According to the American Kennel Club, Irish Setters now number 77 on the list of the most popular breeds in the country. It was a surprise to learn that these beautiful and affable dogs—the natural clowns of the canine world—are so far down on the list and have even been surpassed by exotics like the Leonbergers (number 33), Chinese Crested Dogs (number 57), and the Dogues de Bordeaux (number 68). I certainly remember a time when Irish Setters were far more in evidence and, when I think about it, realize I haven’t even seen a single one for decades in Central Park, that popular parade ground for breeds of the world.
Kathy Kiley, a woman with whom I worked for many years, has been committed to these splendid red-coated hunting dogs for years and, as a matter of fact, the timing of her involvements with specific dogs parallels exactly my relationships with my Pugs. I thought it would be a good idea to talk with her about her connection with the breed and to learn something about them.
Did you have dogs growing up? What kind?
One of my earliest memories involves Lady, a German Shepherd mix whom my grandfather rescued along with her littermates. I can still close my eyes and see myself trudging through the snow in our backyard trying to follow Lady’s path.
Did any books or movies about dogs particularly charm you?
I clearly remember a book that introduced me to dog shows—Champion Dog: Prince Tom by Jean Fritz and Tom Clute. It was about a Cocker Spaniel show dog and I fell in love with the idea of owning and showing my dog
Another book (and also a movie) that made a huge impact on me was Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard. I remember seeing the Disney movie first and falling head over heels for big red dogs. Big Red himself was simply the most beautiful dog I’d ever seen.
There was also the Trixie Belden mystery series [by Kathryn Kenny], which I adored. These books include Trixie’s pet, Reddy, an Irish Setter.
Were your parents great dog lovers?
Yes. Both my parents loved animals. My father even remembered Micky, an Irish Setter who used to pull him out of the road by the seat of his pants. At least that’s the story my Dad told!
When did you get your first Irish Setter?
My great aunt gave me my first—Seamus. He came from what is known as a backyard breeder. That’s when someone who has a purebred dog and wants to make some easy money, breeds his animal without any regard to the health and genetic makeup of the dogs.
With Seamus I learned many hard lessons. He was from a litter of eleven and by his first birthday, he was the only surviving puppy. I spent a lot of time and money at the vet’s office with him and he only lived until age four and a half. But he was the beginning of my dream.
What about your second Irish Setter?
Having learned my lesson, I knew that my next dog would come from a reputable show breeder. I started to go to dog shows and carefully watched the dogs being shown. Eventually I saw one dog who took my breath away—Champion Shawnee Pipedream O’Charlton, aka Piper. I immediately sat down and wrote letters to a number of different breeders. I also developed a friendship with a professional handler and breed enthusiast. Eighteen months after losing Seamus, I received the answer I was hoping for: there was a four-month old bitch available who had been sired by Piper.
That bitch was to become my Kara, Rendition Kara O’Cadhla.
For almost four years I traveled around the East Coast showing her along with some of the handler’s other dogs. Alas, Kara never liked showing. She always preferred to be at home and I retired her from the ring sooner than I had expected. But she was the true beginning of my dreams. A very special creature who adored children, she was truly the dog of my heart.
Who was your third Irish Setter?
After almost eighteen months without a dog in my life, I went to watch the dogs at the Westchester Kennel Club dog show. There I saw a very handsome dog who impressed me. A few weeks after contacting that dog’s owner and breeder, Jewelsets Top O’The Morn, known as Maggie, was home with me and my family.
I had also hoped to show Maggie, but a couple of her health issues prevented it. Instead, that little girl became a therapy dog and the spoiled darling of my parents. For five and a half years she visited my father every Sunday after he had been admitted to a nursing home and while she was visiting him, she charmed all the other residents and the staff members as well. She loved all the attention—being petted and given treats.
Maggie died at thirteen and a half, leaving an enormous hole in my life.
When did you decide to get another Irish Setter?
After Maggie died, Greg, my younger brother, felt I needed another dog in my life. But I just wasn’t ready. My mother’s health was deteriorating and then, in December 2008, she died.
It took time for me to recover from that loss. But little by little, I began to think about getting another dog. I started attending local shows and even considered a smaller breed, perhaps a Corgi or an English Cocker Spaniel.
Then, while wandering around the Ladies’ Kennel Association of America dog show in 2009, I came upon a group of Irish Setter puppies playing in a pen. A short time later I was watching the judging of the Irish Setters and saw the most beautiful bitch I’d ever seen right there in the ring. Champion Beaubriar Premier Event, the great Eloise. The owner/handler? The woman with the adorable puppies I’d seen playing together.
It was fate.
I realized I really did want another Irish Setter, not a Corgi or English Cocker Spaniel no matter how fine those breeds might be.
I contacted the owner/breeder of the puppies I’d seen and discovered that one I’d admired—a male—was still available to a show home.
Was I ready for such a big commitment?
After a few emails and phone calls, one week later I was on my way to Massachusetts to pick up the puppy.
This dog, Rory, Champion Beaubriar’s Master of Arts, has brought a lifelong dream alive. There’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t make me laugh. And in the two years I’ve been showing him, he’s already reached his championship. Moreover, what makes me particularly proud is that I’ve shown him myself and loved every minute of it even though I’m past the age when most people start showing dogs. As long as my knees hold out, we might even win enough points to be invited to Westminster. That will be yet another part of my dream that comes true.
From the AKC standard:
One of the most distinctive sporting breeds, the mahogany red Irish Setter is an active, aristocratic bird dog. Originally bred to be red and white, the solid red color appeared in Ireland in the 19th century and became a mark of quality and superior sporting ability. Over two feet tall at the shoulder, the Irish is known for his style, powerful movement and clown-like personality.