Ann Yuhasz, Four Generation Family of Dog Breeders
We talk a lot about pedigrees in dogs, but AKC Judge Ann Yuhasz and her family have been involved in dogs, specifically English Setters, since the 1960s. Yuhasz noted that starting with her mother, to herself, to her daughter, to now her granddaughter, purebred dogs are an inextricable part of their “family DNA.”
Yuhasz shares memories of her mother, Nancy Frey, and her daughter, Rebecca, and the special relationships the purebred dog world has brought her.
“It was unbelievably valuable,” Yuhasz said. “(Mother and I) had such a very special relationship. I understood what she was doing. She understood what I was doing and it was remarkable…. she was my best friend. She really was. And there’s a big hole when your best friend has gone. And still to this day I sometimes think she’s sitting on my shoulder laughing at me for whatever I’m doing.”
She also discusses the challenges and rewards of judging the sporting group, a numerically large, diverse group of dogs used for every type of bird hunting.
“…the sporting group is basically pointers, setters, retrievers and spaniels. … those four are very different, yet very much alike. They all hunt. They all should hunt. They all should be made so they can hunt. And if you can keep that in mind when you judge them then you should be okay.”
While English Setters were her family’s lifetime passion, Yuhasz spent a number of years working with Flat Coated Retrievers. They aren’t black Golden Retrievers, although they are considered the progenitor breed of the Golden Retriever.
“…the Flat Coat is essentially a pickup dog,” Yuhasz said. “He sat there all day while they shot and then he went out with his buddies and cleaned the field. That’s what he did. And he’s a very, very sweet creature. They are very touchy-feely, they want to be with you, they make lousy kennel dogs but they are very unique. Their head property is so different and so hard to find correctly.”
Passion for breeding and judging
Yuhasz brings passion and excitement to her love of dogs, of breeding, of judging.
“That’s how I feel about some of these dogs,” Yuhasz added. “I can’t wait to get my hands on them, you know? I mean, Good Heavens. So that’s what judging’s all about – getting your hands on wonderful dogs and admiring what somebody has done.
“If you can get a litter with one good specimen – my goodness that’s terrific! If you can get a bunch of good specimens, how fabulous is that? How lucky you are! The genes just fell just the right way. You got the things you were looking for, and I think as breeders you’ve got to have a pattern … you’ve got to know where to go how to go and you have to be hard on yourself. You’ve gotta say, ‘Mmm, that isn’t it.’”
I hope you enjoy my talk with Ann and that her passion can inspire you as much as it did me!
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Ann Yuhasz Interview Transcript
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LAURA REEVES: Welcome to Pure Dog Talk. I’m your host Laura Reeves and I am thrilled to be joined today by AKC breeder and AKC judge and a member of a three-generation dog family which I think is just fabulous. Ann Yuhasz, who is going to join us today, started with English Setters with her family and carried on to a number of other breeds. So, Ann, thank you so much for joining us.
ANN YUHASZ: You’re welcome!
LR: I’m excited to talk to you. And I think our listeners are going to be pretty impressed to hear some of this information is pretty cool. So give us the 411! Your background – how you started – your family had English Setters forever, Right?
AY: No, actually not forever. My mother always was a dog person and I understand, as a young woman, before she left home she had a litter Samoyeds that she kept up the track and she didn’t tell her parents that she had this bitch and that she had bred her. My grandfather – her father – was a sports hunter so he always had an Irish Setter or something hanging around. But they were busy, after all, they got married at the end of the war and nobody was doing too much with dogs at that time except for fun. We always had a dog – mostly just a dog. I remember we had a three legged dog who’d got hit by a car. It was just a dog. She was fascinated with purebred dogs and when I went off to college we had a small little farmette they called them in those days. We had horses and chickens and ducks and whatever. She went off and she bought herself an English Setter. And you know, to this day I’m not sure why she started with an English Setter, but she did and she bought a bitch from a woman in Cleveland who is still around, and unfortunately not breeding dogs anymore, but helped her. And they did quite well in the beginning. She did buy something later on from Canada. She tried to expand herself and ended up with a hipless wonder.
