By: Worth Mathewson - Amity, OR
I would be very surprised if readers of Pigeon Debut didn't view the pigeon pictued above as an extremely attractive bird. Even though the photo is archaic, the pigeon reproduced has striking clean lines, a deep rich plumage, and from those who can recall that long ago, was a superb producer and parent. The pigeon pictured is the old American Carneau. The bird was drawn to represent the perfect standard for the breed. The time frame was 1917. Today the Carneau as pictured in the old drawing in red or yellow has followed the fading trail into extinction. That is a shame, for lack of a better word.
That the old American Carnean has something in common with the Gordon and Llewellin setters, and can have a paralleled to a 1936 five window Ford V8 coupe likely will bear some explanation. And while not exactly precise, the following will be as true as the row planting in the random apple orchard. In other words, it won't be far from wrong.
The old American Carneau and the two breeds of dogs reached a peak
in popularity and excellence during the same era. Or nearly so, as the
Gordon, along with the Irish setter, was really a dog on the mid to late
1800's and of course the Carneau didn't get its start
until after the turn of the century. The Llewellin more closely followed the path of the pigeon, reaching its zenith of popularity in the 1920's.
There are still Gordon and Llewellin setters to be found today, as there are American Carneau. But, all three are far removed from what they once were. And depending upon one's view point, can be considered as the sad remainder of a once great breed.
In the case of the dogs, the Gordon was once a big, heavy coated, strong dog. It was hard working, intelligent, and was said to have had a remarkable nose for birds. The Llewellin, on the other hand, was smaller, likely faster in the field, and from old writings, drawings, and photographs was the classic bird dog.
As is the case with pigeons, breeds rise in popularity, then fall as new interests develop. (I can recall a period in my region that, the pigeon shows were comprised nearly entirely of Modenas.) With the Gordon and Llewellin, their replacement was the English pointer and the English setter. And in turn these two breeds gave way to Brittany spaniels, and increasingly, Labrador retrievers.
Today the Gordon and Llewellin can likely be rated as uncommon. They are now show breeds, bred along lines, which stress silky; flowing coats and tails; long legged, high strung, animals. Some are bred to the point they suffer nervous breakdowns. As far as their intended purpose-to hunt birds-such dogs are about as well suited as a Pekingese.
Happily, over the past several decades a few breeders are working hard to restore the old Gordon and Llewellin field strain. It is a long road, with not much left to work with, but they are making some progress. They are to be wished well.
My comparison of the American Carnean with a 1936 Ford V8 coupe might require a bit more explaining. I have such a car. My wife and I get a great deal of enjoyment while driving it summer weekends and attending old car shows. It is Henry Ford coal black, with reworked mechanical brakes, and has an 85 horsepower V8 flathead engine. That perky little motor pushes the car down the road as fast as it should be driven. The car is almost like the day it left Dearbourn, and that wasn't bad.
Now to some people that old Ford would need to be modified to their taste. The result would be to chop the top, paint it a hideous glowing yellow with red flames, and put a huge Chrysler motor in it, with tires the size suitable for an earth mover.
To me, such modification is what has been done to the American Carneau of today. I have read that the French and Belgian Carneau breeders view the present day American Carneau as ugly. I will fall in close formation behind that view. In order to see and appreciate what the old American Carneau once was, all that is needed is to look at one of Mr. Levi's Palmetto's white Carneau. This bird is unchanged since he acquired them at the end of World War I.
Today's Carneau have been subjected to head size increases sometimes associated with birth defects in humans. Its body posture appears more like a barn owl perched on a rafter waiting to pounce on a mouse, rather than the sleek, well proportioned Carneau of old.
But most important, the present day American Carneau, when compared to the old Carneau, or almost any other breed of pigeon, has become markedly weird. If it breeds at all, it does so begrudgingly. It is quarrelsome, brooding, a poor parent, and seemingly determined to aid in its own extinction.
Last year Mr. Victor Stoll wrote in Pigeon Debut: "In recent years we have seen a serious decline of the popularity of the Carneau pigeon." He was totally correct.
I had my first red Carneau in the early 1950's. Then I went approximately
30 years without the breed. But during that time I maintained a high interest
level in Carneau. As the years passed I noticed an increase in negative
remarks regarding my questions about the status
of the bird. And then a new generation of breeders came along to which Carneau was just a bird they knew by name. Today there could be a strong argument supporting the listing of the American Carneau as among the rare breeds.
My speculation is that once the few Carneau breeders left past on to that big loft in the sky, the present day American Carneau will go broodingly along, busy fighting with each other every step of the way. And it could very well be by that time the head size will have been increased to the point the bird's neck won't support the weight, and dangles it down against the breast, or hangs limply to the side.
I brood over this on a fairly regular basis. But I am reminded of
a friend who had Llewellin setters in the 1920's and 30's. He would listen
to me lament the disappearance of the breed as a working field dog. He
just shrugged his shoulders and remarked: "If people had cared it wouldn't
have happened." And of course the same applies to the once great American
Carneau in colors red and yellow.
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