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The Airedale – Part 1

Click here to read the complete article

114 – August, 2015

by Amy Fernandez

In both Britain and America, Gundogs were the headliners and groundbreakers of the modern dog world. Their proponents organized the first show, founded key organizations like the Kennel Club, Westminster, and AKC, and the list goes on. However, Terrier fanciers- like their dogs- weren’t on the sidelines waiting for an invitation. By 1860 Terrier breeders and judges were calling the shots at every level of the sport. Their concepts became ubiquitous hallmarks of the game, things like specialty publications, show grooming (and cheating), and professional handling. Fox Terrier popularity was the springboard for this preeminent position. That influence was soon matched by the Bull Terrier power bloc. Almost as quickly, promoters of short-legged Terriers became a rising force and their clout intensified exponentially as Dandies and Skyes paved the way for Scotties, Cairns, and Westies. Oddly, most historical accounts underplay the formidable impact of the Airedale fancy. To be fair, it’s been a long time since they reigned supreme. Moreover, the breed’s heyday was sudden, unexpected, and almost defies analysis to this day.

Airedales challenged for AKC’s top spot for almost a decade when the finally claimed it in 1917. In The Modern Airedale, published a year earlier, W.J. Phillips reckoned 1865 as “the stone age of the Airedale… taking this as the approximate time the cult of the Airedale had been in progress, the results attained at the time of writing are really wonderful.” After methodically enumerating these rapid advances, this circumspect Englishman abandoned decorum and pronounced the Airedale’s evolution “simply phenomenal”. His amazement was justified. The Airedale literally appeared out of thin air.

Northern England is considered the breed’s birthplace, but that doesn’t imply the existence of a unified prototype. Commenting on the ancestral Airedale gene pool, Herbert Compton said, “He was known indifferently as the Bingley, the Broken-haired, or Waterside terrier”. By 1904 hindsight offered considerable advantage when Compton profiled the breed in his candid snapshot of purebred history, The Twentieth Century Dog. Even so, no one predicted where this was going.

As Rawdon Lee noted a few years earlier in Modern Dogs, nineteenth-century Yorkshire overflowed with nondescript Terriers, “Few sporting country districts were without their own special strain.” And the Hound of the Baskervilles wasn’t a singular occurance. Like Yorkshire’s Terriers, Hound packs, bred strictly for utility, featured Foxhounds, Harriers, Otterhounds, and everything in between. Airedale breeder/historian Holland Buckley dated the first Otterhound cross to 1853. This breed is generally considered a primary Airedale ingredient, but according to Buckley, it was actually something “Between a large Welsh Harrier and an Otter Hound, none but an expert could detect any difference in general appearance”. Although that basic recipe was pretty rough, its potential was obvious as Robert Leighton confirmed in Dogs and All About Them. “Whether by accident or design, the fact remains that in or about 1850 a cross took place between these same hounds and terriers. It did not take many years to populate the district with these terrier-hounds” ”

The Hound infusion imparted size, substance, stamina, nose, and overall versatility. Terrier-hounds answered for many needs in that time and place- and the resulting package went in a million directions as Compton detailed, “His master was generally a working man in those early days, before the dog entered the realm of fashion; sometimes a gamekeeper, more often a miner or millhand.” They created terrier-hounds capable of “marking game like a pointer, following it like a hound, turning it out like a spaniel, retrieving it like a retriever, carrying letters like a postman, bringing slippers like a valet, playing with children like a nurse, and guarding property like a mastiff. ” Compton was most impressed with the Airedale’s “amphibious qualities…he can dive like an otter and swim like a fish, and water rat hunting is one of his incidental occupations”. It was more than incidental. Water rat hunts ranked among Yorkshire’s top gaming sports. Hundreds of spectators and bettors turned out in force to support their favorites each weekend.