LR: Oh my goodness
AY: We did have a lot of hip problems in those days but she really was fascinated with the English Setter. We, who are Setter people, think it’s one of the most beautiful breeds that is walking on this earth. An English Setter is truly a gentleman of a dog, should be, and is so pretty to look at. So naturally there I was. I don’t remember if I started handling them for her probably just about the time I came back from college and got married and of course our wedding present was an English Setter. <laughter> He was probably the stupidest dog I ever owned but he endeared us to them and there we were starting on our own. So she and I did it together for a while. I really didn’t have the room in the beginning and we would talk about the litters and she was still showing them. She showed them for quite a long time before she decided to get active and start to judge herself. They were very active in Western Reserve Kennel Club, which is our local club. They were very active in the English Setter Association of America. My father was their president for quite some time and the two of them started our Futurity, which still goes today. The Futurity was started to increase our membership in the English Setter Association. And, of course, she liked judging and as she progressed with her judging I ended up with the dogs and I had children and I was at home until I started work for a veterinarian because we all do in order to fund our habit.
AY: And there I was raising English Setters. So essentially that was quite a while ago. And of course when my daughter came along and I was giving handling lessons on the property next to us every Wednesday night she would come. She was a toddler and she’d bring her stuffed dog, Noopy, and she’d drag him through the grass. And when everybody set their dogs up she set up Noopy and so forth and so on. And everybody thought, “How charming … how cute,” till one day she had a real dog. And the next day she beat them in the ring. So then she wasn’t so cute anymore! <laughter> But, if possible to believe, not only is she still raising lovely English Setters, we have her daughter – my granddaughter – who just acquired a Border Terrier as a junior dog because English Setters are not always the easiest for juniors and that’s what she wanted and we said, “Great!”
AY: So here we are – four of us!
LR: I love that! So for our listeners who do not know, your mother’s name was …
AY: Nancy Frey and she was a Sporting Group judge and partially of the Herding Group – the most is – I think she raised some Corgis for a while. So she got interested in herding dogs but, things were slow and we didn’t have the number of shows we have now. I mean goodness sakes there were only 600 judges when I started to judge. So we’ve come a long ways. Things have changed a great deal.
LR: That would be accurate, I think <laughter>
LR: So, this is always a theme because of course my mom and I did dogs together, we bred dogs together, we traveled together to dog shows … it was the basis for a lifetime friendship that was far beyond mother and daughter. And I think it’s a theme I hear consistently and I think it’s so valuable.
AY: It was unbelievably valuable. We had such a very special relationship. I understood what she was doing. She understood what I was doing and it was remarkable. Unfortunately my father died early and suddenly and she didn’t want to stop judging. So I would go with her sometimes. She was on her way to Australia right after he passed away. She said, “Will you come,” and of course my husband said, “You’re going where,” and, “how long are you going to be gone,” and she was going for three weeks because you want and you judged each weekend. So I finally cajoled him and said, “I really want to go,” and we had the most wonderful trip because we spent the weeks visiting people and visiting places and seeing and doing things that the average person could never do if you weren’t on that kind of trip. Plus the dogs were wonderful and she was so well received. She did a Pointer specialty, she did the English Setter National, the Gordon Setter National, and she was my best friend. She really was. And there’s a big hole when your best friend has gone. And still to this day I sometimes think she’s sitting on my shoulder laughing at me <laughter> for whatever I’m doing. You probably feel the same way.
LR: Yes I do. Yes I do a great deal. And your daughter is continuing, as you say, and your granddaughter. And I think that to me – just personally and I don’t know you can speak to this as well – that is a whole lot of what this sport is about.
