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2010-02-03 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Sorry, I can’t let “sleeping dogs lie.” The lone tombstone in front of the LI State Parks Commission headquarters at Bel­mont Lake reads: “In Memory Of My Faith­ful Dog Robin- Mar. 25, 1879.” Two years ago, I was thrilled to discover that Robin was the name of a dog that August Belmont Jr. entered twice as a Gordon Setter in the first (1877) Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) Dog Show. At the time, I didn’t notice that Robin had a disturbing “dual identity.” It seems during that landmark event Belmont also slipped him into the ring as an incognito English Setter.

To revisit my original “Robin” story online see Beacon Archives, “Pets” 2/7/08 which cites evidence that at one time there was a fenced Belmont family pet cemetery but the rest of the headstones must have been moved when the mansion was razed in 1935 and the new park driveway paved. Only Robin’s mark­er remains.

My quest to pinpoint the Babylon grave of Westminster’s iconic Point­er, Sensation, near Southards Pond has given me a wealth of historical resources, including a facsimile copy of the first WKC show catalogue from Westminster’s historian, Mr. Stifel. A 19th Century spectator inked results in the margins. Since then Robin’s background has become a parallel pursuit whereas this precious book notes a “Robin” under “Native or Imported Gordon Setter Dogs” (meaning male) and under Special Prize #1 for the “Best Setter” Both times, the listing using Belmont’s NYC address, reads:
“A. Belmont Jr., 19 Nassau st. NY
ROBIN, bl. and tan, 8 years, by Royal, out of Rack­ett. $500.”

Shown in photo, Robin’s grave at Belmont Lake. Shown in photo, Robin’s grave at Belmont Lake. It’s quite plausible this Gordon Setter is the same Robin who died two years later at age ten. The 1,201 dog entrants in the 1877 WKC catalog are described as “not for sale” or at prices ranging from $50 to $10,000. Sensation, the famous Pointer was there too not for competition, not for sale: just for exhibition by the WKC. He was the celebrity draw to the four-day event at the Hippodrome, the first Madison Square Garden. WKC put a $35 stud fee ad for Sensation at the end of the catalogue.

Pets for Adoption Shown, left, “Star” ~ patient Pit Pets for Adoption Shown, left, “Star” ~ patient Pit Back to Robin-Belmont also entered two Fox Ter­riers (his signature breed); Robin’s son “Duke” in the same Breed Class as Pop and this pup’s Mom “Maud” as a 15-year-old Gordon Setter bitch which further confirmedRobin’s breed because the whole fam­ily was in the show. Robin came in second, beating sonny “Duke.”

“Maud” is also mentioned in D. Black’s The King of Fifth Avenue, a 1981 biography of Belmont Sr. when Dad instructs Junior to import a new Gordon brood bitch from Europe aboard the Cunard line because “Maud” was getting old. Seeking more breed proof, I spoke to members of the Gordon Setter Club and looked in vain for Robin in the old stud books at the AKC Library. No Belmont Setter paintings or photos are known to exist, just several of his Fox Terriers.

Shown, right, “Tricia” ~ Shepherd/Lab Shown, right, “Tricia” ~ Shepherd/Lab Shortly after announcing the breed and significanceof the mysterious dead dog at Belmont Lake, I was counting Belmont’s WKC entries again, when I saw an identical “Robin” as an “Imported English Setter Dog.” Every word (owner, address, age, pedigree, price) was the same except now the color was “black, tan and white frill.” At first, I thought it was a misprint.

Gordons are solid black & tan, a little white frill is permitted, but not desirable; while English Setters are mainly white with an intermingling of colored flecking. Was Robin, lying below this N. Babylon tombstone, the same dog entered under two different breeds at this historic competition? ‘Twas unlikely Belmont would give two dogs from an imported lit­ter the same call name. Hence, I believe “Robin” had some white on him, and Belmont, a shrewd business­man, heir to the renowned horse racing stable, future Major during WWI, was merely a wealthy, gambling 24-year-old gent, maximizing his options.

Did Belmont cheat by double-dipping Robin? Not really. In 1877 dog show rules were inconsistent; the few existing stud books lacked pedigree registration numbers; and the lines between breeds were still a bit blurred. Besides separating Setters into Gordon, English or Irish in early WKC shows, there were ad­ditional classes for black & tan plus black, tan & white Setters. In retrospect this seems confusing.

Belmont redeemed himself. Later he was instru­mental in standardizing the rules. The American Kennel Club (AKC) wasn’t established until 1884 when, buoyed by WKC, 12 dog club delegates met to start a regulatory body to oversee benched shows and field trials. Belmont became AKC president in 1888, the same year the AKC required that every dog in a sanctioned show be registered in the AKC stud book at 50¢ each. He remained a powerful AKC president for 26 years. Theofficialmagazine, “TheAKC Gazette”, guaranteed by Belmont’s financial backing, still publishes today.

While “most-of –the-time Gordon Setter”, Robin, died five years be­fore there were any AKC rules, nine years before registration numbers had to be in the catalogue, 13 years before his breed was officially recog­nized in the US, English Setters still got the last laugh at Belmont’s two- timer strategy. “Paris” an English Setter from Ontario was chosen over Robin for that “Best Setter” Special Prize #1, a silver Tiffanycup.

Speaking of Westminster week: The Garden Spe­cialty Assoc. (www.gsa.com) a cluster of 30+ shows preceding WKC will be held at the Nassau Coliseum from Feb.11-14. Last Hope Animal Rescue is honored to have a table in the lobby. Thenthe 134th Westmin­ster Kennel Club Show will be at MSG on Feb.15-16. Don’t miss it.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Star” Cage 37, part of the patient Pit mix collection, loves playing with toys. She entered the shelter last March after giving birth. Friendly “Tricia” a Shepherd/ Lab pup in Cage 27 is a more recent shelter arrival.

Male: “Teddy” Retriever Cage 6; “Bradley” Pit mix Cage 1; Hound mix Cage 13.

Female: “Bastet” exotic lobby kitten; “Roxy” Cage 25, “Ginger” Cage 39 -also veteran Pits.

•Jewelry Flea Market to benefit Last Hope’s special needs dogs at Basic Pet Care 642 Rt.109. Lindenhurst on Sat. Feb. 6 from 10 am to 2 pm. Call 957-0023.

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