Artist/historian Gladys Brown Edwards confirmed in her 1962 book that a veritable cornucopia of stuff fit under that Airedale umbrella by 1860. “From all accounts, there was a regular cat’s cradle of crosses in the ancestral mesh of the Airedale.” Historical evidence does not suggest any focused breeding or clear objective at that stage of the game. That ostensible drawback didn’t prevent this rag-tag crew from dominating Yorkshire agricultural shows. That indefinable creation had two things going for it, overwhelming popularity and owners that thrived on competition. Compton and his contemporaries offered similar accounts of entries of 100-200 during the 1870s “almost as varied as his many names was his coat, eyes, ears, size, and type. You might have benched a dozen all differing completely and no one to decide which was the correct thing to aim at.”

Phillips noted the obvious factor to explain this- show promoters weren’t about to reject 200 entries regardless of the source. “The Waterside Terrier at such shows was so great in numbers that the Bingley show executive had the courage and foresight to allot classes confined to this breed and here we find them now as the Bingley Terrier. There were some wonderful entries recorded between 1875 and 1879.” Along with most historians, he cites Hugh Dalziel’s experience sorting this intimidating mob at Bingley Agricultural 1879, “While judging one of those enormous mixed terrier classes, he reportedly said, ‘here we are in Bingley judging dogs produced near the River Aire. Why not call them Airedale Terriers?’”

Although this neat, historical sound bite has been widely recounted, that’s not exactly how it went down. Dalziel’s remarks immediately focused international attention on this trending Yorkshire development. It was matched by local editorial venom because Bingley was getting all the credit. “Waterside, Bingley, Airedale, Brokenhaired Airedale..there was still confusion about the name however, and for many shows that followed two or all three names were used-possibly to ensure being right on one of them.” Dutcher and Framke wrote in The New Airedale Terrier that show promoters backed off of this prickly issue to avoid offending their best customer.

That wasn’t the only one. To many, “Terrier” was a presumptuous connotation for that amorphous type congealing in northern England. Among others, Compton said, “Indeed there was a time when the question was debated whether the Airedale should not be grouped with the Hound, and in the earlier days of his development he certainly had a decidedly houndy look.” R.M. Palmer had bred Airedales for over 20 years when he published All About Airedales in 1911. Even then, he considered Terrier a classification error. “The name of Airedale is already so distinctive and special a cognomen, as differing from the names of other breeds, that as time wears on, it would seem that the unnecessary Terrier appendage will be eliminated from even the Kennel Club list. An Airedale in character is in a class entirely by itself.”

Of course, the Airedale’s “800 pound gorilla” overshadowed any and all related debates. Watson’s account of Airedale history in The Dog Book begins in the fall of 1879. While propping up the bar at a Regent Street club with some dog friends, “Vero Shaw dropped in fresh from a trip to some Yorkshire show, and told us the latest news in dogdom- they had a terrier in the north that weighed forty pounds. Every person present expressed the opinion that no dog of anything like that weight should be considered or called a terrier.”

Maybe bigger was better in Yorkshire, but popular opinion ruled that no dog that size had any business calling itself a Terrier. Leighton was still coming to grips with that fact in 1914. He wrote, “Whether it is common sense to call a dog weighing 40-50 pounds a terrier is a question that one often hears discussed. People will ask: How can he be a terrier? Why he is an outrage on the very word…and to what animal can an Airedale go to ground?”

That barroom bombshell wasn’t Watson’s only Airedale shocker. Less than 20 years later, he confirms that the Airedale not only had purebred credentials, it had major street swag. “It was with the utmost surprise that we saw on a visit to England, 1897 if we are not mistaken, that the Airedale was quite the fashion as a ladies’ companion about London. On our return we mentioned this to Mr. Mason who was equally surprised, and said that they could not have done that with the sort they had when he kept them. Mr. Mason brought over the first Airedale shown in this country. A dog named Bruce, with which he won first in the rough haired terrier class at New York in 1881.”

