Surprising Expats: Kate Pinches - Dog Breeder, Crufts Judge, (Local ‘Viking’)

  • 24 Mar 2024 7:32 AM
Surprising Expats: Kate Pinches - Dog Breeder, Crufts Judge, (Local ‘Viking’)
This is part of a series of in-depth interviews with some surprising members of the community, written by Marion Merrick.

The instructions for finding Kate Pinches’ tanya, while being reasonably precise, do not allay my fears of careering around the countryside, quite unable to find her: After about 2-3 kilometres on a sharp right bend turn left down a sandy track…Needless to say, such isolated farms are not to be found on Google maps.

The country road winds between ploughed muddy fields and wooded areas of bleached white birches. Splashes of yellow forsythia are just beginning to bloom, while the willows’ soft green leaves are unfurling, and feathery pussy willow blows in the wind. Abandoned tanyák dot the landscape, their roofs holed, their walls crumbling against the protruding straw.

We miss the turning completely and retrace our route looking for the sharp turn and the sandy track. Turning down what we hope is the right path alongside a canal, we see a dwelling with the number 107. Kate’s house is apparently number 216, though there are no other buildings in sight. Unable to turn around, we decide to continue driving through the sand until finally, around a bend and through the trees, we spy another building.

The sound of dogs barking as we approach raises our hopes that we have, by some fluke, found Kate’s tanya. A tall blonde woman emerges, shooing the dogs that excitedly prance at her feet as she opens the gates, helped by Pan, her Greek husband.                   

Kate's Papillons                   

Kate and Pan’s tanya

With the smaller dogs corralled, and the larger ones – a Kuvasz, a Rottweiler and a rescue Terrier already secured – we enter the house. “Welcome to our tanya!” says Kate. “It’s my 29th home altogether – my father was a naval officer which meant we had to move all the time. I went to thirteen schools in thirteen years! Moving became a way of life,” Kate explains, as she starts to make our coffee.

“We’ve got mains electric and gas,” says Kate, filling the kettle from a bottle, “but we don’t have running water, we have two wells outside – we have big electric pumps down in the basement for if we start to run out of water. I can get the local men to come and drill deeper…I think we’re at 80 metres at the moment, but they can go deeper. But we don’t drink it or use it for cooking,” she explains, “because it looks like pee, it’s full of iron and minerals and it’s disgusting. We shower with it, and we use it in the washing machines and the toilets, of course.” This situation entails buying bottled water, not only for their cooking, but also for all the animals.

At this point, Kate is joined in the kitchen by her enormous ten-kilogram feline – a Norwegian mountain cat.

We move to the sitting area, and Kate clears away the various cloths that protect the furniture from the Papillons which – when they are not being kept from visitors – are allowed free rein of the house and its furniture.

“We’ve been here for fourteen years now,” Kate begins. “My last two homes were in Greece – I rent out the last one to a man who works in dog rescue. That’s what I did when I was there. And I used to breed dogs and then drive them from Athens to Budapest, to Bratislava and Vienna, taking them to shows. It was a 20-hour drive each time; I’d drive all night and stop just once for a coffee.

“It was great because we could come here and compete against Pumi breeders in Hungary. I made up a lot of champions – I was the top winning foreigner of Pumis ever in Hungary!”
Kate then shows me a certificate issued by the Hungarian Breeders’ Association which she was awarded.  

In her years in England, Kate had been both a breeder and a judge of Rottweilers at the internationally famous Crufts Dog Show. Her kennel name, Cuidado, [Spanish for Be Careful] was synonymous with the breed, about which she also wrote a book. Kate’s reputation as a judge meant she was sought-after in all regions of the world: from the USA to Australia, from New Zealand to South Africa, and in Indonesia, Jamaica – and countless other countries.

Kate judging (left)


It is already more than apparent that Kate is not just a dog lover, but a lover both of all animals and of the natural world. “I’m an animal person, yeah,” Kate muses.

“It used to be horses – it was horses for thirty years, but I had a fall which ended with me having spinal surgery, so I can’t ride any more. I love getting out of bed and walking round the fields with the dogs and watching the hares and seeing the bird life. I’ve always been more rurally inclined. There are wild boar and even European jackals….” Kate pauses.

“I have Lady Gaia here tattooed on my leg,” she says, rolling up her trousers. “I’m not religious – but this would be my religion: nature.”

It is clear that both Kate and her retired Greek police-officer husband, Pan, have established a peaceful life for themselves in this area of the Hungarian countryside.
“We’ve got two lots of woodland – it’s just perfect. In the summer we just sit under the trees and breathe the fresh air – there are no factories, no neighbours and no people.”

Their efforts to learn the language have met with only limited success, necessitating the use of a good amount of mime in their local shops. “I’ve got the food words, well, more or less…” Here Kate pauses. “Except when I had to do the chicken wing dance in the butcher’s….” Kate laughs as she struts about the room, flapping her arms. “I wanted to buy chicken wings – they just fell about laughing! I don’t think they’ve ever forgotten it!”

But Kate is completely indomitable. At the age of forty she embarked on a BA in Psychology and Social Anthropology which she was awarded from Keele University in the UK.

She remains quite undaunted by the numerous challenges she has encountered in life, be it in Hungary or in her former home in Greece. “Some Albanians tried to break into my little mountain home one night when Pan was away on duty while we were living in Greece. I saw them shimmying up over my fence, trying to get in. I had a pump action shot gun and I just let rip over their heads – bam, bam,bam! And they were gone.”

Some of Kate’s local Hungarians have also experienced the extent of her wrath. “I’m very confrontational with the Vadászok,” [hunters] she says. “Every area has its hunting group - these drunken, filthy old men with their shotguns and their dogs. They go onto anyone’s land and take pot shots. But they only did it once here! I was down there, me against twenty men with guns, saying F-off my land! You’re not welcome here! And they were shouting and retaliating, and I went after them with a pickaxe handle – and I have an American police stun stick, too!

“I told them, You’re here for sport, killing animals, and I would cheerfully kill you if I had a gun. They sent the police last time – but I gave them chapter and verse. They’re not allowed to hunt on private land. The grumpy, older policeman said, If you do this again, I’ll report you. So I said, Go on then, report me! I’ll take them to court because I can afford to. But I never heard another word.”

Kate and Pan are now halfway through fencing off their land in order to keep the huntsmen at bay. “I was never a shrinking violet,” Kate explains, somewhat unnecessarily; “I’m six foot tall and I’ve got the temper of a grizzly bear…. Nobody backs me down. Nobody. They know now not to upset The Angol [the English]. The locals here call me The Viking!”

Marion Merrick is author of Now You See It, Now You Don’t and House of Cards and the website Budapest Retro.

If you would like to be interviewed as a Surprising Expat, please write with a few details of what you do, to: Marion by clicking here.

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