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.