From Marypat Corbett
Glendalough Irish Wolfhounds
One of the greatest opportunities a purebred dog breeder can get in life is to have a serious sit down conversation with a true historian on the breed. And in Irish Wolfhounds, our Senior Professor was Tony Doyle, the most learned individual on our breed on the planet.
It is a rare talent indeed to become a great breeder of ‘true to type’ Irish Wolfhounds and to have the world wide distinction of being an expert on the breed and its history. Just as Ireland is renowned for being the repository of the oldest book in the world, The Book of Kells created in 561 A.D.; so it was also the repository of the oldest and most important hand written journals, manuscripts, books, and artwork on the Irish Wolfhound, compiled and safe guarded by Tony.
He cherished and understood the importance of the history behind the breed. Throughout his life, Tony painstakingly collected and protected not only the written history of this breed, but also its illustrated history. As a result of his life long effort, his centuries old Irish Wolfhound documents and artwork collection can literally be considered the quintessential library and museum on this breed. There is no collection better in the world or more historically precious than that which Tony preserved for posterity.
Tony read and reread every word on every hand written and typeset page he had. He analyzed and studied every curve on every dog in every drawing, painting, photo, and sculpture. Moreover, during his life, he sought out and truly studied under the ‘Old Breeders.’ He sat with and worked for those great fountains of practical knowledge, until he had committed their ideas and words to memory. Tony’s immersion into the Irish Wolfhound breed throughout his life was total.
All of this study was not just for his benefit alone. He generously shared his knowledge on the subject with those that were sincere students of the breed--those that had a ‘need’ to understand and to get it right. One of Tony’s many breed topics was his teachings on coat color. He often warned that the Irish Wolfhound would go the way of the Deerhound, if breeders didn’t wake up and remove from their breeding criteria, their own, or the show judges, coat color preferences.
Nearly thirty years ago, as my husband Cecil and I sat with Tony in his thatched cottage in County Cavan drinking tea and eating bikkies, he told us, “Paint a wall your favorite color. NEVER breed for a favorite color.” Tony explained how the Old Breeders understood the value and role that all of the colors played in the breed’s genetic pool. He especially stated the importance of keeping the rare colors in the breed, such as Blues, Black and Tans, and Irish spotting. “Never cull them! Treasure them and bring them into the show ring on purpose to teach the judges what they need to know.” He said each color has specific (genetic) characteristics linked to it. It was imperative that we keep this breath of color differentiation within the breed’s gene pool and not allow personal biases to weed out certain colors or Irish spotting.
Tony illustrated his point with the sad story of what happened to the Scottish Deerhound. The breed had had a rainbow of colors spanning from fawn to deep brindle and included white spotting. Scottish Deerhound breeders today only see in shades of grey -- their breed’s coat color has been radically altered. In a very short amount of years, through selectively breeding on color, Deerhound breeders completely eliminated the range of genetic variability on color expression. Tony felt this has been a detriment to the viability of the breed long term.
He felt strongly about coat color in the Wolfhound. You can read about it in his book. I have personally been at shows in the United States where Tony took the opportunity to teach on color. In each case he had completed judging a class; turned; got the full attention of the audience; and started commenting on the ‘rare’ colored dog in his ring. Most recently at the 2010 IWANE show, when he had completed his 12 -18 month old bitch class placements, he turned and addressed the audience as if he were in a lecture hall. “Ladies and Gentlemen, you have before you a National Treasure. My number two bitch today is a very rare color. She is a Masked Black and Tan. I’ve never seen one before in my life, I’ve only heard about them from the Old Breeders. And I’m delighted to see her today. She is and should be considered an acceptable color by any breeder and welcomed in any show ring. ”
Tony’s discussion with Cecil and I regarding color went on to include the need to infuse a black brindle dog into our breeding program in every fifth generation. According to what he was taught, the black brindle’s color linked characteristics for anatomy and physiology will bring a line back into balance and overall health.
The Old Breeders, and I consider Tony to be in that revered group, were correct. Today, many of us have seen the video of the Scandinavian fox breeding experiments. They scientifically proved that a breeder can have a radical impact in just a short number of years. If a breeding decision is guided by restrictive criteria, say in the case of foxes, selecting only those with less wild behavior characteristics; than one ends up genetically reshuffling the deck of cards and influencing many other breed characteristics. In the fox breeding experiment the researchers literally ended up influencing everything from coat color and quality to overall body shape. Foxes are not dogs, but that genetics lesson is a striking one. We need to learn from the Old Breeders and make carefully informed breeding decisions that do justice to those that came before us and knew better.
Through his many verbal and written teachings, Tony got the lessons imparted onto the next generations of Irish Wolfhound breeders around the world. With his passing, we’ve all lost a walking, talking treasure trove of breed history and Irish Wolfhound breeding knowledge. But more importantly, we’ve lost a true Irish gentleman who was a genuine and generous teacher. Now, we all learn just how attentive a student we really were when he walked among us.
That day nearly thirty years ago at his home, Tony made it crystal clear to Cecil and I, “If you want to breed these dogs remember this. You’re not here to improve the breed. You’re here to preserve what the Old Breeders sacrificed so much for and so lovingly nurtured all those generations – through the hard times, wars and famine. So don’t F _ _ _ it up! Study and learn from the Old Breeders.”
…. I promised then and I repromise now, I’ll do my very best, Tony.
Glendalough Irish Wolfhounds