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The Boston Terrier

By Amy Fernandez

AKC registered over 90 thousand Bostons between 1921 and 1934 and almost 500 earned championships. Registrations peaked at 11442 in 1926 and the breed overtook German Shepherds to reign as America’s most popular breed in 1929. They maintained that position until 1934. Since then, the breed’s fortunes have fluctuated, but it has consistently ranked among the top 20 most popular breeds.

The Boston Terrier is widely regarded as the quintessential American breed. However, its development ranks as one of the most contentious episodes in purebred history. The breed’s prototypes made their debut in the 1870s. Breeders regularly experimented with the Bulldog/terrier hybrids that arrived from Britain. Within a few years, breeders in Boston hit on a winning combination that featured the Bulldog’s distinctive blocky headpiece and the Bull Terrier’s sturdiness and style.

This variant was rapidly developed into a distinctly different strain that came to be known as the round headed bull and terrier. Technically, it was still considered a Bull Terrier, and despite the differences, they competed in the same class at early shows. As type evolved and the round heads gained a bigger fan base, this disadvantage prompted its supporters to demand separate show classes.

It’s an understatement to say that this suggestion was poorly received by Bulldog and Bull Terrier fanciers. They considered it a mongrel type that justifiably deserved no success in purebred competition. There is strength in numbers and by 1888, round headed bull and terrier classes were regularly offered at Boston shows. They consistently drew large entries. Inevitably round head fans decided to seek separate AKC recognition for their preferred type. In 1891, 40 Boston supporters formed the American Bull Terrier club to accomplish this, but it was an uphill battle.

They were highly motivated to put the breed on equal footing with the so-called English type of Bull Terriers. Otherwise, this group had almost no cooperative goals. That fact didn’t bode well for its future, but it seemed insignificant when its future was a doubtful prospect. Most dog experts dismissed the Boston Terrier as a short-lived local fad that would soon run its course.

The Bull Terrier club successfully prevented its recognition under that name. The nineteenth century dog authority James Watson was a member of AKC’s studbook committee. He recounted his qualms about accepting the breed. “For my own part I cannot bring myself to favor admitting this dog. I would like to admit the club, but it appears that we have to take the dog, too. The question for this club is whether it is a proper breed to admit to the studbook, and I cannot say that I am in favor of admitting it.” Even so, AKC recognized the breed as the Boston Terrier in 1893. Breed historian E.J. Rousuck recounted the ordeal in his 1926 book, The Boston Terrier, “after many applications, AKC acknowledged that the breed was established. But the opinions of many of the leaders differed and these individual tastes and ideals naturally resulted in the production of dogs dissimilar in character.”

At that time approximately 75 registered Bostons descended from three generations of pure breeding. However, that did not signify any level of consistency within the breed. Rather tactfully, Rousuck notes that, “Specimens used in the first few generations were an uneven lot to say the least.”

Regardless of documented lineage, Boston Terriers ran the gamut from Bulldog to Bull Terrier type. Size ranged from 10 to 35 pounds. Within a year, AKC was forced to cancel registrations when they discovered that the club’s pedigree supervisor continued to advocate backcrossing to the Bulldog. He practiced what he preached and insisted that it was the only way to cultivate essential traits like the rose ear. At that time, AKC’s proposed cropping ban had already triggered incendiary debates about Boston Terrier ears. But that wasn’t the only contentious issue on the table. According to Rousuck, “Much trouble was brewed right from the start because terrier factions and bully factions strove at cross purposes to create their own idea of what a Boston should be, forgetting that a definitive type was needed midway between the two.”

Breeders didn’t reach any consensus regarding the Boston Terrier’s defining characteristics for many years. Traits like color, markings, ears, and tails wouldn’t become stabilized for decades. The breed was definitely a work in progress and it was not off to a promising start. A few persevering breeders were responsible for establishing Boston type and forging the bloodlines to perpetuate it. Their decisions have stood the test of time. One of the most prominent emerged from a very unlikely place. The South Bronx is famous for many things. It is one of the poorest, most densely populated areas of the country. It was also the birthplace of Mosholu Boston Terriers, one of the breed’s most influential foundation bloodlines.
When Madeline McGlone acquired her first Boston Terrier in 1903, she never intended to make this a lifetime commitment. The breed had officially existed for less than 50 years, and it had made little progress since its recognition 12 years earlier. McGlone’s father bred Frenchies, and her grandfather had bred gundogs. She knew that Roxanne B was a quality bitch. Her sire, Straight Tip, and her dam, Remedy, are now considered pillars of the breed.

Even though McGlone knew dogs and understood selective breeding, those principals weren’t easily applied to this situation. Essentially, the Boston was a pit terrier reinvented as a companion breed. Its evolution was never guided by function or tradition. Perfecting a breed without those time-honored guidelines was uncharted territory. This unusual situation was noted in an AKC Gazette overview of the breed in January 1935.

