What is the sound of 488 golden retrievers barking?

Imagine the feeling of helplessness you might feel when someone’s baby is crying and you can’t solve the problem. Then multiply by, oh, 488. Then add wet rain and an attack of mosses.

Why the cacophony? Around 4 pm on July 13, the dogs were gathered on the wide lawn in front of the ruins of House Guisachan in the Scottish Highlands to take a group photo of the 2023 Guisachan Gathering, a type of golden retriever convention, commemorating the anniversary of the breed’s founding.

For the photo, the owners were instructed to lead their dog to a stake in the ground and then run away for about 15 seconds so the photographer, Lynn Kipps, could capture the flailing horde.

Fifteen seconds in a gold porter’s time is about an eternity, and 488 gold porters obviously believed they were abandoned forever. And panicked.

Tricia, honey, I’m here,” one woman shouted to her girl, and with that the barking got exponentially worse. Finally, eternity over, the dog mothers and fathers returned to their dependents, and order was restored with a tsunami of petting and treats.

Since the first group photo was taken in 2001, gold lovers have gathered about every five years to pay tribute to Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, later Lord Tweedmouth, who lived in what was then Guisachan House. Sir Dudley is credited with developing the golden retriever in 1868, when he bred a wavy-coated retriever with a Tweed Water Spaniel. He wanted a rugged hunting companion with a beautiful head, loving and soft, melting eyes that lived to fetch game. An obsession with tennis balls and rolling in dirt apparently also came with the package.

People and their dogs travel from all over the world to take part (dogs do not need to be quarantined to enter Scotland). Represented this year were Ireland, Bavaria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, USA, Australia, Canada and Croatia. Marta Farkas, 43 years old – “the name means wolf in my language” – traveled for three days from Hungary with a friend, her golden retriever and four cocker spaniels.

Wayne and Sharon McGrath, 69 and 71, who have bred and raised goldens for 40 years, did not bring their dogs this year, but traveled from New South Wales, Australia. The McGraths have been coming to Guisachan almost since the beginning of the event, when it was just 30 gold and a dream. “Yes, we are a bit like Death’s Heads,” Mr McGrath said.

This year’s meeting was the largest yet. Lodges book months in advance, and participants think they would bring more dogs if most B&Bs and campgrounds didn’t limit you to two. My son and I stayed at the Westward Bed and Breakfast in Cannich, a perfect rustic stone cottage with traditional Scottish breakfasts, right near the nature reserve of Glen Affric. Interestingly, there were no golden ones at the B&B. That’s because the resident terrier mix, Rass, “hates them,” said Alistair Mann, 57, our host.

What do you do after you get here? There are hound demonstrations and a dog show. It was a “how to behave in a show ring” class. For humans, there was a haggis throwing contest. The trip to Lourdes moment for many dogs and owners poses in front of the brass golden retriever statue in the nearby village of Tomich. Pamela Burns, 55, had that look of someone checking off a bucket list item as she posed there with her dogs, Captain, Bear and Gabby.

And there were many, many opinions. Susan Goodwin, 74, an internationally known breeder and judge from Durham, England, worried openly about the latest fad for tails that curled up, fatness that looked adorable but wasn’t necessarily healthy, and a certain shortness in the leg. “How do I put this delicately?” said Mrs. Goodwin. “You don’t want a dog shaped like a coffee table. Coffee table dogs are no good for the field.”

Many of those present were breeders, but some were simply pets, or gold bars. One man, a retired London police detective whose last gold recently died, explained it this way: “I’m an addict, and this is where I come to get my fix.”

This is not difficult to understand. We came because I missed my late, great golden, Monty, he of the three balls in his mouth at all times.

Many come simply to be in the Photo, the shot of all the dogs gathered in front of the ruins of the house. This year, two Americans who couldn’t fly their dogs over brought life-sized cardboard cutouts instead. They put them front and center. “I had to tell them that no, they couldn’t be counted in the count, and if they wanted their dogs there at least put them somewhere in the middle of the pack,” said Ms Kipps, the photographer.

Despite the enormous popularity of the breed, a golden has never won Best in Show at either Westminster or Crufts (the UK’s largest and most prestigious dog show). “It’s true: Goldens are not glamorous,” said Carol Henry, 65, secretary of the Golden Retriever Club of Scotland and the main organiser, with her husband, Tom Gorrian, 68, of the Guisachan event.

But, of course, glamor isn’t the point (and neither, if we’re being honest here, is intelligence). The eyes are the point. The eternal sunshine is the point. The tufts of fur around the house and the joy of looking at them with something, anything, in their mouths is the thing.

I brought an envelope of Monty’s ashes with me to the meeting, and when no one was looking, I scattered them on the grounds of Guisachan House. I suspect he is not alone there.

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