Icons of the Sport: Louis Thebaud
Learn about the contributions of sportsman and philanthropist Louis Thebaud who was instrumental in bringing Brittanys in America.
Amy Fernandez |
July 24, 2012
Sportsman and philanthropist Louis Thebaud was instrumental in the Brittany’s recognition.
With his immense family fortune he could have easily imported them simply for personal use, but
he was determined to get the breed accepted as a dual-purpose dog in America.
The Thebaud family tree combined French nobility and American ambition. Its founder started
an import business after the Revolutionary War that kept generations of Thebauds in high style.
By the late 1800s the family home was a 300-acre estate in affluent Morristown, N.J.
Born in 1859, Louis grew up as American gundogs and field trials came of age. Morristown was
an enclave of wealthy sportsmen who spent lavishly importing superb field trial dogs. After
retirement, this dedicated sportsman devoted himself to hunting and travel. At his seaside
retreat on the Brittany coast Continental gundogs inevitably caught his eye. He began importing
Wirehaired Pointing Griffons in 1905.
The Brittany was a local secret. First shown in France in 1896, it was still a novelty in the
1930s. Louis thought its versatility and steadiness were ideal for quail hunting back home.
Thanks to family connections, his scheme to import quality Brittany stock was feasible. Then
living in France, Rene Joubert is often called Louis’s nephew. He was more distantly related,
but called Louis uncle and shared his passion for gundogs.
Jourbet began sending Louis important Brittanys in 1931. In 1933 he sent over Genette
du Mesnil in whelp. Louis immediately shipped her to the Avandale Springer kennel in Winnipeg to
whelp North America’s first Brittany litter. Dog shipping was then extremely costly, risky and
slow but this unusual step ensured two foundation strains. In 1934, Franche du Cosquerou
arrived, reputedly France’s finest field Brittany. After mating Genette, he was shipped to
Winnipeg and bred to her daughters. These litters produced some of the breed’s first field trial
winners. Louis’ next significant import, in 1935, was Fenntus du Cosquerou, widely admired for
intensity, drive and steadiness.
Meanwhile, the pair managed AKC recognition with one trip to 51 Madison Avenue. Despite the
miniscule gene pool, nonexistent club and incomprehensible French standard, AKC accepted
Brittany Spaniels in 1934. In 1936, Louis became first president of the Brittany Spaniel Club of
North America (now the American Brittany Club).
AKC recognition was a walk in the park compared to convincing skeptical hunters. Louis used
his connections to interest wealthy sportsmen in the breed. The publisher of American Field also
received a puppy as a gift. Everyone agreed that Brittanys were great upland bird dogs. Their
trainability and size also made them appealing pets, a bigger consideration as large kennels
were replaced by amateur sport hunters who kept their dogs as pets.
However, personal endorsements didn’t have the impact of field trial wins. The Brittany’s
street cred hung on its acceptance by Pointer/Setter loyalists. Although AKC classified it as a
spaniel, they considered it a field trial pointing breed. In 1936, Louis sent Fenntus to
Joubert, who was then living in Detroit. He entered her in an upcoming trial where she placed
second. The following year she became the first Brittany to defeat Pointers and Setters at a
field trial. This was an amateur stake, but the point was made. Henry Stackpole writing in 1949
said “the Brittany has a prominent place in the American sporting scene…There are several field
trials for these dogs but fanciers do not hesitate to enter them against Pointers and Setters,
especially in shooting stakes where excessive range is not desirable.” In 1939, Michigan’s first
all-Brittany Stake drew 14 entries. Louis died that year at age 79.
From the July 2012 issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the July 2012 digital back
issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review
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