“I can find no reason for its creation. It is not a hunting dog, nor a working dog, nor a terrier, nor a toy. It is placed in the Non-Sporting Group, but the other dogs in that group are those that have outgrown their original purpose, and I cannot find that the Boston ever had a purpose.”
McGlone began navigating her way through this haze in 1906. Her “kennel” was her Bronx home, and her kennel name signified the area’s main thoroughfare. The Mosholu Parkway followed a path that was carved out by Algonquins centuries earlier. By the early 1900s train service began transforming the Bronx from rural to suburban, but it remained wilderness and farmland. McGlone whelped her puppies in the kitchen and walked them in the woods. She had no expectations of fame and fortune.

However, the Boston Terrier was a recipe with guaranteed mainstream appeal. Within a decade, it became a hot commodity. Prices escalated from hundreds to thousands of dollars. This widespread admiration was satisfying payback after decades of second class treatment in the dog world. But it was also a curse.

Boston Terrier specialties began attracting huge entries. High profile kennels sprang up throughout the country and 38 newly minted specialty clubs encouraged their success. Most fledgling breeders followed personal tastes, and their dogs often varied drastically. Thankfully, very few of them carried this to the point of establishing actual strains that could exert any lasting influence on breed development. Rousuck described the prevailing mindset of breeders during that economically enticing era. “They breed to a champion or a winner because he is winning and never weigh the question of whether that combination is good… the great majority of Boston fanciers seemed to consider bloodlines and ancestry as important as swimming lessons for goldfish.”

Crossbreeding had sparked Boston development, but it required generations of painstaking selection and close breeding to stabilize type and establish prepotent bloodlines. Many breeders who ventured into that territory soon discovered the genetic flaws of their stock. Regardless of that challenge, breeding to type was a tall order during that era when documented pedigrees and established bloodlines were a novelty.
Rousuck emphasizes that breeders had little incentive to make that effort. “Every breeder began to profit regardless of the caliber of their stock.” A few didn’t follow the pack, and the breed survived and prospered despite that unfortunate episode. “The history of the Boston Terrier reveals that all of our really great producers were a coalition of the best winning and producing strains of the day.”

It’s easy to gauge the contribution of important dogs in retrospect. Separating genuine quality from hype was far more challenging in the midst of this Boston Terrier gold rush. McGlone had the talent to accurately identify dogs with the potential to take the breed in the right direction and raise it to a new level of quality. That rare skill comes from practice. Rather than promoting her kennel and chasing big wins, she spent a decade looking, learning, acquiring good bitches, and constructing a viable breeding program.

By 1914 she was coming up with good stuff. On September 20, the New York Tribune’s dog show report exclaimed, “The best known of Mrs. McGlone’s dogs is Mosholu Boy or Paddy. He weighs just 11 pounds and is absolutely perfect from the tip of his tiny screw tail to his short little nose.” She experimented with most of the era’s popular bloodlines, and made some surprising choices. For instance, much of her breeding program was based on Ch. Peter’s King. He was the classic example of valuable dogs that breeders often overlook. Although King descended from four documented generations of top producers, he was labeled as the mismarked brother of a current big winner. According to Rousuck, he was, “forced into obscurity and offered at a mere $10 stud fee.” Breeders who paid attention saw his ability to consistently produce beautiful heads, great fronts, and balanced angulation. They definitely got a bargain and a stake in the breed’s future.

In May 1940, Arthur Frederick Jones profiled Mosholu Kennel for the AKC Gazette. Back then, kennel visits were a regular feature. Oddly, Mosholu had to prove its merit for more than 30 years before AKC came knocking. That oversight wasn’t due to a lack of newsworthy developments in the South Bronx. “In those days, although Mosholu Kennels was doing a splendid job in producing good Boston Terriers, it was just one of numerous successful establishments. The thing that was to make it preeminent occurred in 1918.”

That’s when McGlone spotted a Peter’s King grandson that has gone down in history as Ch. Mosholu Blink. Whelped April 14, 1917 he was being shown by his breeders when she purchased and renamed him in 1918. Blink’s pedigree traced back to Derby Boy, Sullivan’s Punch, and Goode’s Buster – prepotent dogs that contributed essential traits to the breed’s foundation. In 1906, Watson called Sullivan’s Punch, “Truly a marvel as a sire. Like Buster, his laurels have not been gained in the ring, but by his remarkable ability to produce descendants of the sound type now so eagerly sought by breeders.” Buster’s progeny were admired for head type, excellent color and markings, good tails, and overall style. Derby Boy combined traits from both of these families, but his claim to fame was his ability to transmit sound, sturdy structure.

McGlone debuted her new acquisition a few months later at the 16th Ladies Kennel Association show in Westbury on June 5th. The New York Tribune’s summation of the day’s “excitement and entertainment” featured Boston judging, “chiefly because they are a homebred product and the perky little breed contributed the first real tussle of the day. Mrs. M.C. McGlone showed a wonderful little puppy named Mosholu Blink. Although he is only 13 months old, he went clean through to winners. Then came the real test for Blink was pitted against Lady Lenora owned by the Deep Purple Kennels. Here Blink was not so lucky. The verdict went to Lady Lenora.” The report adds that, “none of the entries could explain why Lady Lenora excelled her rival.”

