Toni and I decided to take a quick road trip down to the Peek 'N Peak resort in September and catch the 2014 National. We were glad we did. The drive itself was lovely with Indian Summer weather. We put the top down on the Mustang and roared along from Northern Ontario to Northwestern New York. Unlike past decades, this was truly a holiday National. No dogs to look after and no stress of any kind. I sat ringside and took notes while Toni took lots of photographs.

We had not been at the previous two Nationals so we were keen to get a sense of the state of the breed.

Now let me say that at various times in the past forty years, I have shared my thoughts of Nationals and World Union shows in a similar fashion, publishing articles in The Fancier. Invariably, I have managed to irritate a number of people by doing so. "Who the hell asked for your stupid opinion?" was often the response. I suppose that any response is a good response in these situations.

So how is the breed doing? The decline in registrations since the 1960s and 70s has been long and steep; from over 30,000 per year to under 3,000 per year. A drop of over 90%! Nearly all breed numbers have been in decline and the AKC is but a shadow of its former self. The era of the purebred dog sport has declined as the era of cross-breed designer dogs has risen. Welcome to the world of CockaLabaDoddlePoos!

Be that as it may, the St Bernard in North America is still a breed of sufficient quality to command respect.

 

This lovely 9-12 Month class bitch is evidence that quality still exists. She is Sandcastle's Indecent Proposal, sired by National BOB Ch Lasquite's Denver V Lucas and her mother is Mahogany's Lucy In The Skyz. She was bred by Deb and Bruno Denis.

Her owners are Brandy Mead and Martin Glover, and Marty is one of the best handlers in the breed today. The judges loved this girl throughout the week and why not! Look at her outline, the way the pieces fit together so well, at such a young age. Lovely.

What about the young males? Here too, we have reason to be optimistic.

From the 15-18 Month class comes Lasquite's Cooper V Keeper, bred and owned by Tikki Smith and shown to Best In Sweepstakes and Best of Winners by Marty Glover (I said he was good.) Cooper was sired by Lasquite's Keeper of Lucas and his dam is Lasquite's Zetta of Lucas. Wait a minute! Wouldn't that be a half-brother-half-sister breeding? OMG, an inbreeding! This dog has a Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) of at least 12.5 and probably higher because of other common dogs in his pedigree. If you have read other articles on this website, you will understand that we used inbreeding intentionally to develop and fix our Benbaron line. We got our own Yondo from exactly the same combination. Take the time to understand before you condemm.

Another of my pet peeves of Nationals past has been the low entry of shorthaired Saints. I am happy to report that such is no longer the case. The shorthaired classes this year were as large as the longhaired classes. There were quality smooth dogs to be found from the Puppy Sweeps to the Best of Breed judging. So I thank breeders and exhibitors for finally making me shut up about this.

 

One smooth that caught my eye was Ch Belle Isle's Cookie V Cretan, sired by Scandia's Eros ex Belle Isle's Casandra. I liked his substance, his movement, and his elegance. As long as we have dogs like the ones above, the breed will endure.

The official results of the 2014 National will be fully reported in the Saint Fancier complete with gorgeous photographs. Congratulations to all the winners and their fine dogs. A special thank you to the breeders of these dogs. Without breeders willing to make the effort, take the risk, and do the work of producing litters, there can be no future for the breed.

As a final observation, I would like to acknowledge the ongoing success of two "younger generation" kennels: Lasquite and Alpine Mtn. Tikki Smith and her Lasquite dogs from British Columbia have become very competitive at the National level and, likewise, so too have the Whiting's Alpine Mtn dogs from Utah. As our generation of breeders sail into the sunset, it is very reassuring that there is a generation of young breeders coming along with the talent and energy to keep the breed in good shape. Hooray to that!

 

Having witnessed the recent bloodletting at the AGM of the SBCA while attending the 2014 National it struck me that the Club was indeed a democracy. Upon our return to Ontario, I pondered the significance of that fact and was reminded of what Winston Churchill had to say about democracy:

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." 

Of course Mr. Churchill never had to suffer through anything like a SBCA AGM. While known as the pugnacious man who stood up to the Nazi hordes, Winston had no illusions about the common man:

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." (An elitist perhaps? Certainly. The man was born in Blenheim Palace for Pete's sake!)

and "Where there is a great deal of free speech there is always a certain amount of foolish speech."

Had he been at the recent meeting and seen the level of bitterness displayed he might have said:

"I have always felt that a politician is to be judged by the animosities he excites among his opponents."

Some of the behaviour at the meeting was rude and insulting. Amateurs! Mr. Churchill knew how to really insult someone:

"There but for the grace of God, goes God." 

And, Lady Astor to Churchill: "Winston, if you were my husband I would flavour your coffee with poison." Churchill: "Madame, if I were your husband, I should drink it."

