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2013-03-13 / Columnists

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St. Patty’s Day is a time to celebrate all things Irish. When it comes to dogs, the Emerald Isle has provided the world with a smorgasbord of delightful breeds. Not sure if it is politically correct to use such an ethnically mixed metaphor. Better to say “an Irish stew of delightful breeds.”

Irish Setter; Irish Wolfhound; Irish Terrier; Irish Water  Spaniel; Irish Red and White Setter. Five of the 187 dog breeds and varieties currently recognized by the AKC (American Kennel Club) have a “made in Ireland” stamp within their names. There are actually four distinct Terrier breeds from Ireland; the AKC term “Irish Terrier” describes the wiry one who always has flaming red hair from Eire.

Nationalities in breed names can be wrong. Great Dane and French Poodle are misnomers, for each breed was developed in Germany. Nevertheless, the five Irish breeds above did come from the auld sod. The AKC, founded in 1884, maintains the largest purebred dog registry in the world. Breed clubs follow a timetable and strict criteria to gain full AKC recognition. It takes years, even for established breeds, many already competing in Europe and elsewhere, within international registries.

Glen of Imaal Terrier Glen of Imaal Terrier Time out for the Malti-Poo rant: This recognition process has nothing to do with phony “designer dogs.” Pet store concoctions are NOT new breeds; even though the sales staff swears they are, when gullible people continue to pay thousands of dollars for mutts. I have no problem with mixed breeds; just a huge issue with stores selling any puppies, while spewing hogwash to customers. Now let’s look at the other three AKC Terriers of Irish descent:

*Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier -The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier is the traditional Irish farm dog. For many years they were taken for granted as part of the landscape, being part of the daily work of the Irish farmer. They were not owned by wealthy dog enthusiasts but were seen as the poor people’s dog.

Under the penal law of 18th century Ireland, tenant farmers were prohibited from owning a dog worth more than five dollars, making it likely that these anonymous Terriers were the choice of the poor Catholic tenants. The English landholders had the more expensive Wolfhounds.

Wheatens are believed to be an ancestor of the Kerry Blue (below). In 1962, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Soft- Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America was founded when fanciers met in Brooklyn and agreed to preserve and protect the Wheaten in the US. The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier was officially recognized by the AKC in 1973.

*Kerry Blue Terrier -Some say the Kerry Blue actually came from Tipperary; others say that this breed emerged in the 1700s in County Kerry. A romantic legend holds that when a Russian ship wrecked in Kerry’s Tralee Bay, an exotic blue-coated dog frantically paddled its way ashore.

Still others insist that the peasants developed the Kerry Blue for the purpose of poaching since only the nobility was permitted to hunt with Irish Wolfhounds. There is speculation that Wolfhounds were crossed with Wheatens, and possibly Bedlingtons, to produce the smaller, scrappy breed. At the turn of the 20th century, the breed became closely associated with Irish nationalism with the nationalist leader Michael Collins owning a famous Kerry Blue named “Convict 224.” Collins attempted to have the Kerry Blue adopted as the national dog of Ireland.

The first Kerry Blues showed up in America at Westminster in 1922 where they were exhibited in the Miscellaneous Class until 1924 when the breed was recognized by the AKC. Then during Westminster 1926, a group of fanciers met at the Waldorf Astoria to organize the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of America.

*Glen of Imaal Terrier -These are probably the least familiar, Irish-descent Terriers because they are so rare. The breed nearly became extinct in the 1920s. Picture a 35-pound scruffy Terrier on a compact Basset chassis. This Terrier, which originates in the Glen of Imaal in the remote County Wicklow, is sometimes called the Wicklow Terrier, or shortened to just Glen.

The breed came into existence during the reign of Elizabeth I, who hired French and Hessian mercenaries to put down civil unrest in Ireland. After the conflict, many of these soldiers settled in Wicklow. They brought with them their stubby-legged Hounds, which they bred with the local Terrier stock, eventually resulting in a distinctive breed found only in the Glen of Imaal. Some say that the breed is related to the Wheaten.

The Glen of Imaal was developed as a working dog for herding and for eradicating vermin such as fox, badger and otter. When hunting, Glens are strong and silently dig out their quarry, unlike most yippy Terrier breeds.

According to Irish lore, Glen of Imaal Terriers were also used as turnspit dogs to turn meat over fires for cooking evenly. Documentation is scarce, and engravings of turnspit dogs from the 19th century do not look much like the modern Glen. A 1970s Irish Kennel Club drawing depicts a cumbersome wheel connected to a pulley and then a rotisserie. The dog paddled away inside of the wheel mounted on the wall or strung from the ceiling. The device could never have fit in the average Irish cottage of the era, but a smaller version was used to churn butter.

The breed was recognized first by the Irish Kennel Club in 1934 and by the American Kennel Club in 2004. I went to a Westminster luncheon that year where Bruce Sussman, instrumental in obtaining AKC recognition for the Glen, introduced his unique Terrier to the NY press. Sussman co-wrote “Copacabana” and the American Bandstand theme song with Barry Manilow. Though that information has nothing to do with Irish breeds, it remains an interesting connection to the dog world. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: The dogs and cats at the shelter would love to parade into a loving home. “Tabitha” #3-68 is a calico kitty who prefers the company of dogs and people to her own species. Consider the American Eskimo Dog duo #13-134/135, possibly sisters or mother/daughter. These older females are absolute dolls.

More Dogs: “Polly” #13-104 petite Pit; “Shelby” #13- 77- young Australian Kelpie mix, presents herself better outdoors than in the crowded kennel.

** Double event on St. Patrick’s Day- Pet photos with the Easter Bunny and low-cost vaccine clinic- from 11 am to 3 p.m. at Last Hope Adoption Center, 3300 Beltagh Avenue in Wantagh.

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