Blink finished quickly, but show ring success wasn’t her goal. By then she knew exactly how to use him in her breeding program. As registration numbers climbed, another less pleasant truth of dog breeding became obvious to the Boston fancy. Big winners weren’t necessarily good producers.

By 1926 Blink had sired four generations of champions. His crowning achievement was winning Westminster’s enormous sterling silver Win Sum challenge trophy offered to best Non-Sporting stud dog and one of his American-Bred get. Blink retired this trophy after winning in 1924, 1925 and 1926. That year, McGlone also relocated to expand her breeding program. She purchased a one acre lot on Pelham Parkway and converted a barn into a combination house and kennel. She was one of the first major breeders to keep her dogs as house pets. That sounds quite normal today, but back then it was not. Even two decades later when Arthur Frederick Jones finally visited, he admitted that this arrangement was quite unconventional.

At one point Mosholu maintained 90 dogs. Her family lived on the upper level. The second floor was converted into whelping and puppy rooms. The main kennel on the lower level opened onto a grassy hill bordered by woods. Long before the advent of air conditioning, this design ensured that the kennel remained about 20 degrees cooler. But when it got really hot, all the Bostons were trucked to her New Hampshire summer home.
By 1940, McGlone had drastically cut down her breeding program and devoted most of her time to judging. But during her heyday, she personally finished 31 Bostons, and Jones emphasized that she didn’t simply finish them. “Ch. Mosholu Bearcat leaped to prominence on his debut at the first Morris and Essex show in 1927. Just 14 months old, Bearcat went BOB and then carried off the trophy for best Non-Sporting dog.”

Ch. Mosholu Bearcat was one of several Blink grandsons to make history. He won the BTCA National the following year, and Jones described him as, “One of the outstanding forces in the history of Boston Terriers…..Bearcat attempted to repeat his previous year’s spectacular triumph at the ‘28 Morris and Essex show but he was beaten by his kennelmate, Ch. Million Dollar Blink, who went on to win the group.”

Group First at M& E two consecutive years was damn impressive. And by 1928, the dog world was paying attention and trying to decipher her formula for success. It wasn’t easy. Among other things, Jones was amazed that she never hesitated to go out for stud service or buy from another breeder when she saw something good. “It is interesting to note that although Mrs. McGlone has built one of the greatest lines of Boston Terriers, in many cases she is not the official breeder…Ch. Million Dollar Blink carries the blood of his famous sire, but he was not whelped at Mosholu Kennels.” Along with campaigning many dogs she did not breed Jones also noted her habit of placing good show prospects with new fanciers. “She has tried to interest many others in the game and started them off in the right way.”

It came a little late, but Jones acknowledged her contribution to the breed. “At certain times, some have done more winning, but the consistently good quality of the Boston Terriers bred and owned by Mrs. McGlone has prevailed throughout a long span of years. It has attained lasting recognition.” He tried to pigeonhole her achievements within the generally accepted context for his readers. “Mrs. McGlone’s success may be attributed to two things – the ability to recognize quality and the adherence to linebreeding…that is why she has followed the Blink bloodline far beyond the confines of her own kennel.” However, practically every thing she did contradicted that era’s concept of smart breeding practices.
The true secret of her success was revealed minutes after he arrived at her home to do the story. She showed him into her living room, and like most breeders, she let the dogs out. Famous champions and top producers, “deployed to all sides of the room. Only then did I see a tiny fellow doing his best to follow the other dogs.” McGlone lifted this crippled runt onto her lap and introduced the editor of the AKC Gazette to Seabiscuit. He was stunned. “Her policy runs counter to some noted dog breeders who eliminate all sentiment from their operation. Puppies like Seabiscuit are no credit to the line and they are immediately put away.”

Moreover, he could not understand her willingness to show him a dog like this. “But the owner of Mosholu Kennels believes that such tactics are self-deceiving… that is why she has been able to correct faults and gradually build a line that is sound from every viewpoint. Frankness seems to be natural for Mrs. McGlone.” He went even further and emphasized that many breeders are quite frank when it comes to criticizing rivals, “but Mrs. McGlone evaluates her own dogs in a manner that leaves no doubt of her sincerity.”

Then he got down to the most perplexing aspect of his visit. “Mosholu’s reputation for producing the best in Bostons has gone far beyond devotees of the breed. Its dogs are known throughout the world… Yet curiously, Mrs. McGlone has never outgrown the sentimental motives that first impelled her to breed and show dogs.”

It wasn’t curious at all. She simply loved her dogs and her breed.

Click here to read the complete article from the Canine Chronicle November/December 2013 Issue, Vol. 38 Number 11.

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