Charles Mason, that indomitable spirit of nineteenth century dogdom, broke ground for Airedales in America. AKC historian John Marvin reported that Mason arrived in 1880 “seeking wider opportunities” primarily brokering. He “brought over a steady flow of dogs in a myriad of breeds.” Mason exhibited seven dogs at Westminster 1881, including Bruce, the first Airedale shown in America. Bruce debuted in the era’s version of Miscellaneous, the free-for-all class. As the name implies, it was a jumble of oddness, which summarizes Mason’s view of Airedales.

In 1888, his caustic appraisal of American purebreds, Our Prize Dogs, documented the single prize winning Airedale at that time. Emphasizing that Bruce would be his only contribution to that effort; poor old Tatters got a critique matching his name. Following an excruciating account of his failings, Mason pronounced him “a useful looking, second-class dog…Here is a breed almost unknown in America. It is more than probable that a good specimen of the breed has not been exhibited here, and the prospect of improvement is not bright.” Chiefly, Mason complained that the shaggy, rustic Airedale had no chance against the sleek glamour dominating the Terrier ring.

Defying logic and expert predictions, that unlikely package that won hearts in Yorkshire proceeded to work its magic on the dog world at large. Its unconventional size gained acceptance, but there was no getting around the fact that Airedales weren’t pretty. Calling it a manufactured breed, Holland Buckley explained that uniformity and aesthetic appeal were never part of the agenda. He described early litters as a baffling mix that, “could have been benched and won honors as Otterhound, Welsh, and Old English rough terriers.” Phillips laid it out. “It must be remembered that neither the Otter Hound or Welsh Harrier was considered handsome, therefore such reproduction of their offspring did not benefit materially in good looks.” Palmer was another eyewitness. “It did not matter to the old time fancier whether his ideal was down at the pasterns or out at the shoulders, neither did color or size of ears detract from his feelings.”

Maybe not in Yorkshire, but the show ring was a different story. Moreover, as noted in The New Airedale, “the problem of evolving a smart, though large Terrier from the amalgamated tribe of sporting dogdom was no easy one, with hound ears, light eyes, soft backs, and off coats being among the eyesores that cropped up in even the best litters.”

In reality, many newly christened purebreds scrambled to fit those idealized parameters of conformity and beauty. Crossbreeding was the standard remedy. Edwards conceded that the usual quick fix wasn’t an option. “While smaller breeds could tap other sources to improve the breed quickly, the Airedale had no other large breed of similar type sufficiently advanced on which to rely. Breeders had to refine the rough ore themselves, heading toward a known ideal, striving always for Terrier quality on a dog of un-Terrier size. While trying to breed the Hound out of the Airedale, externally they wanted to keep the valuable Hound traits internally.”

Considering these obstacles, Mason’s dismal prediction about the Airedale’s future seemed accurate. Ironically, purebred recognition coincided with the publication of his book. A decade after he labeled the breed as a nonstarter, the Airedale was literally too big to fail. Those huge entries at agricultural shows hadn’t gone unnoticed. Birmingham led the way, offering three Airedale Terrier classes in 1883. And they were packed. The Kennel Club accepted registrations for “Brokenhaired Scotch or Yorkshire Terriers” in 1885 and recognized the breed as Airedale Terrier a year later. In 1888, AKC followed suit. Of course, these decisions were driven by numbers – not breed stability.

The newly recognized Airedale was an awkward fit for its purebred pigeonhole but type was coalescing faster than anyone imagined. Ideally, competition inspires breed improvement. In this case, it kicked in before an actual breed existed. The ATCA 70th Anniversary Yearbook says, “After 1881 Airedales were brought into this country in slowly increasing numbers, and in the late ‘90s more expensive, better ones were imported by sportsmen in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.” Affluent fanciers fueled the progress of America’s dog game back then, and these discerning connoisseurs were always scouting for the next big thing. Moreover, they bought and imported on a scale that defies belief. Today’s concept of a “major kennel” housing 20-30 dogs barely qualified as a startup. Heading that list was Colne, Canada’s first Airedale kennel founded by Canadian Kennel Club V.P. Joseph Laurin.

