Friday, 14 March 2014 00:39

Fifty Thousand Reasons

 

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!

 

Published in Articles
Sunday, 16 February 2014 17:05

Indian Ch St-Pierre Ethan

This is Ethan with his proud owner, Ranjit Menon, in India. Ethan is 3 in this photo and has been enjoying a very successful show career, far from his birthplace in Hungary. Ethan is a great-grandson of our Iceman and looks a lot like the Iceman sons, Outlaw and Dakota.

Ethan has a beautiful head and an overall sense of elegance. 

Its nice to know that the Subcontinent is home to dogs such as Ethan.

Published in Admired Saints
Tuesday, 11 February 2014 18:06

Inbreeding: Not A Taboo Subject

 

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%.

 

 

 

 

Published in Articles
Thursday, 26 December 2013 20:25

Dunrobin Days

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!).

 

Published in Articles
Saturday, 30 November 2013 19:59

Every Picture Tells A Story: Jalna

The time is May of 1989. The place is the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. It is the 1989 National Week. This picture captures Am Can Ch Slaton's Jalna Von Yondo going Winners Bitch at the Greater Cincinnati trailer show. 

The judge was Judith Goldworm of the Serendipity Kennels- famous back in the 60s and 70s. She was the breeder of the lovely smooth specialty winner, Ch Serendipity's Pussy Cat, as well as a number of other important Saints of that time. It was not too surprising that Judith would find Jalna to her liking because a year or two before she had given her sire, Am Can Ch Benbaron's Yondo Von Gizer HF PE, Best In Specialty Show at the New England SBC specialty. Judith always appreciated a good smooth.

Handling Jalna was Don Osborne. Don was a skillful handler originally out of California. He showed a lot of Saints throughout the 80s and 90s. The gentleman standing behind Don is the late Jean Chretien, Jalna's owner. Jean originally came out of Quebec and we met him in Ottawa, Ontario in the 80s. He was a big fan of our Yondo and we helped him get Jalna as a baby from her breeder, Shirley Wolf. That's Shirley with the big smile! Jean was one of those very passionate fellows that we often see come and go in the breed. He started out with a pup or two, got hooked on the shows, grew his kennel to 10 or more dogs quickly, then got too upset when the judging and politics did not go his way and quit in a rage. He wasn't the first fancier to do so and he certainly won't be the last. Jean was a very intelligent and interesting man and we often wondered what things might have been like if he had taken everything a bit more slowly. We miss him.

Shirley was one of the first breeders to appreciate Yondo's potential as a stud and she sent her Ch Slaton's Harlow Jean to be bred to him. Her very successful "J" litter resulted and there were seven champions, almost all of them specialty winners. Harlow Jean of course went on to set the record as the top dam of champions in the history of the breed. Shirley had started her long association with St Bernards while out in California during a time when dogs with a Sanctuary Woods pedigree were doing very well. Harlow Jean had such a background as did Yondo. So their pedigrees were highly compatible and the litter reflected that genetic heritage. It is interesting to note that Shirley got a smooth bitch, Benbaron's X-stasy Of Yondo, from our 50th litter and thus carries on that sort of breeding even after all these years. 

Shirley is one of those breeders who can see the big genetic picture and takes the long view. The future of the breed in any time depends on such breeders. I sincerely hope there are dedicated young folks out there today who learn to do likewise. We wish them the best of luck!

 

Published in Articles
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 23:16

Every Picture Tells A Story: The Sting

In 1977, Ch Scottandra’s The Sting, owned and handled here by the late Jim Downey won Best Of Breed at the St Bernard Club of Ontario specialty under American judge, Herm Peabody.

 

In those heady days, the SBCO would attract thirty to fifty entries including a number of American dogs from New York, Ohio, and Michigan. Herm was one of the “senior judges” of the breed at that time. He came to this show from his retirement home in Florida and always had a pocketful of his brochures promoting the welfare and improvement of the breed in the Southern United States. And they needed help! Most of the dogs down South were then of very sad quality. 

