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2008-02-06 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

I can't let "sleeping dogs lie". Have you ever been looking for one precious thing, and instead stumbled on another? While on perpetual search in Babylon for the tomb of Sensation, Westminster's emblem Pointer, I may have found the grave of a Gordon Setter entered twice by August Belmont Jr. in the first Westminster Show, May 1877. Surprising? Not really. Most folks associate Belmont with horse racing, and know little of his impact on the dog world. Actually our wooded stream trail from Southards Pond to Belmont Lake forms Babylon's own canine "Tigris-Euphrates", for over a century ago, origins of the sport of dogs, both on LI and nationally, stem from Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) and Belmont having been here. Although A. Belmont Jr. judged at one Westminster, he was not a member of the club. (His brothers were.) Instead, Belmont was the 4th president of the American Kennel Club (AKC), which formed in 1884, after WKC. During the financier's term from 1888 to 1916, Belmont's acumen brought the young AKC stability, prestige, and fiscal strength. The AKC needed an editorial forum and a record of kennel activity. In 1889 he created the AKC Gazette and guaranteed it against loss for 5 years at a rate of $5,000 per year. None of Belmont's money was ever used, and this magazine showcasing the purebred dog still publishes monthly today. Poster Pet of the Week Cole, Belgian Sheepdog mix Poster Pet of the Week Cole, Belgian Sheepdog mix Belmont Jr. imported, bred, and exhibited dogs, most notably his smooth Fox Terriers at Blemton Kennels in Hempstead. (Note the anagram of "Belmont".) Earlier Belmont Jr., then age 24, entered dogs in the first Westminster which brings me to the delightful discovery at Belmont Lake State Park. In fall '06 when I first began the WKC quest I heard that Leg. Wayne Horsley knew where Sensation's grave was. It seemed logical the famed Pointer was the dog buried at Belmont Lake. Since this was too far north, I assumed the headstone was instead a favorite among the Belmont Fox Terriers, and never checked 'til a year later. The park staff, aware of the grave, had no idea of the dog's breed or story. The stone says: "In Memory Of My Faithful Dog Robin Mar. 25, 1879." Yours truly, Mrs. Milkbone, dog detective, has a wonderful facsimile of the 1877 WKC catalog from Mr. Bill Stifel, WKC's historian. It seems a "Robin" was a Gordon Setter- one of 7 Gordon and English Setters/ Fox Terriers that Belmont entered in the first WKC dog show. The catalog says: #352 A.Belmont Jr., 19 Nassau St., N.Y. ROBIN, bl. and tan, 8 years; by Royal, out of Rackett $500" This means Robin would have been 10 when he died, quite plausible. My catalog has handwritten notes. He took second in Class 9-"Native or Imported Gordon Setter Dogs" which infers this "Robin" was male. He was also in the running for Special Prize #1 "For the best Setter, of any breed, dog or bitch, in the show. A Silver Cup, presented and manufactured at Tiffany & Co., value $150." He lost the Tiffany Cup to "Paris", an English Setter from Ontario. Belmont Jr. died in 1924. Robin's tombstone (photo) stands alone under a grove of trees, next to the former site of the Belmont mansion, razed in 1935, to make room for the new state park headquarters (background). Only Robin's grave and a pair of cannons, tributes to Belmont's mother's Commodore Perry heritage, remain. Robin was a special dog, but I wondered why he was singled out. Belmont had many spectacular animals. (Prime example- August Jr. bred "Man O' War" but supposedly regretted selling the colt that his wife named in honor of Major Belmont's WWI service.) More "digging" uncovered that other beloved Belmont pets were buried in this grove, so it seems Robin wasn't the only dog so honored. Both a 1938 and a 1941 LI Forum allude to the Belmonts having a family pet plot, possibly an enclosure, in this area, except one article cited the wrong Robin death date, which sent me back to Belmont Lake faster than Man O'War ever galloped to verify "Mar. 25, 1879". What a relief to see the Forum was incorrect. Additional dog graves? To add credibility to Robin, I wish I could ID other Belmont dog graves like "Maud", 15 year old Gordon also in the first WKC, and mentioned in The King of Fifth Avenue, a biography of Belmont Sr. It's possible some headstones were moved when a circular driveway went in around the same time Southern State was rerouted. Park officials looked in the sheds for discarded markers. We examined old photos, but most were sent upstate as part of the NYS archives. Shadow of a doubt: Experts from the Gordon Setter Club of America helped by checking for Robin. Belmont may have liked this call name. Within a 19th C. pedigree was a reference to a "dam Robin, Belmont import", suggesting another "Robin", a female; but from the breed club also came reassurance that duplication of names made it difficult to keep track of dogs prior to registration numbers. Even with this "dam" doubt, I put faith in the accuracy of the first WKC catalog. If nothing else in the pursuit of the Pointer, I've learned that the more you discover, the less certain you are of history. Old like new publications contain errors*. Despite that, Sensation the Pointer is definitely entombed in Babylon. Sensation, the symbol of the purebred dog, is #31 in the 1877 catalog while this Robin is #352 and #981. To think that both dogs were together in the first WKC show 131 years ago; to think that they may both be buried 2 miles apart in my hometown for over a century. 'Tis a toast deserving of a Tiffany Cup. •More "horse sense" about discrepancies: When in college researching legends, I found an old source for Lady Godiva's ride printed in Latin. I only had 3 years of Latin in junior high, but my translation describing a bare horse rather than a nude royal activist defuses the vintage indecency. For Adoption: The dogs and cats back at Babylon Town Shelter (643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon probably feel short-changed. I have left them little space this week. "Cole" in Cage 17 is another frightened but sweet dog found wandering St. Charles. Most of the cemetery pups have a black teddy bear look similar to a Belgian Sheepdog. "Cole" responded well to massage. Other dogs include a matted Bichon; "Brussels Sprout"-Malinois mix pup Cage 9; yellow Lab Cage 70; black Lab Cage 73. Cats: "Princess" & "Schnyder"- spayed and FeLV/FIV tested by a kind vet. Speaking of Fox Terriers, "Lucky," a 9-yr. old from Babylon Shelter, is going to the Martha Stewart Show this week with his new owner. Readers can write to Joanne Anderson c/o Beacon newspaper at 65 Deer Park Ave., Babylon NY 11702.

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