Laurin began stocking his Montreal kennel with imports in 1895, beginning with Willow Nut, sire of 75 champions. His daughter, the legendary Dumbarton Lass, arrived a year later. William Bruette says by then, “She had won nine CCs…She was a typical bitch of correct type, nothing houndy about her. Like so many famous matrons she was small, lacking in coat, and her sire was unknown but she succeeded in making a big impression on the breed.” Acknowledging that Laurin imported many fine Airedales, he summed up the situation calling Colne “the breed’s hands down winner for quantity.” Former ATCA president, William Barclay was more direct, calling Colne “a graveyard for Airedales. He imported very young pups, old champions, show dogs, brood bitches, bitches in whelp, dogs and bitches that could not produce, big, small, good, bad, all thrown into a melting pot producing thousands of pups.”

Laurin’s kennel was the largest, but far from the only big operation importing and breeding Airedales nonstop. Almost overnight, major centers of Airedale development arose throughout the east coast. In New York, DeWitt Cochrane got the ball rolling. The biggest star of his Westchester kennel was Barkerend Lilian, imported in 1899. Within months, Foxhall Keene upped the ante, importing Ch. Clonmel Bed Rock and Ch. Clonmel Coronation to start his Airedale kennel in Old Westbury.

A year later, J. Lorrilard Arden entered the fray. Watson tells us, “Once in the fancy, Mr. Arden meant to be the leader” which translated into a package deal to import Clonmel’s three top winners at that time, “with the result that Ch. Clonmel Marvel, Ch. Clonmel Sensation, and Clonmel Veracity from Holland Buckley were shown in his name and with the first two he won all he competed for.” Watson considered them “a long way ahead of anything we had previously had here.” Marvel became the breed’s top winner on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was a different world back then, as Airedale breeder and former ATCA/AKC president Russell Johnson later recalled. “Old Vic, as he was known by his owner Mr. Arden, ran at large and he cleaned up all the dogs in the neighborhood and he never had to do it twice. ..Both the man and the dog would sooner be about their business than rolling in the dirt, but where rolling in the dirt was needed, possessed the power to roll anyone.” Theodore Offerman, another eventual ATCA president, was next on the scene. His York kennel became a showcase of English stunners that produced generations of winning homebreds. For example, Ch. York the Hayseed, sired by the top import Ch. Tone Masterpiece, subsequently produced Ch. York the Haymaker. Although he had no formal role in Airedales, James Mortimer ranked among its staunchest New York supporters. Officially, Westminster’s show superintendent, he pretty much owned it. Mortimer’s influence ensured royal treatment for the breed at his show, among other things.

“Philadelphia then took up the breed and set the pace,” Watson said, “There was nothing equal to Clonmel Marvel till Mr. Clement Newbold of Philadelphia imported Clonmel Monarch.” He wasn’t exaggerating. Newbold founded Crosswicks Kennel and served as ATCA’s first president, but Monarch was his greatest contribution to the breed. “Not only was this the best dog of his day, but as a sire we owe much to him for his descendants have been important factors in the wonderful progress Airedales have made during the last year or two.”

Watson mentioned Russell Johnson Jr. among the Philadelphia breeders who based successful lines on Monarch. Years later, Johnson shared his first experience importing mail order dogs. Brimming with teenage enthusiasm, he paid top dollar for a Wire and an Airedale. Upon arrival, he immediately brought them to Philadelphia’s reigning Terrier expert, William Barclay. Barclay’s first words were, “My dear Russell, which is your Airedale?”

Johnson hung on. His age and inexperience were offset by four generations of Philadelphia wealth and Barclay’s guidance. Equally admired and respected as a breeder and a judge, William S. Barclay’s Wyndhill bloodline was also based on Monarch. After his death, it was continued by his daughter, Airedale breeder/historian Caroline Strong. In 1905, still in his early twenties, Johnson became the AKC delegate for Wissihickon, the Airedale’s local stronghold. He advanced to AKC director in 1913, was elected V.P. in 1932, and became AKC’s ninth president in 1933. The ATCA Sixtieth Anniversary Yearbook said, “without these two men I doubt that the Airedale would have even approached the prominence it eventually reached.” They were far from the only heavy hitters on the Airedale team.

