The Irish Setter: Its Public Face

irish setter seamusMaybe the most well-known Irish Setter today is Mitt Romney’s dog, Seamus. In 1983, Romney transported his dog on top of the family station wagon during a 12-hour trip to the family vacation home in Canada. The story haunted both his 2008 and 20012 presidential attempts, creating an enormous backlash against him. Surveys found that over half of Republicans thought it inhumane and nearly half of all voters said it would influence their vote.

The Irish Setter was of the earliest breeds registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and ranked 72nd among the 177 breeds in 2013. (The Labrador Retriever was #1.)

Dogs, including the Irish setter, go in and out of fashion. In 2013, a group led by Chirlanda showed how registrations of Irish Setter puppies with the American Kennel Club climbed from about 2,500 in 1961 to over 60,000 in 1974, only to drop to about 3,000 by 1986. They found these peaks in popularity unfortunate as the more popular breeds tended to suffer from an increase in inherited disorders.

Dog Show Results

The Irish Setter has won Best of the Sporting Group but has never been Best in Show at the venerable Westminster Kennel Club dog show, a common fate of popular companion dogs. Clooney, an Irish setter, did win the popular, newer, National Dog Show in 2010. That dog show is organized by the Philadelphia Kennel Club and debuted on television Thanksgiving 2002.

Famous Owners

Measured by the star power of their owners, the Irish Setter comes off fairly well. It was the pet of many presidents: Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan, Truman, and Nixon. Early movie stars Mary Pickford and Clark Gable had them. Heads of state, large and small, owned them: from Alexander II the Czar of Russia, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to Percival Baxter, Governor of Maine. The “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan’s first pet was an Irish Setter.

Books, Movies and Television

Of Irish Setter appearances in books and movies, perhaps Big Red is the most popular. A saga of a boy, a dog, and the wilderness, Big Red first appeared in a short story by Jim Kjelgaard, Big Red Unmarred. Kjelgaard expanded the story to the popular book, Big Red, in 1951. Children are still reading Big Red today: at Amazon it is in the top 0.3% of paperbacks sold. Outlaw Red, Son of Big Red, and Irish Red. followed Big Red. In 1962 Disney released the movie Big Red.

On television, in an episode of Mad Men, Chauncey, a gorgeous Irish setter, was famously pushed out the door onto a New York street by Duck Phillips to fend for himself. While not the star of the show, Chauncey gained much popularity among the protesting viewers. Perhaps Irish Setters had good luck in animal shelters after that show.