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A tricolored retrieving setter, perhaps very similar to the type Benjamin Franklin imported.

A tricolored retrieving setter, perhaps very similar to the type Benjamin Franklin imported.

On Facebook, a friend of mine posted this bizarre rant from a purebred dog breeder:

“I DON”T call freedom a choice to do whatever!!!!!!… Don’t get confused….. Ben Franklin worked for freedom— but he worked at having a purebred Gordon setter brought from England and bred them.. to preserve something special. the Freedom was to have a choice to own a dog so let’s get this Freedom of Choice thing straight… where did you all go to school???? what happened to parents teaching their children the real meaning of this slogan??? .. not to breed mutts/designer dogs on a whim and to see how much money you might get …Dogs were bred for a purpose for a certain breed to have that characteristic…. Ben and all the rest of us spent millions of dollars to insure something true and honest…. how dare you or anyone else decide to take our Freedom of choice away from US..it is not ok to breed this way.. it shows lack of purpose, lack of loyalty.. lake of knowledge and lack of you wanting to spend money to support a breed to insure it’s Freedom to exist…. you might as well say we have the freedom to poop on the street…or anything else we choose to have the freedom we feel like doing…..”

Well, freedom to choose means the freedom to do whatever. I don’t know how you can twist the meaning of the words to mean to change the meaning to fit whatever totalitarian delusions that one might have. It’s like the people who tell you they are for freedom, but at the same time, they tell you that this country is based upon Christian values.

Those two things do not compute!

As I’ve noted before, the dogs are one of the many ersatz religions that no exists in this post-Christian culture in which we now live. I am fine with the decline of organized religion, but what has replaced it is not a culture of reason.

What has replaced it is many irrational, tribal cults which allow people with totalitarian impulses to act out their pathologies on others. It’s one reason I’m not a joiner. I love dogs, but I’m very dismayed and continually disappointed by dog people.

So in that crazy rant we have several claims. We have the hilariously irony-deficient claim to be a champion of freedom while telling others what to do, and we have a claim from history that could at best be called a delusion. And at its very worst, we would have to call it an utter misrepresentation of the history.

The claim is that founding father Benjamin Franklin imported a Gordon setter from England, and the implication is that he imported a closed registry setter that comes in only black and tan.

Of course, that type of dog didn’t exist when Ben Franklin was alive!

The Gordon setter, which should be called the Scottish setter, is actually derived from the old crouching setter of Britain, a dog that was the quintessential British fowling dog that  would crouch before game birds hidden the brush or corn. A hawk would be flown over the birds to keep them from flying and a net would be thrown over the crouching dog and the hunkered birds.

This type of dog became very popular in British Isles during the early modern period, and it was also sent to the colonies in North America in droves. In America, we developed this setter dog into a sort of HPR, which we would use to point grouse, retrieve ducks from cold water, and track wounded deer.

In Britain, there were many, many different strains of setter, of which only a handful remain. The Dukes of Gordon did breed a type of setter in Scotland, but it is laughable to assume that this was a closed registry breed.  All records of the setters of Gordon kennels I’ve read from that time period talk about the dogs being tricolored, black, white, and tanned like a Dobermann.

And it was well-known that the in the eighteenth century, the 4th Duke of Gordon was always breeding his stock to those of other nobles.

In his excellent Gundogs: Their Past, Their Performance and Their Prospects (2013), Col. David Hancock mentions that this fourth Duke of Gordon coveted the blood of Thomas Coke’s setters, and it was Coke’s setters that were the foundational stock for his particular strain. I have seen no evidence that Coke’s setters were anything other than the more typical predominantly white setters that were always common in England. (Coke’s estate was in Norfolk, nowhere near Scotland).

It is also well-known that Gordon setters have a bit of collie blood, which is always mentioned in all the historical texts of the breed, but no one seems to acknowledge what this means. It means that the Gordon setter as a working gun dog didn’t become a gun dog through being a closed registry breed.

It became a great gun dog through the continuous desire to innovate. This desire to experiment and innovate is what made British Empire the world’s leader in agricultural improvement.

As soon as closed registries were established, this ability to innovate and experiment was taken away.

And we all know that Benjamin Franklin was among the leading intellectuals of the world at the time. He was clearly a man of science and reason, and if he could read and understand the modern concepts of population genetics, he would be among the foremost opponents of this closed registry system.

He imported a British setter because they were great gun dogs. They became great gun dogs because the British were willing to innovate and experiment with bloodlines.

It is that freedom that should be celebrated and encouraged in the world of dogs, but unfortunately, it goes against all the totalitarian impulses that exist in the dog world that has since developed.

For the sake of the dogs, dog breeders should be reading up on the science and understanding the real history of their dogs.

They shouldn’t be wasting their time with pointless myths that are ultimately harmful to the animals they claim to love.

But that means that some grand poobah of yore was wrong somewhere and that modern breed mandarins might have to be humble and accept that they cannot control everything that goes on with their breed.

The first idea that must be trashed is that closed registries and blood purity for blood purity’s sake are ultimately good values. Unfortunately, that is the basic religious tenet of the modern dog fancy, and  it is almost impossible to have a rational discussion with people who adhere to such poppycock.

It is this religious belief that is causing so much misery in the world of dogs– higher incidence of inherited diseases and winnowed away gene pools are not good things.

And it is also stymieing innovation.

We could be producing better working dogs for a variety of tasks if only it were acceptable to cross strains. Imagine West Siberian laikas that natural retrieve because of a golden retriever that was crossed in a few generations before. Imagine a cocker spaniel-sized Labrador that easily fits in a canoe that got its small size from a simple outcross to a small working spaniel.

It is this kind of freedom in the world of dogs that we should all be fighting for.

But unfortunately, too many “freedom lovers” in the world of dogs really don’t want it.

It crosses their fundamentalist beliefs, and they will having nothing of it.

But like all bullies, they ought to be put in their place. Totalitarians have no use fighting for freedom.

Freedom means freedom to do as one would like, and don’t be fooled by the demagogues who apparently can’t understand that simple fact.

 

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