AY: Well, it certainly helps. And she and I feel – my daughter and I – that it takes a small village today to raise dogs and show dogs and continue on. It’s a very demanding sport. Of course it’s as much as you want to give it. We never campaigned a dog, ever. I really didn’t feel I wanted to or needed to. We have lovely, lovely breeding stock. Behind the dogs that are running around today, is all of our stuff. And I think to watch a grand-dog or a great-grand-dog and know what’s behind it is very rewarding. And of course my daughter probably has a little more time to spend at it, though I don’t know why I say that. They raise show Percherons at the same time and they’re maintaining a pretty big piece of property. But she was able to send a bitch to England to be shown which was something very unheard of. And I had advised the person who wanted to do that that they were nuts. It was like “taking coals to Newcastle” and they said, “Oh we’ll finish her and ta-da-da-da-da-da.” Well, that wasn’t so easy. But she was bred, and she was bred to two very, very fine dogs over there and we have the progeny, which is what my daughter wanted. She didn’t really care if the bitch finished over there. The bitch came home in whelp, so it was a wonderful thing and I feel very blessed. I’m so lucky – so lucky – that I have met the people I’ve met and have the friendships that I have. I mean where else in the world would you have this kind of life? I don’t know!
LR: Absolutely true. And we all get frustrated with social media but think about how that has expanded our ability to know people in other countries and around the world.
AY: Right. And it is a very small contingency. I remember that first time I was in Australia with mother, there was a gentleman standing there and he had two Flat Coated Retrievers and I don’t think I had imported my bitches yet from England. But I walked over and I looked at them – they were lovely – and I said, “What’s their breeding,” and he told me and they were English, the two of them. And I said, “How’s your incidence of cancer,” because we do have a terrible cancer incidence in Flat Coats, and he said, “It’s not good.” And I thought how sad. Here I am in Australia … they didn’t have very many of them there and they’ve got this issue. So it’s a very, very tiny world when we talk about dogs.
LR: It is indeed, but it is a tight knit one and I think that is a great deal of its strength. So a little bit of a right hand turn here. Talk to our listeners about judging. And we’re going to talk about the Sporting Group because this is your background. You judge other breeds, but this is your passion, your center. And we’ve talked to, oh, Jim Reynolds did Terriers, and Peggy Beisel did Terriers and Dana Cline did Working dogs. So let’s talk about the breadth and scope and the challenge of judging in the Sporting Group.
AY: Well the Sporting Group has always been a big group, from the very beginning, where you know in the beginning there weren’t so many Terriers here. The Herding Group was kind of nonplus and now it’s lovely and huge and beautiful dogs. But the Sporting Group is basically Pointers, Setters, Retrievers and Spaniels. And those four are very different yet very much alike. They all hunt. They all should hunt. They all should be made so they can hunt. And if you can keep that in mind when you judge them then you should be okay. They fundamentally have to be sound. Of course Mrs Clark always says, “Sort first by type and then by soundness.” I have to get it both. I just have to get it both. I’ve got to have a dog that can sit in a blind all day and then go into the water and bring back a big heavy wet bird. I’ve got to have an upland bird dog and when we say “upland” we’re talking about birds that fly – not ducks that swim or geese. And I’ve got to have a dog that’ll go in the field and have the stamina and the brain and the sensibility to do what they have to do. I mean, once upon a time, people counted on those dogs so they would be fed! So they would bring back the prey and be able to not mash it on the way back so that they would have dinner on their table. And if you study those different breeds you’ll find the differences in them – they don’t look like, they don’t think alike – they are very unique. The Setters – all four of them – are very unique to themselves, but they’re nothing like Spaniels. And if you’ve lived with any of these different groups you’ll know that they’re not at all the same.
