An unusually large litter of super-rare and even cuter puppies is offering fresh hope that one of Britain’s most endangered dog breeds could be set for a renaissance.
The 10 red and white setter pups are a huge boost for a lineage that currently sits at the bottom of the Kennel Club’s vulnerable breeds list. In fact the breed is even rarer than the Siberian tiger, Amur leopards and giant pandas.
The latest litter represents more than a quarter of all newly registered puppies of the Irish breed for 2019 and could reverse an alarming demise of the animals. At the start of the last decade, 119 red and white setter puppies were born but last year, only 39 puppies were delivered. By comparison, there were 35,347 recorded births of labradors, the UK’s favourite dog, in 2019.
Breeder Ve Callaghan from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire is celebrating the arrival of the huge litter before she carefully vets new owners who can take home the pups for a £1,000 fee.
Jim Cuddy, chairman of the Red and White Setter Club of Great Britain, said: ‘Having 10 new puppies does help the breed, given as there were only 39 last year.
‘The aim is to sell the puppies to new owners in the hope they will go on to breed from the bitches. Once people have a breed they tend to stick with that breed in the future.
‘The dog industry does suffer from very few young people following in the footsteps of their parents and own a dog as a hobby today.
‘Setters need a good couple of hours of exercise a day. Today everyone has to have a job and don’t necessarily have the time to do that.’
Breeder Julian Barney believes there are several reasons for why the setter is in a perilous state, including more demand for smaller ‘designer dogs’.
He said: ‘We also don’t have the number of breeders out there for them right now. The general public also don’t know they actually exist. When I take mine for a walk in our local country park, people ask me what it is because they have never seen one before.
‘But as soon as you say it’s the predecessor to the red setter they say “oh, that’s interesting”. Having a litter of 10 is a good size litter and helps. We want to encourage people to own them.’
The breed dates back to Roman times when they were used to find game birds.
Their numbers began to decline in Victorian times as the red setter, with its rich chestnut coat, took over in popularity.
The white element was bred out and puppies with more red in their coat removed and used for breeding.
Paul Keevil, a founding member of the Kennel Club’s vulnerable breed committee, said: ‘Irish red and white setters have been on the list from its inception and have remained on it ever since.
‘Instead of recovering they have been in consistent decline for the last 10 years, although this is the first time they have been at the bottom. It is a very bleak future for them, it’s not good.’
He added: ‘They are really quite wonderful dogs to look at and are very graceful the way they move.’
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