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.”
It’s quite plausible this Gordon Setter is the same Robin who died two years later at age ten. The1,201 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.
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 confirmed Robin’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.
Shortly after announcing the breed and significance of 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. The official magazine, “The AKC 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 twotimer strategy. “Paris” an English Setter from Ontario was chosen over Robin for that “Best Setter” Special Prize #1, a silver Tiffany cup.
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. Then the 134th Westminster Kennel Club Show will be at MSG on Feb.15-16. Don’t miss it.
For Adoption at Oyster Bay Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset: “Bella” # 024 a 7-year-old purebred German Shepherd was surrendered when her family moved back to China. What a nice girl! “Jesse” #022 is an ultra friendly, young declawed tabby.
Male: “Romeo” #603 Cane Corso mix; “Riznick” #006- orange cat.
Female: Beagle mix #014; “Georgie Girl” # 009- young, tri-color mix.
•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.