AY: So it’s quite a bit of study, I think. I was always attracted to Retrievers. I’ve always liked Goldens – everybody likes Goldens and Labs. I fell into Flat Coats literally because I worked for a veterinarian who had one because one of our clients happened to have almost the only Flat Coats in the country at one time. And I went to grade a litter with him because he said, “Well you know more about them than I do,” and I thought, “Oh not really but I’ll go look,” and I brought one home. <laughing> I thought that would be something fun for my husband instead of an English Setter and we were hooked. It’s a wonderful breed and very unique to the Retriever Group.
LR: Yeah I was going to ask you about that because Flat Coats are so unique in the Retrievers – the head properties and some of these pieces they’re not just a black Golden.
AY: Absolutely right. If you look at them and you say, “Hmm, black Golden,” then something is wrong and you must remember that Goldens came from Flat Coats once upon a time. The Flat Coat was the wavy coated retriever which turned into the Flat and The Curly and the gold was a yellow flat coat. They do have yellow as the recessive gene and many, many years ago there was a gentleman in England who said, “Oh, let’s take two of those yellow dogs and breed them together and see what we get.” And that was the forerunner of today’s Golden. And of course the Goldens in England don’t look like the Goldens here. We’ve fancied them up. We’ve added a lot of hair. We’ve made them go around the ring at a million miles an hour. Goldens in England do not look anything like that, but we’ve done that to a lot of breeds here. But the Flat Coat is essentially a pickup dog. He sat there all day while they shot and then he went out with his buddies and cleaned the field. That’s what he did. And he’s a very very sweet creature. They are very touchy-feely, they want to be with you, they make lousy kennel dogs but they are very unique. Their head property is so different and so hard to find correctly. I feel that some of the dogs of today have gotten way too extreme in the head – they shouldn’t look like Borzois or Collies. But it is a one piece head meaning we don’t want a lotta stop. We don’t want a lot of breadth. I can’t even tell you why it was developed that way. It was like I asked somebody once about old Terriers. If you look at the old White Bull Terrier who’s behind a lot of Terriers today … he didn’t look anything like what we have today with that egg shaped head. And that person said to me I don’t know why it looks that way. It was fashionable I guess. I don’t think that that was the case with Flat Coats but I was fortunate enough to end up in England at somebody’s house who happened to be breeder of the year and her dog had won Best in Show at Cruft’s that year. It was purely luck and she became my mentor, and a lot of other people’s mentors. And if you look at the pedigrees in Sweden they all go back to her line. Unfortunately, we have this cancer gene and after a while I found the health issues in such a tiny gene pool to be more than I could bear and I couldn’t have people come and look at puppies and say to them, “Well, you may have it five years, you may have it eight years.” It was dreadful. And I stopped. I stopped breeding them I thought it was just too much. But I love the breed – just love the breed. It’s a wonderful breed and I sent you a picture that I hope you’ll post with this of the ideal in my mind. I don’t even know where I took that picture but boy if he walked in my ring, yummy! <laughter> That’s how I feel about some of these dogs. I can’t wait to get my hands on them, you know? I mean, Good Heavens. So that’s what judging’s all about – getting your hands on wonderful dogs and admiring what somebody has done. How did somebody get that on the ground? How fabulous!
LR: I love that and I really, really think sometimes our exhibitors lose track of the fact that – I say this all the time – judges are people too. They weren’t hatched from an egg and that obvious joy and pleasure that the great judges such as yourself bring to the ring I think is so important.
AY: Well it’s hard because we can’t all have the best dog in the world and we as breeders … I particularly went through an awful lot of dogs that are lovely companions and made wonderful dogs for people but they weren’t the best show dogs. They weren’t the best representatives of the breed in my mind and I think those of us who have been doing it a long time – I don’t want to send something to the ring that doesn’t look what I think it should look like or at least close to it. And we go through a lot of them – we all do. It’s impossible! If you can get a litter with one good specimen – my goodness that’s terrific! If you can get a bunch of good specimens, how fabulous is that? How lucky you are! The genes just fell just the right way. You got the things you were looking for, and I think as breeders you’ve got to have a pattern … you’ve got to know where to go how to go and you have to be hard on yourself. You’ve gotta say, “Mmm, that isn’t it.” And you’ve got to be mindful of your health of your breed, which is a big problem for all of us in the whole game. You know there are things you can live with, but health in my mind has got to be way up there.