 

Ever the Southern gentleman, Mr Peabody greeted every exhibitor in his ring enthusiastically with a warm smile and firm handshake. We were very pleased when he awarded our  girl, Ch Bedette Sugar Brandy 3rd, Brood Bitch at that specialty (although in truth we would never exhibit those dogs today!).

 

Our friend, Jim, was a big farm boy out of the plains of Saskatchewan who owned the Scottandra Kennels located near Trenton, Ontario. Jim had his veterinary practice in that town which sits prettily on the shores of Lake Ontario, a couple hours East of Toronto. Jim was one of the first of the modern era Canadian breeders to seek out and incorporate American bloodlines for his breeding program. He helped train us how to read pedigrees correctly.

 

Goliath Von Mallen was the sire of The Sting. Goliath was also the sire of the Vogel’s Ch High Chateau’s Tobi. The Sting’s mother was a Canadian girl who also went back to American lines. Interestingly, there is some Sanctuary Woods behind The Sting on both sides but he himself looked more like a Mallen dog. The Sting had quite a massive body and placed in a large Open Longhair class at a National.

 

Jim admired both Mallen and Sanctuary Woods and for many years kept dogs from both lines in his kennel in the hope that he could combine them and get the best of both. It never really worked out for him. I suppose it was like trying to go in two different genetic directions at once.

 

Herm is gone. Jim and Scottandra are gone. The St Bernard Club of Ontario independent specialty is gone. Such is the way of all these things. But for one wonderful spring day in 1977, all was grand and joyful for Jim, Herm and The Sting.

Published in Articles
Thursday, 15 August 2013 18:34

Midsummer Musings

In the heat of the summer, the scene above serves to cool us down, at least mentally. It's been a few months since our last blog and we now find ourselves nicely placed at Weir's Beach outside of Victoria British Columbia. Lulu and Tubby enjoy their daily romps in the surf as we look across the Straight of Juan De Fuca to snow-capped Mt Baker in the State of Washington.

While we haven't run into any Saints yet, we did enjoy The Running Of The Bulls last Sunday. Each year, they hold a big pet fair downtown and feature Bulldog Races. Two Bulldogs are placed on one end of a raised platform with chain link sides. The owners go to the other end. On three the dogs are released, the cheering starts, and the first dog to get to the other end wins the heat.

Lulu, who can move like a Whippet when motivated, walked half way down, visited with some of the spectators, wandered back aways, and then finally decided to go to Toni's waiting arms. Needless to say, she was eliminated. Tubby took off like a bullet and won his heat. In the finals, Tubby went up against Bella, a nice little girl. Brian was at the finish to motivate him but Bella decided to ignore her owner and head for Brian too. She edged Tubby out at the line to claim victory. Pushy little bitch! 

Tubby consoled himself by playing in the kiddie pool full of water with Turbo, his big pal. All in all, great fun and big crowds.

Our son, Robin, recently took his Yondo son, Couch, down to the shows in Portland and won two of the days. Couch needs a few more minor points to claim his AKC championship. It's not easy getting off of Vancouver Island and the ferry fees can add up, so every win is most welcome. 

It's always nice to hear from old fellow fanciers and the other day, we got a note from Art Shook of the Trademark kennels. We met Art at our first National. Our two families were both parked with the motorhomes and trailers and it took no time at all for the young kids to find each other. There was one funny moment as I recall.... our daughter Michelle, who was probably 6 at the time was with his kids when we overheard her say in a loud voice: "Will you look at the hooters on that one!"

Our heads spun just in time to see the grand Vivian Debord from Tennessee walking by. Those of you who knew Vivian will know exactly what Michelle meant!

At that point in time, Art was building his kennel line principally on Sanctuary Woods foundations. So it came as no surprise that we saw eye to eye on most things Saintly and have always enjoyed our moments together at Nationals over the decades. The only beef I have with Art is that he still weighs the same as the day I met him, while I may have gained a pound or two... a year.

