Posts Tagged ‘Big Red’

I came across a very interesting piece of dialogue in Jim Kjelgaard’s Big Red, which was later made into a Disney film (that was quite different from the book!). The dog in the book is more like a solid red large Münsterländer, who hunts birds, fights a wolverine, scares off a lynx, and bays up a cow- and hog-killing black bear. The dog is a purebred Irish setter that is from conformation bloodlines, so perhaps it’s a bit fanciful. The truth is Kjelgaard based the character of Big Red on a black Irish setter cross he had while growing up in North Central Pennsylvania. I confess readily that this book was one of my favorites when I was growing up.

In the book, a backwoods boy named Danny becomes the apprentice at a wealthy landowner’s kennel, which contains a very special–and very valuable– Irish setter. In this scene,  the landowner–Mr. Haggin– explains the importance of dog shows. He asks Danny what he thinks about dog shows. Danny doesn’t think much of them. He is, after all, a working class kid whose family lives off the land. Trapping and hunting are very important to his family’s livelihood, and they value really good hunting dogs.  His perspective has not yet accepted the validity of dog shows, but Mr. Haggin sets him straight. This text is very indicative of the main perspective in dog shows and, if we are to be honest, also runs right through the various trial cultures.

The sentiments of this lecture were best described at this post by Christopher Landauer at the Border Wars blog.

He contends that much of showing and trialing and breeding from elite sires nothing more than a desire for “Virtual Immortality.”

No one owns “the breed” and altruism doesn’t exist, so individual ego, self aggrandizement, and desire for immortality through fame trumps the greater good. People whose greatest accomplishment in life is in their dogs do exist and asking them to take their last bow before they have to be dragged kicking and screaming, or in most cases whimpering, from the spotlight, is unseemly. We don’t criticize these people, we put their dogs on our logos and name awards after them. We give them glowing obituaries and make sure that any mention of the breed includes at least one or two homages to their dog. Everyone seems to know that Wiston Cap carried the gene for a red coat color, but no one seems to know that he also carried CEA.

Those sentiments run deep within Mr. Haggin’s commentary, but unlike Christopher’s analysis,  Big Red’s owner romanticizes much of it.

The notion that breeding a top show Irish setter is somehow a tribute to those Irish hunters who bred strains of red and white “setting spaniels” is a bit baffling. After all, most North American Irish setters that are from show lines are not widely used as gun dogs.  They are more or less novelties, which is not to say that there are no working Irish setters. There are. They just have significantly diverged from the show lines.

The game, whether it is showing or trialing, is to put your mark somewhere so that someone might see that you make a contribution to your chosen breed. The problem with that being accepted as a virtue is that the best and perhaps only way is to do that is to have a particularly prepotent sire and have him produce a lot of puppies.

In a closed registry system, nothing narrows the gene pools as quickly as breeding from elite sires, but that is the way one gets to become immortal.

The ego subsumes good sense.

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Old Yeller

Sing along, folks. This only the best movie ever made about a dog in the Old West:


Actually, it may be the only movie about a dog in the Old West.

The book is really good. In fact, after reading the book, I was surprised how much of the plot stayed true to the text– even down to the dialog.


The best children’s book about a dog is Big Red.

The movie isn’t that great, and no one has uploaded it onto youtube.

I like the book. The sequels are okay, and Jim Kjelgaard wrote dozens of books about dogs for adolescent boys.

But there is only one Big Red.


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