a look, you understand — and that was that. Gavin and Sara could not have been kinder or more generous; I think there was definitely something caught in Sara’s eyes when she handed Duncan over. He never forgot them, and when we took him to Wallingford to be groomed for his last TV appearance (on BBC 1’s Pentecost Songs of Praise) there was a grand reunion, with much wagging of tails and soppy remarks which, among the British, are the way we express our deepest feelings.

Bro Duncan PBGV in 100 Acre Field, East Hendred, c. 2010
Bro Duncan PBGV in 100 Acre Field, East Hendred, c. 2010

Thus, at the age of five, the same age as Bede, Bro Duncan PBGV entered the novitiate at Hendred. He proved the truth of the old saying, ‘Handosme is as handsome does.’ He wasn’t just a supremely beautiful hound, with a wonderful head and easy grace of movement, he had the sweetest temperament of any dog I’ve ever known. He was full of fun, but it was always gentle fun. He was endlessly patient with the old, with children, with most other dogs (he didn’t like black ones). He was a natural contemplative and could sit for hours just gazing . . . before making a sudden dash into the undergrowth to investigate something he’d noticed. We used to walk for miles on the Ridgeway, Bro Duncan PBGV always on a lead, of course, and discovered he had a passion for horses. He would trot after anything, even the massive stallion one of our neighbours rode, which used to worry me sometimes, in case he got kicked.

He had been with us for three weeks before we discovered his voice, and what a voice it was! A basset profundo of glorious richness, used sparingly but always to great effect, warning us of visitors and changing tone if he didn’t like the look or smell of them. His expenses were thereafter noted in the monastery accounts as ‘Security System’. Most of the time, however, he was happy to be St Benedict’s wise old man at the monastery gate, welcoming everyone without getting in the way. Once, when I returned from a visit to Rome in the early hours and crept into the house as silently as I could, there was Bro Duncan PBGV, tail rotating in an ecstasy of welcome and doggy delight (well, I hope it was doggy delight).

Being groomed by Quietnun: note the relaxed posture
Being groomed by Quietnun: note the relaxed posture

Bro Duncan PBGV thoroughly approved of our move to Herefordshire  in 2012 and loved having a big garden to roam in. It was here that his remarkable talent for blogging and tweeting first became apparent. He had a gift for saying simply what most of us find complicated; and if, in his later years, he sometimes showed a little of the grumpy old man, who can blame him? I have found a few of his unpublished writings which I’ll look over and perhaps be able to share with you at some time in the future.

Bro Duncan PBGV asleep in my office, 2015
Bro Duncan PBGV asleep in my office, 2015

He was always remarkably healthy but in old age he developed pancreatitis, which we were able to control with diet, and Cushing’s, which was controlled with a pill. This did sometimes lead to epic struggles in the early morning, but he was a PBGV after all. A certain independence of mind is to be expected. It is part of the fun. His last illness was sudden and swift. He was coming with me to the Churchill Hospital as he always did, but suddenly his rear legs gave way. We had been warned by the vet that that could happen with Cushing’s, so we telephoned immediately and he took Duncan in for observation, assuring us that it was probably a spinal problem or even an infection. Later that afternoon, he told us tests had shown abnormalities in the liver. In the morning our Hairy Brother was no better and we took the hard decision that, at just over thirteen and a half, his time had come. He sleeps now under the wide Herefordshire skies, never to feel pain or distress any more. Thank you, old friend, for all you shared with us. We miss you.

Bro Duncan PBGV Memorial

Several people have asked to give something in memory of Duncan. He was an assiduous waterer of trees, so we have decided that our mini-orchard should be dedicated to him. We need to clear some of the existing trees and re-plant, so if you would like to contribute, we suggest a donation of £5 to £10, either via our online donation page, or by cheque made payable to Holy Trinity Monastery. Donations can be Gift-Aided.


28 thoughts on “In Memoriam Bro Duncan PBGV”

  1. A lovely eulogy, making me laugh as well as cry! The choice of memorial seems excellent and I hope you will not mind applying a recent donation from ‘Peris’ to the fund.

  2. We too are PBGV owners, and have followed, with much delight, Bro Duncan on Twitter – always the moment to discuss his latest tweet and recognise what a blissful life he led. I’ve been truly saddened by his leaving us, almost as if he was one of my own. My partner and will both be donating to your appeal and will definitely be giving own own hounds and extra hug and treat.