So enjoy your summer days, your dogs and your old friends. Time presses on and many of our generation are no longer with us.

 

Published in Articles
Tuesday, 07 May 2013 20:09

Cronus: A Stud Dog

This is a story about a stud dog we never met, alas, but who had an influence on many breeding programs, including our own.

The dog is Ch. Cronus v d Seekbacher-Ho from the 1970s. Cronus was inbred on the famous Ch Titan Von Mallen, being a Titan grandson on his mother's side and a Titan great-grandson on his father's side. However, he was of a different style than Titan and more like Titan's sire, Ch Lance's Robin Hood (who was an important stud in his own right).

One must understand that in the 60s and 70s, there were many, many Saints with terrible, straight rears. So it seems perfectly understandable why so many breeders of that time would want to breed to Cronus, who was clearly heavily angulated in the rear. While the Standard calls for "moderate" rear angulation, and a "level" topline, the sloping topline presented here was certainly stylish. The nice length of neck and of leg adds dignity of the overall, clean outline.

Clearly the judges of the time agreed that Cronus was a handsome dog and he earned a place in the Hall Of Fame for winning at least ten specialties, at a time when such specialties often had over 100 entries. (Here he is being stacked by Paul Hamish of the Sugar Run kennels of Ohio.)

However, it is not his show record that impresses so much as his record as a stud. Cronus is one of the all-time producers of champions in the history of the breed and one of a select few who got to the "25 Plateau of Excellence" with 24 AKC CHs and 1 CDX. 

Some of the kennels that used this dog included: Van Rijn, Waughmar, Sugar Run, Twin Oak, Scottandra (Canada), A Lee, Swisswoods,  and Alpcrown. He sired some 23 litters and clearly had a widespread influence on the breed, especially in the Central and Eastern parts of the country. 

 When our friend, the late Jim Downey, bred his Can Ch Valais' Asta v Scottandra to Cronus he got a handsome smooth boy, Can Ch Scottandra's Rocket. Rocket was the sire of our Can Ch Benbaron's Energizer V Rocket. And Energizer was the sire of our Am Can Ch Benbaron's Yondo Von Gizer. (Who now has 25 AKC champions to his credit.)

So we see how the genes of great studs get passed on down through the generations. Good on you, Cronus!

 

 

 

Published in Articles
Saturday, 13 April 2013 14:05

Sanctuary Woods Revisited

While I did not know Bea Knight during her Sanctuary Woods glory years of the 1960s, I consider myself fortunate to have known her later in her life. We had met Bea at several Nationals and we had shown under her when she judged the Sweepstakes. I had also been a guest with her at Stan and Joan Zielinski's Stoan Kennel one weekend. So it is safe to say we knew each other and she was well aware of our Ch Benbaron's Yondo Von Gizer, and that he went back to her own Sanctuary Woods Yondo U Ole. By this time she must have been in her 80s but she was still spry, alert, and delightful.

It was hard to believe that this tiny lady had once been a titan of the breed and lived with as many as a hundred St Bernards on a remote mountaintop in Southern Oregon. Her dogs made an impact from coast to coast in those days. At the 1964 National in Oakland, California, for example, Ch Sanctuary Woods Four Winds took Best of Breed, Sanctuary Woods Attaboy took Best of Winners, and Sanctuary Woods Picturesque took Winners Bitch. 

When Toni and I came into the breed at the beginning of the 1970s, it was the book pictures of the smooth Sanctuary Woods dogs such as Fantabulous and Gulliver that really blew us away. They reminded us of the smooth Leberberg dogs of Switzerland. Powerful, noble dogs with evident soundness and elegance! We rarely saw dogs like that in our area (Ontario, Canada) at that time. So we set out to find dogs of that bloodline.