But seriously folks, what advice would old Winston have for our democratic club today? Might he say:

"If you're going through hell, keep going."

"I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals."

"Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room."

"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."


And while Churchill didn't say this, he likely would have agreed with it: "In a democracy, people get the government they deserve. " ~ attributed to Alexis de Touqueville.

I interpret this to mean that if a club votes in a board in a fair election and then lets one unelected faction gut that board and strip it of important powers, then that club forfeits its democratic rights.

Winston's last word on the matter?

"When the war of the giants is over, the war of the pygmies will begin."

Welcome to Groundhog Day, SBCA style!

 

December 2014 - I am pleased to report that the membership at large, following the advice of the Board, voted down the motion to present all the National proposals at the AGM. Whatever the motivation for that motion, it was unworkable and potentially very expensive. Good sense has prevailed despite the odds!

 

 

 

 

David Forrest is both an old and a new St Bernard fancier. He started in the breed in the mid-60s as both a breeder and a handler ( "The" kennels as in The Khan), but other priorities led him out of active participation in the 70s. Flash forward to the present era and David has renewed his interest in St Bernards. With his wife Sonya, he has attended the past half-dozen Nationals. This time gap has provided him with a rather unique perspective on the progress, or otherwise, of the breed over the past half-century.

David was moved to analyze and articulate his observations and synthesize them in his recent publication "Let's Get Moving!"; made available for the first time at the 2014 SBCA National in northwestern New York. This 55-page work is beautifully written and well illustrated with charts and photos. (Disclaimer: a couple of Benbaron dogs are included.)

As one might logically deduce from the title, David "covers a lot of ground" in this important piece. 

Now some may take exception that someone who has been away for so long has little right to criticize. However, they would be dead wrong to dismiss what he writes without reading it. I would argue that this piece is perhaps the most serious work on the breed since the publication of the "Illustrated Commentary" and "St Bernards from the Stoan Perspective". David provides a clear structure to his work; takes time to flesh out his arguments; and supports them with data and graphs. Clearly, he has invested a great deal of time and care to produce this work. Fanciers should take the time to read it and consider it.

His bias, if he has one, might be that he sees the situation a little bit too much from the point of view of a handler. David expects a high level of handling competency at important shows and he laments that he rarely finds it nowadays. Dog shows without enough "show", perhaps? I found the work to be thoughtful and honest.

As a breeder and club member for some 40 years, I hold that far too much energy is expended on the politics of the breed and far too little on breed education. "Let's Get Moving!" helps to address that imbalance.  Please get yourself a copy of "Let's Get Moving!" from:

 

David Forrest

288 County Road 519

Stockton New Jersey 08559

1-908-996-7387

dforrest1212@gmail.com

 

In March of 2014, the counter on our Benbaron website ticked over 50,000! Thank you to all the folks, known and unknown, who visited over the past few years.

When we started up this version of the website, we were at the point of retiring from our forty odd years of breeding and exhibiting these wonderful dogs. It was time for us to pass the torch to younger breeders. However, we did want to capture and share some memories, thoughts, and advice before we got too old. This website seemed a rational way to do that. We have received welcome feedback from fanciers around the world.

We hope you have enjoyed it and, at the very least, that it has provided some information and thought-provoking ideas with which you can advance your own breeding program and appreciation of this glorious breed. We wish you luck and remind you that breeding St Bernards is not for the faint of heart.

As for this website, we shall continue to add new pages as the spirit moves us. You have given us 50,000 reasons to carry on!

 

 

In a recent St Fancier, there was a letter to the editor about an article I had written on the stud dog, Cronus. I made reference to the fact that Cronus had Titan closely behind both his sire and his dam.  The writer took issue with any notion that Cronus was "inbred" saying:

"By definition Cronus was not inbred. At most one could state Cronus was doubled up on Titan. Inbreeding is the mating of father/daughter, mother/son, or siblings."

I find this confusing. How can he be "doubled up" but at the same time "not inbred"? And just how does one define inbreeding anyway? By the writer's definition, the matings of first cousins or grandchildren back to grandparents, for example, would not be considered "inbreeding".

The writer is entitled to whatever definition of inbreeding he likes, but that does not mean the scientific world agrees with him. If one seeks out a definition from universities and vet schools internationally, one finds the following:

Technically, the COI is the probability that both genes of a pair in a dog are identical.  Simply put, it's a measurement of inbreeding. 

It is calculated by a mathematical formula that is somewhat complicated to many users.  The function is...

COI = sum[ (.5 ^ (a + b + 1)) * (1 + c) ]

a = Generations between sire and common ancestor
b = Generations between dam and common ancestor
c = COI of common ancestor

When breeding, one is either concentrating genes (inbreeding) or not (outcrossing). It is only a matter of the degree to which inbreeding occurs. A father-daughter mating results in a COI of 25;  cousins only 6.5;  distant relatives, maybe only 1. No common ancestors, i.e., outcrossing, a COI of 0. If a common ancestor does not show up on both the top and bottom halves of a pedigree, it will not impact the COI of the dog.  

