Friday, February 18, 2011

The leap from Irish Setters to German Shepherds

Every now and then someone asks me how we made the leap from Irish setters to German shepherds. For 30 years we lived in and around Irish setters, and with our close friend Greg Browne (Eireannmada Irish setters) we bred and showed Irish.

Australian Champion Wilangi Red Alice was our most well-known dog. She won Irish Setter Bitch of the Year in 1979, 1980 and 1981, and was a regular winner at most Specialty and Royal Shows -- Australia-wide. Alice was one of those rare 'naturals': intelligent; spirited; near-perfect confirmation; and a born actress in the show ring -- even in torrential rain or gale force winds. She produced a string of excellent progeny, with Australian Champion Wilangi King Quail the best. An adorable Eireannmada English setter was also part of our family at this time.

When we moved to a sheep property on King Island in the 1980s, we bred and worked Border collies as well -- but they were kept separate to our setters, who were house dogs. Prince was our last Irish, and from him we moved on to Great Danes -- both bitches, but not at the same time. Gem was fawn with a black mask, and Opal a black and white Boston.

Macka was our 'street kid', a stray pup that wormed his way into our hearts and life. He was a Border collie cross and one of the most loyal of our dogs. Our garden here at Phillip Island holds the remains of many treasured dogs: Macka, Prince, Opal and Gem, and Gus.

Never did we consider German shepherds until an elderly friend and neighbour on the island died and we offered to take over the care of his German shepherd, Gus. By the time Gus began looking old we were completely won over by the breed, and chose Del and then four years later, Major. At this point in time we love the loyalty and tractable nature of shepherds and their ability to offer protection as well.

"You'll miss the softness of Irish," said our friend Greg, at one stage, and I have to admit I do. Softness of coat and softness of temperament are very much part of the appeal of setters; that and their outward going, spirited personality.

On King Island they flushed pheasants from hillsides of bracken, ran free along golden beaches and swam in the surf. King Island (located on the western side of Bass Strait) offered an almost perfect environment for Irish setters.

With King Island and Ireland sharing many common features this was perhaps the reason why Irish always looked so much at home. King Island is where Alice's mother was buried, and Alice and her brother Albat spent their retirement years.

I'll always have a place in my heart for setters and treasure my rich store of memories.

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