Ironically, the first one we found lived at the Mardonof Kennels in Massachusetts. Ch Echo's Citation Von Bonus was a smooth son of Sanctuary Woods Xtra Bonus. Citation had been bred by Carrol and Wally Thom of the Echo Kennel in San Bruno, California, and had made his way East to Mardonof. We bred our Ch Bedette Sugar Brandy 3rd to him and hit the jackpot with 16 pups. We kept the ones that looked most like Sanctuary Woods and they became our first specialty winners.

In the many years that followed we always tried to get back to the source and sought out and used dogs that had a lot of Sanctuary Woods in their pedigrees. We inbred where we could to concentrate those genes.

Over time, we met many people who had known Bea. They had spent their family vacations at her kennels or had bought her dogs. Everyone seemed to have a favorite Bea Knight story of peacocks on the roof waking them up in the morning or of the thundering sound from the barn as fifty or more Saints smelled breakfast.

So the idea of someday visiting her at her Sanctuary Woods home took hold. Bea was getting frail by that time (late 90s) and only had a few dogs left to keep her company. So it was likely now or never. Finally the opportunity arrived. Stan Zielinski kindly set up a call to her and cleared the way for me to visit. It was a miserable, wet and cold February weekend as I drove down from Seattle to Drain, Oregon, found the right exit, and headed up the winding mountain road that led to Sanctuary Woods. This was not a journey for the faint of heart. One had to be alert for logging trucks coming head on around the many bends while ignoring the steep drop offs just a few feet away on the passenger side.

I reflected that Bea had had to negotiate this road every time she wanted to go to a dog show or get down to a vet. I could only imagine how primitive those roads must have been thirty or more years before!

I arrived, stirred and slightly shaken. Whereupon I was greeted enthusiastically by several wet and muddy dogs. Clearly they were delighted to have company and no doubt knew that I had received instructions from Stan to arrive with a big bag of Milk-Bones. Bea heard the noise as the doggie treats were distributed and came out to usher me through the gang into her warm little cabin. I unloaded some supplies I had brought along for Bea and then we settled down to a cup of hot chocolate, a lap full of Papillons, and a trip down memory lane.

I wanted to know all about her early days and early dogs. How did she stamp her line with that "SW look"? After all, this was a lady who had produced over 100 AKC champions and produced many National winners, at a time when regional specialties would attract 200 entries. To my utter delight, I found that Bea's memory was crystal clear and the details she provided matched with the records I had studied from various printed sources. She talked of her old favorites as though they had just departed her life yesterday. There were a few tears and many smiles as we talked away that afternoon on her mountain retreat.

As I drove away, I wondered how long she would be able to stay in that place she loved so dearly. A little longer and then a nursing home. And I wondered if I should ever see her again. I never did.

One visit to Bea's was all I would have. One visit was all I ever needed. Thank you Bea and God bless you.

 

 

 

Published in Articles
Saturday, 23 March 2013 14:46

Introducing Tremendous Tubby

There are certain things one does in life that defy explanation. Bungee jumping comes to mind.  Or trying to explain to a two-year-old why the Pope wears a pointy hat. Or why people our age would buy a second Bulldog.

Tubby has come to us, at five months of age, from the very fine Bluemount kennels of Nova Scotia. His sire and dam are both top specialty winners so we have our hopes up that Tubby will turn out to be a worthy representative of this noble, if rather bizzare breed. If so, Toni intends to get him into the ring as early as this summer. (It seems that one can never have enough flat ribbons and cheesy bowling trophies!)

Our four-year-old Bulldog bitch, Lulu feels that Air Canada has made a terrible mistake and if we but called them, she is sure that they would send him back to Nova Scotia. 

We have explained to Lulu that Tubby is a keeper and that she had better get used to the idea. She blames Pat Postma for giving Tubby's breeders, the Shens, a good recommendation. Lulu says that all those Nova Scotians stick together to rip off people from Ontario.

And what demanding criteria did we use to pick out this particular Bulldog to drive us crazy in our dottage? 

Simple. He is red and white, with a full collar, a half-mask and a monk's cap!  Sound like any kind of puppy you know???

Published in Articles