Whenever inbreeding is mentioned there is a tendency to treat it as a taboo subject. Inbreeding must be bad, we say. But linebreeding is good, right? This, of course, is nonsense. Linebreeding is nothing more or less than a watered down form of inbreeding. We convince ourselves that a COI of under 5 is somehow better than a COI of 12.5 or higher. Why do we do this?

I suppose it is because whenever we hear the word "inbred" we are conditioned to think of very damaged genetic specimens and hear the tune "dueling banjos".   Our societies and our religions all warn against "inbreeding". And with good reason: inbreeding can go too far and the results can be horrific. When this happens with animals or plants, the failures can be culled and weeded out of the gene pool. We can't/shouldn't do this with humans. Hence the taboo.

However, we ARE dog breeders. Dog breeders must manage genes. The question isn't how high or low the COI is in itself. The question is: are we concentrating the right genes? If you "double up" on bad genes you run the risk of getting very poor specimens. Conversely, if you "double up" or inbreed using good genes, you increase the chances of getting superior specimens of a certain type. 

St Bernards look like St Bernards because of selective breeding over hundreds of generations. Certain genes were concentrated. Certain lines breed true to a specific look because of genetic concentration. 

Inbreeding, to whatever degree, is an essential component of every form of life alive today. So every breeder must accept it, study it, and use it wisely.

Our favorite inbred example? Yondo, with a COI of 17%.

 

 

 

 

This picture of Brian and Ch Benbaron's Energizer V Rocket was taken around 1984. The setting was our home at Dunrobin, outside of Ottawa, Ontario. We had a lovely 2 acre lot of mature maples and oaks. The kennel came off the end of the house and ran out into those woods. At that time we kept an average of about six mature dogs and a couple of promising puppies (Yondo included). We had built a new house and one of its nicest features was that we could look out the large living room windows to those green woods and see the dogs playing beneath us.

Energizer, however, repeatedly confounded us. Time and again we would come home to find him lying around happily on the front lawn with a smirk on his face. Had someone let him out? No, the locks were secure. Had he dug a hole? Not on that solid granite mound with no sign of digging. Was there a hole in the fence? Absolutely not and none of the other dogs ever got out with him. Had he climbed over somehow? The fencing was six feet high and there was no sign of hairs on the top. Energizer was a solid, massive dog but we had never even seen him with his front feet up on the fence, much less climbing. For a year, it remained a mystery.

Then one lucky day, we were looking out the living room windows and caught him in the act!

There was one low spot along the side of the kennel where there was a space of about four inches high and a foot long between the ground and the bottom of the chain link fencing. Energizer stuck his nose into that wee space, sideways. Then he twisted his head back and forth until the ten foot fence panel lifted enough to get his entire head under it. Next he lifted the whole panel up until he could get his shoulders and front legs under. And for the final bit, he would stand up at which point more than 20 feet of fencing was off the ground for a second or two. For the finale, he would pop out completely to freedom; the fencing would all fall back neatly into place; and no one would be any wiser. Cheeky bugger!

If we hadn't actually seen it, we would never have believed it.

Energizer had another funny quirk: he refused to attend to his studly duties if anybody was around him. No breeding rack for him, thank you very much. At first we weren't sure what to make of it. We tried all the usual tricks to no avail. He was healthy and the bitch was keen but if we came within ten feet of them, he ran away. Finally, in frustration, we tied the female's lead to a tree in the front yard one dark evening and hid on the porch. Energizer wandered out from the woods, took a look around and seeing no one, kissed the female gently, and within a minute, settled down easily for a 40-minute tie. Once tied, we re-appeared to pass out the smokes.

During the 80s our children were teenagers and life was full and busy. We bought our first motorhome which we used for both business and dog show travel. One winter morning, our son, Robin, who was just sixteen at the time, begged off school with the flu. When I came home after work, I noticed something odd about the motorhome. It was in the same place but the little door where the electrical cord came out to plug into the house was detached and hanging by a wire in the breeze. What the hell???

A quick visit to Robin's room solved that mystery. It turned out that by about noon, Robin had been feeling better and getting a bit bored. So he had the brilliant idea to fire up the 33-foot brand new motorhome and drive it two miles down snowy roads to the country store so he could rent a movie. Only he forgot to unplug it from the house before setting off!

The dangling door spoiled his perfect crime.

We sold the Dunrobin house when we moved the business, the dogs, and ourselves to British Columbia at the beginning of the 90s. We look back fondly on that period that included dogs like Energizer and Yondo and our kids coming of age (although there was some doubt in my mind that Robin would live past that day of the rental!).