Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Irish Setter Sled Dog Team Vintage Photo

It's Huskies we think of when we think of sled dogs, but Irish Setters played a starring role in the sport as well.  


My friend Lorna Coppinger wrote a  comprehensive history of sled dogs (The World of Sled Dogs: From Siberia to Sport Racing, Howell Books, NY, 1982).   
This is what Lorna had to say about the breed, "The Irish Setter, besides being crossbred with huskies, has been run on many a team and done well. His long coat and leg hair hinder in some snow conditions, but his rangy conformation and endurance enable him to complete a 15-20 mile course in good shape, often at or near the front.  A 25-mile track record was set at Ashton, Idaho, in 1935 by Don Cordingly and seven Irish Setters, traveling at about 13 1/2 miles an hour."  

The photo above is from my collection of vintage pictures.  My guess is it's a picture of Cordingly and his dog team.
Here he is with his lead dog.

Lorna continued, "Gary Gunkel and his nine-dog team of setters was unbeatable in the West in the 1960's, and in the East, John Lyman's long team of dark red dogs held their own for years against the husky-powered competition..."  

That's Lyman with his team below,
 about 1960, (photo from Lorna's book.)



Setters are near and dear to my heart.  There hasn't been a time in the last 45 years when at least one setter hasn't been lounging on a couch at my house.  

Diggory, my fist setter, about 1970.






Thursday, October 11, 2012

Barry, St. Bernard Hospice mountain rescue dog

Barry, the famous mountain rescue dog of the Hospice of St. Bernard
Barry looked a lot like this dog, but smaller.
 Cassell's Illustrated Book of the Dog (1881)
During the second half of the 19th century, Barry was a favorite subject of sentimental and melodramatic mass-produced objects that featured elements of his most lauded rescue, saving the life of a child, near death, in an avalanche.

Below is a needlework pattern from around the turn of the last century.  If you like dogs AND embroidery, you can get this Barry pattern for free on my sister's blog, Barbara Brackman's Material Culture.  She's also posted pictures of other dog-themed patterns from the same period.

Outline embroidery with Turkey red thread, c 1890 

Barry's story was used to promote everything from liver elixirs...

...to cigars

...to decorative clocks.
To see more Barry inspired decorative arts go here. 

Who was Barry?
Barry worked as a mountain rescue dog at the Hospice of Saint Bernard, a wayfaring station in the Alps,  from 1800 to 1814. He's credited with saving 40 lives in snow storms and avalanches.

But one heroic event stands above all others.  Finding a a little boy, nearly frozen in an ice crevasse, he brought the child back to life by licking his face.  Persuading the boy to climb on his back, Barry then safely returned to the hospice, where the child was reunited with his parents.  Who validated the details of the toddler's rescue story is unknown. But it was a good story. Good enough to start a ninety year fad and get Barry a permanent place on public display at the Hospice.

This is Barry as he was preserved immediately after his death in 1814.  
Barry was more of a proto Saint Bernard than anything else.  About the size of a large Labrador Retriever with a houndy type of head, he was barely half the size of a contemporary Saint Bernard.
The breed today
His relatives were likely the foundation stock for contemporary Saint Bernards, along with Swiss mountain dogs, large farm dogs, livestock guarding dogs and draft dogs.

Due to calamitous weather conditions and kennel disease, the Barry Dogs almost died out. The monks reinvigorated the breed with Mastiffs and later Newfoundlands, making the lumbering lovable dog we're familiar with today, a good companion but not one suited to treacherous mountain rescues.
A more contemporary Hospice dog.
The name Saint Bernard wasn't officially used until the middle of the 19th century.  The dogs were called Saints, Alpenmastiffs and Barry Dogs. The Saint Bernard club was officially organized in 1884.

After being on display for 122 years at the Hospice, in 1923 Barry got a face lift.  During the restoration, his body position was changed. Unfortunately for dog historians like me, they also modified his skull shape to reflect the contemporary Saint Bernard, destroying the only evidence showing  the genesis of the breed.  The obligatory keg was added to his collar, although there is no evidence that kegs were ever used in hospice rescues.

The modified Barry is on permanent
display at the Natural History Museum of Bern.

Barry's story was celebrated in a fabulous monument, constructed in 1899, that still stands at the entrance to the Cimiteire des Chiens in Paris.   


To see more vintage photos of Saints go to one of my earlier posts.



Monday, October 8, 2012

Golden Retriever Vintage Photos and History

Vintage photos featuring Golden Retrievers are relatively rare.


Library of Congress, 1850-51
Although many antique photos include dogs that look a lot like Golden  Retrievers, look closely and you'll see they're usually not. Because the breed wouldn't be introduced to North America for another 45 years, the dog in the 1851 photo above is probably a Setter.

A happy Setter
In 1868, a cross between the now extinct Tweed Water Spaniel and a black wavy-coated Retriever (close relative of today's Lab) produced four pups used to create the Golden Retriever breed.  Irish Setters, Bloodhounds and the now extinct St. Johns Water Spaniel were added to the mix. Golden Retrievers weren't registered with the British Kennel Club until 1903.   The first Goldens were imported to North America about the same time.

The label on this photo indicates it was taken in North Dakota, about 1890. Although the dog looks like a Golden Retriever it's a Setter. (Having lived with 8 English Setters, I'd know that face anywhere.)

But the contented dog in this portrait is definitely a Golden Retriever.  The date seems right. The bow on the little boy's outfit dates the photo to about 1910.

And there is no other breed that has an angelic face like this. Definitely a Golden.

Ruth (1985-1999)


Doctor Barkman's Golden Retriever, Ruth.  Unlike her more generous retriever relatives, Ruth believed it was better to receive than give. Here she explains her position to roommate, Kate. 



Friday, October 5, 2012

Urban coyotes, bears and mountain lions oh-my

Coyotes, bears, mountain lions and wolves are moving into urban areas.

Wildlife biologist with a sedated coyote captured in Chicago
If this sounds familiar to people in my home town, it's because here in the Los Angeles area, we see coyotes, bears, bobcats and an occasional mountain lion almost every day. Incredible snapshots of these big predators relaxing around the pool or lounging in our yards, along with  a map of sightings are featured at altadenablog's critterdena page.

This is the just-published paper about coyotes in Chicago:  Urban Coyotes Could Be Setting the Stage for Larger Carnivores - Wolves, Bears and Mountain Lions - to Move Into Cities.

No wolves in Los Angeles yet, but if they come, at least the coyotes will leave because the two species don't share territories.  So, for all of you who don't like coyotes in your neighborhoods, be careful what you wish for.