“Boston was the other main area in the East in the thick of the Airedale wars.” Edwards calls George Saltonstall West first among them. His Boston kennel was considered the cutting edge in several breeds long before he registered his Gamecock prefix in 1908. West’s biggest Airedale winner, Soubrette, ended up at Vickery Kennel in Chicago.

Airedales also benefited from the best Terrier talent. Percy Roberts recounted his start for the ATCA 70th Anniversary Yearbook. He wrote, “Having been interested in the breed before coming to America, the first dog show I attended in the U.S. was the Airedale Terrier Club specialty in December, 1913 in N.Y.” Breeder/judge William Prescott Wolcott awarded BOB to Ch. Vickery Soubrette and BOS to Ch. Vickery Emperor. “During the latter part of 1912 the famous English Terrier man Stanley Lomas was engaged as manager of this famous kennel with Eland Hadfield as his right hand man. It was my good fortune to join them in January 1914,” Roberts wrote. He adds that Soubrette ended her successful year by defeating over 100 Airedales at the Western Airedale Terrier Club Show in Chicago.

By then, major Airedale kennels existed throughout the country. In Illinois Vickery was soon joined by Doreda and Briergate. Like Vickery, Davishill Kennel in Fort Thomas, Kentucky is best known for Wires like the legendary Davishill Little Man. But a decade earlier Davis campaigned several BIS Airedales including Ch. Davishill Man o War, War Bond of Davishill and, Ch. War Bride of Davishill, Group and RBIS winner at Westminster 1925. In Missouri C.W. Buttles, founding publisher of The Kennel Review, started Elmhurst Kennels and G.L.L. Davis founded Daystar. Lake Dell in Washington, Anoakia, Criterion, Lionheart in California, and Mountain View in Montana established the breed west of the Rockies. These were big operations owned by fanciers who played to win. Needless to say, sensational imports were an obligatory requirement. The New Airedale Terrier aptly described that facet of the situation, “The breed was well on its way onward and upward by its second decade in this country and nearly every big Eastern show saw the latest ‘greatest Airedale ever bred’ making its American debut, usually from a boat conveniently docking a day or two earlier. The wins of these dogs were far from discouraging to other exhibitors.”

The American Terrier market was both competitive and extremely lucrative. English breeders had ample motivation to produce topnotch stock for resale. Of course, Russell Johnson’s experience wasn’t unique. Showing a dog straight off the boat had undeniable dramatic flair… and risk. The long voyage left many dogs in dodgy condition. Countless others experienced mysterious transformations after arrival, developing colorless coats, prick ears, yellow eyes and other disheartening faults.

Those problems were minor as the ATCA Yearbook noted, “The breed was very new and very variable, and opinions of what constituted a good one were equally varied. All kinds and types arrived here, each one touted as the year’s top winner.” From 1880-1900, countless Airedales were imported to stock massive breeding operations throughout the country – without any official consensus regarding major aspects of type. No matter how you spin it, that seems like an unmitigated disaster. Even cynical Watson conceded somehow it worked. He wrote, “American breeders did very well …Very few breeds increase as Airedale terriers have done in the seven years of their recognition in this country. The fancy is strong and healthy, and is still growing.”

That miracle was attributable to several factors, like linebred stock as Watson mentioned. “Another surprise is the marked progress made in breeding good ones here. We can only account for this exception to the general rule which calls for years of building up of the breeding stock by the supposition that a much better class of dogs and bitches was imported than was the case in many other breeds,” he wrote.

Most of England’s big winners descended from a handful of stabilized bloodlines. Each had unique hallmarks and idiosyncrasies, but they all derived from the same ancestral combinations. And when they got here those tightly linked lines were also repetitiously featured in pedigrees. Linebreeding has gotten a bad rap lately and its value has been discounted. The Airedale’s progress illustrates the power of this tool. Ideally, traits can be stabilized or revised in three generations/six years, which was the case for the American Airedale. Breeding was almost foolproof thanks to the predominance of these superlative imports.

