Icons of the Sport: Mary and Francis Crane

Learn about the contributions of dog breeders Mary and Francis Crane of Basquaerie Great Pyrenees.

Mary and Francis Crane
Basquaerie Great Pyrenees

Mary and Francis Crane founded Basquaerie Great Pyrenees Kennel in 1931. Mary subsequently devoted over 50 years to the breed, gaining AKC recognition for it, finishing over 150 champions and providing foundation stock for important lines like Cote de Neige, Add En On, La Colina, La Shan, Robwood, Combermere and Quibbletown.

Mary’s mission in life began in 1930, after a family friend returned from France with a pair of 8-week-old Pyr puppies, and Mary was instantly smitten. Great Pyrenees had been imported to America sporadically; however, it remained relatively unknown outside France and Spain.

Her foundation dog Urdos came from Soum, one of the few documented French bloodlines. Her foundation bitch Blanchette De Guerveur came from undocumented working lines.

Although Mary had no experience breeding or showing dogs, or navigating the intricacies of AKC politics, she was undaunted. Her kennel prefix, registered in 1933, was a composite word, symbolizing the breed’s high Basque heritage.

Urdos and Blanchette produced the first Basquaerie litter that same year. Pick puppy went to Prof. Will Monroe, who later became President of the Great Pyrenees Club of America. Basquaerie pets sold for $50, top show specimens sold for $175 and puppy placement was based on the new owner’s potential contributions to the breed’s future. This was definitely a money-losing proposition.

Mary traveled frequently to Europe, and imported stock from established breeding programs and undocumented working lines. Her biggest coup was the purchase of a pair of European winners, Int’l Ch. Estat d’Argeles and Ch. Estagel d’Argeles, in 1936 and most of Basquaerie’s best stock descended from them.

As WWII neared, prominent European breeders began parting with their best stock to keep it out of harm’s way. The Basquaerie buying spree kicked into high gear, and over 30 dogs arrived from Belgium, Holland and France shortly before war broke out.

By 1938, Basquaerie was the world’s largest Pyr kennel. The Cranes maintained over 130 Pyrs throughout WWII. Food rationing eventually reached America but Francis, through job connections, was able to import huge quantities of Argentine beef.

Mary predicted that America would become the world’s source for Great Pyrenees stock after the war, but also realized that there might not be any European demand for many years. She launched an aggressive campaign to promote this rare breed to American dog fanciers, calling it the “country gentleman of the dog world,” and the 1940s glamour breed.

Mary spent lavishly to promote the breed. In 1936 she wrote the first club handbook, The Great Pyrenees, now a rare collector’s item. She hired Rudolph Tauskey to photograph her dogs, and commissioned Megargee to do a triptych of paintings of Urdos, Masous and a double portrait of Estat and Estagel d’Argeles.

AKC recognition was the most important step to attract fanciers, and Mary set her sights on this within months of acquiring her first Pyrs. The Pyr unfortunately fell far short.

Many of her imports lacked documented pedigrees. Only 11 Pyrs and three litters were AKC registered. There was no parent club and the only standard was a confusing verbatim translation of the 1927 French version.

AKC overlooked all of this, in a “Field of Dreams” approach to breed recognition. Quite possibly, it also helped that Mary’s father was the prominent Massachusetts politician Frank Allen, who had just finished his term as governor.

The breed entered Miscellaneous in 1932, and the Cranes led the way, trucking off to shows with Urdos and learning on the job how to show dogs. The Great Pyrenees entered the AKC Working Group in February 1933 and Urdos earned the breed’s first Group placement on June 3. In 1934 he became the first AKC champion, another Basquaerie import, Patou, became its first Group winner, and another, Aspe du Pic du Jer, became the first bitch champion.

The Cranes also founded the Great Pyrenees Club of America that year, and Mary described its early years as “a pleasant, interesting cooperative venture, with a real feeling of camaraderie among breeders.” The club was invited to hold its first specialty in conjunction with Morris and Essex in 1935.

In 1940, Basquaerie also made history when K’Eros de Guerver became the first BIS winner and Ch. Koranne of Basquaerie CD became the first obedience titlist. Ch. Basqaerie Amie earned the first CDX in 1941.

The Cranes were AKC approved to judge all the Working breeds. After the war, judging assignments took them all over America and Europe. They reduced the size of their kennel, but remained closely involved with the club.

Over the years, Mary held every office and Francis served as its AKC delegate until 1948. In an interview shortly before her death, Mary emphasized her lifelong sense of responsibility for the breed. “We REALLY were the ones that brought over the first breeding pair and launched the breed in America.”

Basquaerie Kennel was disbanded in the late 1950s, but Mary was never without a few Pyrs until her death in 1982.


From the April 2012 issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the April 2012 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.

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