THE FRENCH BRITTANY AND THE AMERICAN DREAM

In recent years America’s friendship and alliance with the France has, to put it lightly, waned, especially in the wake of France’s outspoken opposition to the U.S.’s war with Iraq. This, in turn, has caused many Americans to openly criticize France and to boycott all things French. I even heard someone go as far as trying to rename French fries, “Freedom Fries.” I don’t think this has quite caught on yet.

Despite this recent contention, let’s give the French some much needed credit. After all, when we seriously needed their help, the French helped us seal the deal in the Revolutionary War and we gained our independence from Great Britain. For that we should be forever grateful!

General Washington’s First Meeting with French General LaFayette.

The French also gave us the Statue of Liberty, which serves as a banner to the world of what America stands for:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
(“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus). Is this not a succinct statement of the American Dream?
The Statue of Liberty: A Generous Gift from the French.

And last, but certainly not least, they gave us the French Brittany (Epagnuel Breton). Believe it or not, the aforementioned items have more in common than you may think.

Before the French Revolution, France was an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges in the aristocracy. Under this regime, land in France was owned mainly by a privileged few. This meant that hunting and fishing could only be enjoyed by the noblemen and their fortunate guests. Generally, the common man was not allowed to enjoy these sports.

Legend has it that the Brittany was developed by the French peasants as the ideal poaching dog. As so aptly described by Michael McIntosh in A Feisty Little Pointing Dog, the Brittany was bred to be “compact and biddable, close-working and quiet, the perfect accomplice for clandestine sport and the companion of choice among those whose favorite game was someone else’s.” The landed nobles, with their big running pointers and setters, did not recognize these shaggy, tailless mongrels for what they were, bona fide hunting machines. Of course, this was all part of the ruse.

Brittanys are pointers with the natural instinct to retrieve. This is my Sunny Girl with her first retrieve on a sharptail.

Now, I’m sure you are asking what do French Brittanys have to do with the Revolutionary War, the Statue of Liberty and the American Dream? The answer is simple: If the legend is true, then the French Brittany was bred as a protest-if you will-against the landed aristocracy and their exclusive privileges. Underlying this “poacher’s dog” is the unquenchable desire of the human soul to be free-a familiar statement that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (The Declaration of Independence). Like the Statue of Liberty, the Brittany cries: “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” (Lazarus).

Because of its noble history, the French Brittany was destined to arrive on our shores to breathe our free air. By breeding, Brittanys are everyman’s dog and they belong where they can run free without regard to some archaic, oppressive class system. This wonderful transplant is now as American as apple pie and baseball.

So dear friends, the next time you think about bad mouthing the French, please remember one of their greatest contributions to the American Dream-the French Brittany.

This is a picture of Sunny and her sister Halley. Notice the difference in size and coloring. This genetic variance is very common in the breed. Perhaps this was by design.

In A Fiesty Little Pointing Dog: A Celebration of the Brittany, Micheal McIntosh crisply summed it up: “Poacher’s dogs. They’ll steal your heart.” No doubt they have mine.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Eric G says:

    Andy, Great writing! I loved it. I didn’t know that about the French Brittany.I’m proud to say my mutt, Lady, is half Brittany. Now I know how her father wiggled his way into that GSP’s kennel, it was bred into him to go places he shouldn’t!Eric

  2. Andy W. says:

    Eric and Shawn, Thanks for your comments. French Brittanys are an awesome breed, but obviously, I’m biased. Andy

  3. Andy:As the former owner of five Brittany Spaniels, starting in 1967 with the last succumbing in 2003, I loved your post. I have studied their history also and you are quite right–the French poacher/peasants could be through the hedge, pot the hare or partridge and be gone again with no tell-tale long, wagging tails or high-pitched tonguing over dead game. Drove the aritocrats nuts!My Brittanys were about the best retrievers I ever saw, beating more than one Labrador or Golden to the find and fetch. I know that may cause some raised eyebrows but well-bred, free-ranging/running Brittany Spaniels are hard to beat for all around mixed bag shooting.I hope Sunny is well. She was fun to watch in Idaho. She never quits!

  4. Andy W. says:

    Walter, Thanks for your comments! I remember reading about some amazing feats by your Brittanys (i.e. the retrieve in the small metal covert, etc.). Are you aware of any good reading sources about the breed and its history? I would be interested to review other sources on their background. I have “A Fiesty Little Pointing Dog” and have read “To the Point,” but wondered if there are other good books out their on the Brittany specifically. Thanks, Andy

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