Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Demise of the Irish Red & White Setter

The AKC has approved the entry of the Irish Red and White Setter into its registry. On December 31, 2008 the AKC issues the following release:
The American Kennel Club® is pleased to welcome the Irish Red and White Setter, the Pyrenean Shepherd and the Norwegian Buhund as the 159th, 160th, and the 161st AKC® registered breeds. The Irish Red and White Setter will join the Sporting Group while both the Pyrenean Shepherd and the Norwegian Buhund will join the Herding Group. They will be eligible for full AKC registration and competition in their respective groups at conformation shows held on and after January 1, 2009.

For the record, I do not personally believe that the Irish red & white setter is a different breed from the Irish setter. They both originated in the same country, from similar lineages, and have virtually identical temperments and behavior. The only significant difference is that the red and whites have more white than the bench Irish. Big deal. But, if a breed club wants to take some red and white setters and call them a different breed, what the hell, go for it. The real sad part of this story is the fact that whatever hunting ability the red and white might have (and there are some nice red and white gun dogs out there) will shortly be gone, unless some very enthusiastic and determined individual steps up to the plate, as Ned LeGrande and his associates did for the Irish setter some 60 years ago. There have been some attempts in this country to improve working qualities of the breed. In fact, it is thought by some that IRWS breeders allegedly bred red setters into their stock as part of their attempts at breed improvement. Too bad those attempts have not continued. The breed clubs have chosen another, unfortunately misguided direction. Entry into the AKC is the kiss of death for a working breed.

Not convinced? Take a look at the breed standard accepted by the AKC for the Irish Red & White Setter. It begins by stating:

General Appearance: The Irish Red & White Setter is bred primarily for the field. The standard as set out hereunder must be interpreted chiefly from this point of view and all Judges at Bench Shows must be encouraged to judge the exhibits chiefly from the working standpoint. The appearance is strong and powerful, well balanced and proportioned without lumber; athletic rather than racy with an aristocratic, keen and intelligent attitude.

From this point on the remaining portions of the standard discuss conformation... shape of the head, topline, coat, colors, etc... the usually litany of conformation garbage that is so typical of an AKC breed standard. In other word, in the ENTIRE BREED STANDARD for a SPORTING BREED, the word "field" is used once, in the first sentence, and the word "working" is used once, and only in reference to what a "bench" judge should be looking for when judging a "working" dog (as if most bench judges have even the slightest clue as to what a working setter is supposed to do). That isn't very encouraging for a breed that is supposed to be a working bird dog.

The Irish Red and White Setter Association (the parent breed club for the AKC) notes on its website:

The objectives of this club shall be:
(a) to educate the public on the value of the Irish Red and White Setter.
(b) to encourage and promote quality in the breeding of pure-bred Irish Red and White Setters and to do all possible to bring their natural qualities to perfection.
(c) to encourage the organization of independent local Irish Red and White Setter Specialty clubs in those localities where there are sufficient fanciers of the breed to meet the requirements of the American Kennel Club.
(d) to urge members and breeders to accept the standard of the breed as approved by the Irish Red and White Setter Association and the American Kennel Club as the only standard of excellence by which Irish Red and White Setters shall be judged.
(e) to do all in its power to protect and advance the interests of the breed and to encourage sportsmanlike competition at dog shows, field trails, hunt tests, obedience trails and other events.
(f) to conduct sanctioned matches and specialty shows, field trails, hunt tests and other events under the Rules and Regulations of the American Kennel Club.;

In other words, don't hold your breath waiting for the breed club to step up to the challenge. They have bought into the AKC company line, "lock, stock, and barrel." (no pun intended) The breed club has also posted a list of "events" on its website, conducted over the past 10 or so years... in the results posted on the website over this span of time, the club sponsored 1(one) "walking field trial" for which it awared four placements. All remaining space is devoted to "specialties" and other bench shows, with a few hunt tests scattered throughout.

Is there anyone in this country who owns and hunts with an Irish Red and White who is concerned about this chain of events? Where are you? Are you going to allow your breed club and registry to take you down the same path as the Irish setter? Believe me, you're well on your way. Where are the performance requirements in your standard for a bird dog? Where is your national field trial? Where is your performance-based competition to prove your dogs and select for the best bird dogs? Or is "Best In Show" your answer? Do you think that stacking your dog on a bench and trotting him around in front of a couple of city slicker judges who have never hunted a day in their life will help you discriminate traits for breeding a better bird dog? If you believe such a load of nonsense, you need to go back to school and take a class in introductory genetics. There are some individuals out there who are working with this breed in the field... check them out... these are the folks who may be able to save the breed from the AKC... unfortunately, the list is short...

The Irish Red and White needs a Ned LeGrande. Someone to step up to the plate and demand that a dog called a setter actually perform as a setter. Someone with guts and determination to ride out the storm of illogic that pervades the AKC when it comes to working dogs. Someone interested in the breed, not the self-servng interests of the bench show cult. Someone who competes to improve the working abiliy of the breed, not the self-inflating ego of the dog shows. Is there someone out there with that attitude? Or, is the Irish Red and White another lost cause, another "sporting" breed whose only sport is trotting around a show ring, oblivious to its genetic heritage.



BlacknTan said...

Too bad..
For the Red & White's as a breed, and for a buddy who runs R&W's in AF events..

redpups said...

Best of luck to your friend... hopefully he will get together with some fellow IRWS breeders and trialers and push the working agenda... the red setter club would certainly be supportive!