LR: And it is an absolute battle I think for many of us. <AY: yes> You have health. You have the temperament. You have structure and overall conformation and you have performance. So let’s try and make that dog that meets all four of those quadrants, you know?
AY: Right. It’s a challenge – I suppose that’s why we do it? <laughter> Somebody asked me, “Why do you do it,” and I thought, “I don’t know – it’s like hitting your head against the wall. Why do you do it?” And I sometimes say to my daughter, who’s so funny now with this new Border … First of all, she’s acquired an English Fox Hound. He’s the biggest thing I ever saw in my life! And when he walks around the house it shudders. <laughter> He is adorable and she loves him and he’s so different from the Setters. And she said, “Why have we done Setters all these years?” I said, “Well I went off and did Retrievers and then I dabbled in English Cockers because I had a dear friend, and used to show her dog for her, and loves them but they were too busy for me and they jumped around all the time and I didn’t want anything doing that.” And then she got the Border who has been just heaven on earth – so smart, so clever – till they went to do her feet the other day and she thought she’d have them all for lunch! <laughter> So she, too, is dabbling a bit in some other breeds. We live with a Norfolk – she’s probably our fourth and I had one litter and that was enough for me. Just is much easier to go get something from somebody. We love the breed. And I must be a Terrier person at heart because I like some of the things about her that we don’t have and Sporting dogs. But she’s tiny – she’s 10 lbs. Maybe at 50 lbs she wouldn’t be so cute. <laughter>
LR: I think there’s a lot to be said for that!
AY: Right! So, I think that you know somebody’s there. You always get people, “What’s your favorite breed?” And I think, “Oh my gosh – I have so many. I would have one of each if I could.” I don’t think there’s any breed that I am not terribly fond of. I mean there are some that don’t inspire me the same way, but most of them I think are so unique and so interesting, and the people that are with them are so interesting that I don’t know how anybody could decide what their favorite breed was.
LR: Well that’s what I say. That passion is incredible, and what you bring to the ring every time that I’ve ever seen you judging dogs.
LR: So, in wrap up we’re talking to multigenerational family in dogs. How do we encourage people to make this into their family tradition?
AY: Well it’s not easy. I have a son, too. And the funny thing is that he went to school in Pennsylvania and to make money, he cleaned dog runs for a gentleman who was the librarian at the college and actually was a Flat Coat person. And I said to him, “You never cleaned a dog run in your life at home!” <laughter> What, what’s with this? And he actually has a rescue Flat Coat now – they’ve had several Flat Coats. But he no more would want to show a dog. But I don’t suppose he wanted to compete with his sister anyway because she was pretty good at what she did. I guess it’s just the nature of the beast. But I do think as a group we need to make ourselves accessible to the youth. I love the peewee that they’re doing now. <LR: Yes> I had a junior with a dog and I thought, “Don’t Stop – please don’t stop – because maybe the people before us said the same thing – there won’t be anybody to fill their shoes.” We have to do everything possible to encourage anybody who is interested.
And that means for example this Border Terrier that these people gave up their pick bitch of the litter, for Lizzie, because they know that that puppy will have the best house in the world, the best family in the world, and be shown. And you cannot put a price tag on that. If somebody calls me up and says I have a kid and they want to do this I would do anything I could to encourage them and help them. And I think we’re losing those people. They don’t come to our kennel club meetings, they’re busy with other things. It’s very hard in today’s world to either have it or not. And I see them – I see them working for handlers. I mean, I see them. I judge them in the juniors. I’m sorry that when we judge juniors we can’t talk to them anymore. <LR: I know> I don’t know why that ever happened, because they want you to talk to them and they come back, very shyly, and ask you a question. And I think, “How sad that we can’t say to them …” It doesn’t have to be criticism. It can be positive. I know children that have not done well in juniors and they’ve stopped. I think, “How sad.” I mean, because there’s life beyond juniors. So many of these kids – they’re in juniors – are showing dogs now all day long and then they have to go compete as a junior. How silly is that? They’re finishing dogs for people.