However, many emerging breeds had the advantages of fabulous imports, wealthy influential promoters, and talented handlers. The Airedale had something else going for it –?synergy, that ephemeral convergence of opportunity, ideas, and energy. Every facet of human endeavor has felt its impact, from renaissance art to 19th century science. It doesn’t happen often but the milestone achievements left in its wake far exceed the scope of the most brilliant individual effort. Airedale breeders were fully invested in their goal. Obviously, everyone wanted to win. But more than that, they wanted the Airedale to win.

Technically, everyone associated with a particular breed works toward its betterment. Outwardly, it is teamwork with a common objective and a mutually agreed agenda. However, most groups rely on breed standards, rule enforcement, and show records to establish common ground and measure progress. In this instance, something far more intense was in play. That small clique of foundation breeders overcame obstacles and achieved results that were deemed unobtainable.

In her 1959 historical retrospective, William Barclay’s daughter, Caroline Strong, recalled her father grading litters with his protégé, Russell Johnson. “Until that time Airedales had not bred true to type, variations had been extreme and selection was still of first importance. The two or three best of a litter were kept and all the rest, without papers, were given away or taken to a leading pet shop one or two at a time as buyers were found. Future breeding of undesirables was stopped at the source. Registration attached only to the few not the total.”

Every breeder understands that perpetual balancing act between desirable traits and pervasive faults. The scope of those faults diminishes as a breed progresses, but that tradeoff remains ongoing. Johnson’s evolving opinion regarding the 1900 Westminster winners Clonmel Marvel and Barkerend Lillian, illustrated that process, “I recall vividly looking at these two and wondering how anything could be so perfect. …perhaps if I was to see old Marvel now I would not be so enthused. His eyes were undeniably light – in fact yellow –?but we were not so hard on the lamps in those days. He had a really marvelous coat. Legs like posts, and a real he-dog character.” Frequently, famous winners are idealized to almost mythical status. Johnson’s honest evaluation of these past superstars revealed his determined commitment to Airedale progress.

Arguably, the intense camaraderie and shared resolve among those early breeders wasn’t so remarkable. Along with their interest in purebreds, they shared similar backgrounds and social affiliations. Multiple sources, including the ATCA Yearbook labeled their competition a friendly rivalry. “The club had strong groups of members in the Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Chicago areas. The vast majority were active breeders and exhibitors and they also served in the club for many years in many capacities.” At Westminster 1900, 18 of them founded ATCA. By 1902 membership grew to 27, and shot up to 50 by 1906, reaching 70 by 1910. ATCA had over 80 members when it hosted the first specialty in 1911. The ensuing steady bull market has been dubbed the Airedale’s golden years. The ATCA Yearbook called it, “the most active, competitive, and prosperous years of the Club.”

Trickle down remains a questionable economic theory, but it worked in this case.

Tremendous numbers of Airedales were bred during these years, making it possible for newcomers to acquire quality stock from excellent bloodlines flourishing all over the country. Even so, multiple factors should have turned the tide against the breed’s ongoing success at that point. Demand sent Airedale prices through the roof and provided ongoing temptation to breed for profit, not quality. That ubiquitous obstacle derails numerous popular breeds, and should have overtaken this one as legions of new fanciers entered the breed throughout the country. Theoretically, the interaction, communication, and unity sustaining that early spectacular progress should have dwindled in direct correlation to this growth. Strong’s historical analysis documented something quite different. She described how this determined group “took control of a confused situation which might have deteriorated to utter chaos”. Unexplainably, spirit, drive, and cohesion grew commensurately with the breed at that critical juncture. She said, “It was a bandwagon breed, everyone anxious to climb aboard. Enthusiasm ran high, entries were enormous and competition keen.” Those enormous entries in Yorkshire were not a temporary aberration. Countless clubs reaped a financial windfall thanks to Airedale exhibitors. Strong wrote, “Throughout most of this period champions competed in the classes, there was no specials class, so points could only be gained by defeating the champions… quality was the essential ingredient, no mere numbers of non-champions. To win 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 points required 8, 20, 25, 50 and 65 entries! Considering that there were only six big shows a year with major points, a total of 188 champions up to 1925 is truly amazing.”