  3. So sorry to learn about Bro Duncan.We too had to make that difficult decision with our Judy.We rehomed Clara 6 months later .We think of Judy and the joy and love she brought us.I loved reading about Bro Duncan’s thoughts and adventures.He was loved and cared for and will be remembered.

  4. What a wonderful eulogy. A dog who will be remembered by all who read his blogs and by those who had the good fortune to meet him.

  5. So sorry to hear the news about Bro Duncan, I’d only met him online fairly recently, and loved his thoughts. I lost my own much loved spaniel in May. They become such a part of your life. Much love to you all.

  6. That must have been a difficult blog to write, sister. I shall miss Brother Duncan’s blogs. However, excuse my ignorance but I do not know what PBGV stands for. Would be grateful for enlightenment.

    • You’ll find the full name of the breed in the first paragraph above. They’re hounds, really, perhaps chasing wild boars in short undergrowth? (Hope I’m right!)

  7. Brother Duncan will always be in our hearts. He is a true Benedictine. I am glad he graced your monastery. I am sorry for the emptiness his departures leaves.

    • What a brilliant idea! I believe he was in the process of writing a book about “joy” — perhaps his BigSis will confirm?

  8. Thank you, that was lovely to read and a great tribute to a special dog.
    I read it on my break at work (an NHS Drs surgery) and had to mop up a few tears before going back to work!
    RIP Brother Duncan xx

  9. As much as I love the wise and insightful writings of Digitalnun, Bro. Duncan had his own deep doggy understanding of life, love, and God. I’m sure he’s lifting his special howl in the canine celestial choir! RIP. I also look forward to an edition of his collected works!

  10. I am so sorry to hear your much loved friend and brother has left you. What a big hole he will leave, especially on your trips to the Churchill. Thoughts and prayers for you both.

  11. Such a beautiful, heartwarming memorial of a dear little chap who brought joy to so many. I’ve said it before, but I truly believe he was God’s little reflection and that he will be putting a spiritual paw on your shoulder, saying ‘All will be well, and all will be well. All manner of thing will be well.’ I hope we shall meet him in heaven.

    It was a privilege for us to glimpse into his life, and a privilege for him to have such tender, loving care and prayer.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I hope it has brought you some comfort.

    God bless you and Dame Lucy,

    With love and prayers,


  12. I concur with the other comments, and look forward to the complete works of BroDuncanPBGV! I hope you keep his Twitter account open… one would hate to lose the access to his humour & wisdom. I imagine this was a hard blog to write, but I hope it was cathartic as well. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and Quietnun. I LOVE his lasting memory… as I want to tug my two on from watering the trees, I shall stop and think of Dunc… and you…

  13. It’s Saturday morning here in Australia, and one has just read your beautiful ‘In Memoriam Bro Duncan PBGV’ and beautiful tribute. As you may well guess, one is not seeing very clearly.

    Bro Duncan has clearly reached out to the hearts of untold people worldwide. He has been the topic of many a conversation between myself and my friends. His photo has been shown countless times at the request of my friends.

    As one who has had, and lost, a beautiful companion dog, one can empathise fully with your loss. It tears away at the very fabric of who we are. It is not dissimilar to loosing a human companion.

    You know that my prayers and thoughts continue to be with you. Not just regarding this, but for other reasons also.

    One truly believes Bro Duncan has fulfulled a mission he never knew was his, and that is to reach out to others with the story of the Gospel in a way they understood.

    He always said we would ‘be mates’ in heaven, and I do so look forward to that day when we shall meet.

    Michael xx

  14. My heart broke as I read your words, Sister. Bro Duncan’s wisdom and joy came through in his comments and blogs, and I grew to love him, though we never met. I am sad at his passing yet glad he won’t suffer any more. Thank you for sharing his remarkable life in this blog and for remembering him with a celebration of trees. Good bless you.

  15. So very sorry to hear this news. As a newish dog owner, I am enjoying SWD Coco’s youth and dreading the time even now. It must be very sad for you, but I suppose we have to reflect upon the happy life you gave him.

  16. I always loved reading Bro Duncan’s Blogs and thank you for sharing them with us. I am certain we would all look forward to reading some of his unpublished writings at a later date.My thoughts are with you at this sad time.

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