So I don’t think there’s a simple answer but I do think that the AKC and those of us who have any means to help should do the best we can to encourage them, or our sport will be … I don’t know, in 20 years. Let’s have that conversation again in 20 years <laughter> just you and I.
LR: Absolutely! And I a hundred percent agree. I can’t tell you how many dogs I have given away to junior handlers and they have to – generally speaking – they have to come and work. They come and work and earn their dog because I think it is important. Personally, I think it’s important that they acquire a work ethic to go with their interests and their dogs.
AY: Right. You know we keep talking about the 4-H groups and I know that my granddaughter shows rabbits in 4-H and 4-H has been a pretty good program. It’s not always available in a city. We happen to live in an area where it is there. But I keep thinking there should be something we ought to be able to do with the 4-H people to try and stimulate this. But I don’t know the answer to that.
LR: That’s a conversation I’m actually – Valerie Nunes Atkinson and I – and we’ve talked to Mary Beth. And it’s actually something that we’re trying to do is figure out a way to incorporate some of those pieces. That’s actually an ongoing conversation we’re having currently. <AY: Great!> Yeah, I started in 4-H. I credit 4-H with pretty much everything I am today.
AY: That’s good. I did not know that.
LR: Yeah. My mom enrolled me in 4-H when I was 9 years old because I was, and I quote, “Shy and retiring and lacked people skills.” <laughter>
AY: Really! <laughter> <LR: Absolutely> Something happened in-between!
LR: Yeah, 4-H happened! And that’s sort of the point. And I was interviewing one of the juniors and she said, the phrase she used, I just about started crying. I was like, absolutely, that it gave me something I could do that nobody else could do. And I came from a family where everybody was smart. My brother was very athletic and I wasn’t, and I didn’t have a place, right? Like I didn’t have a place to shine and that’s what 4-H did for me.
AY: Wow. That’s great. Rebecca was a junior. She went to the Garden the first year … she must’ve been, oh, whatever the lowest age was then. And I made her wear white knee socks – she still yells at me about that – and her hair and braids, and we took a Setter of course and the Setter barked the entire time we were there. They took her out of our room and we had quite a time! But I gave her credit for going in that big ring and standing there with all those older kids and she learned some terrific skill showing dogs. And she runs her own business today. She’s very accomplished and I think, I don’t know, they did juniors I suppose, I started after, I mean I was older. And I used to show horses so when I was in my teens and did quite well showing horses. I liked to ride and it was fun. But I found dogs a lot easier than trailing a horse. So I could still exhibit and have that fun. But it wasn’t so tedious or so expensive. And in those days you could do it quite easily. So it’s been quite a ride. Believe me, I’m sure everybody you’ve talked to has said the same thing. Quite a ride.
LR: Well I think that one of the things that I value the most when I show you dogs or I watch you judge dogs is that you are still enjoying the ride and that is so important.
AY: Yeah it’s getting harder though! <laughter>
LR: I’ll tell ya … You’ll notice I’m now a podcast host instead of a handler.
AY: Dog show judges complain more about their feet than any other group of people I know! I mean it’s so hard … Years ago when my mother complained, I thought, “What’s she talking about?” Well now I know what she was talking about!
LR: Listeners this is why you should always be nice to your judges because probably their feet hurt! <laughter>
AY: That’s absolutely right!
LR: Well Ann thank you so much for joining us. I really enjoyed our conversation.
AY: Thank you. And thank you for doing this for the dog community. I think it’s a grand idea. Good for you guys.
LR: Thank you.
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