Strong explained that Airedale popularity wasn’t the only reason for those enormous entries. Competition was fierce and most exhibitors had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning anything. That’s not what they came for. The judging was phenomenal. She wrote, “Second only to the concerted effort to educate breeders and exhibitors as to the correct type called for by the standard was the necessity of assuring competent judging. Wild and disastrous judging on several occasions had done great damage… It wasn’t until a man had owned and bred winners and had been tried out at small shows that he was asked to judge important ones… whether the top four or five were placed identically or otherwise was unimportant- differences of opinion within those of the desired type was expected and respected- the main thing was that judges unerringly ended up with the best type. ” It seems unfathomable today, but winning was a secondary motivation.

“The climate was just right for constructive criticism. The exhibitor wanted to know and via the judges critique he found out.” Specialty judges submitted detailed assessments of every dog. Additionally, an acknowledged Airedale authority designated to observe provided another opinion of both dogs and judging. Every bit of it appeared in the ATCA newsletter. “In addition, there were innumerable contributions on every angle of Airedale care, breeding, trimming and conditioning for shows,” she wrote.

All shows were benched, which provided an equally valuable educational resource for novices. For the cost of an entry they could get an upfront look at the best dogs and learn from the breed’s reigning experts like Bert Swann, Billy and Harry Lifesey, Philip May, Percy Roberts, Len Brumby, Eland Hadfield, and others. In contrast to the situation in many breeds, the Airedale world wasn’t a closed shop. Rather than defending their turf, those at the top welcomed company. “Few of us realize how hard those members worked during the first 25 years, first to learn themselves, then to teach, lead, and help,” Strong said.

It was one of those rare occasions when everyone involved with a breed was on the same page. Nothing illustrates the power of this singular focus better than the Airedale’s incredible conquest of Westminster. Nothing rivaled their winning streak until the domination of Boxers in the ‘50s. When Westminster first offered Airedale classes in 1896, the Irish Terrier was considered a likelier candidate for mainstream success. Its history as an American show dog roughly parallels the Airedale. By the time it earned its first Westminster group placement in 1926, Airedales had gone Best In Show three times.

Ch. Kenmare Sorceress kicked it off in 1912, also making her owner William Prescott Wolcott the first owner/handler to win Westminster. But that was a minor trinket on the Wolcott family tree. The son of a former Massachussetts governor, Wolcott descended from one of New England’s oldest families, deeply rooted in politics, law, and banking.

Wolcott’s illustrious ancestors included Oliver Wolcott, best known for his signature on the Declaration of Independence. He was also a member of the Continental Congress and a Connecticut Governor. The Prescott half of his pedigree featured Revolutionary War hero William Prescott.

Despite Wolcott’s hefty credentials, this was a classic Westminster upset.

Bred in Wales, he had imported Sorceress for his Kenmare kennel in Readville, Massachussets. American Field conceded that she was the best Airedale bitch shown in America since her arrival in 1910, adding that she was entirely out of coat on this occasion. The three judge panel thought differently. To sweeten the victory, or add insult to injury, she grabbed the prize right out the jaws of the favored contenders, the Scottie and the Smooth. RBIS went to Winthrop Rutherford’s Ch. Warren Distinct.

Anyone who considered her win mere luck was set straight in 1919. If anything, it was a bigger shock the second time around. Known in Westminster history as the “victory show” marking the end of World War I, four year-old Ch. Briergate Bright Beauty wasn’t even considered a longshot possibility in that star-studded lineup.

Owned by St. Louis breeder G.L.L. Davis, and handled by Alf Delmont, this verdict also came from a three judge panel. Although it included Airedale breeder Theodore Offerman, the previous year’s winner, Ch. Haymarket Faultless, was generall

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Posted by on Aug 16 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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