Breeders Forum: Aerie Irish Wolfhounds, Doug Marx and Amy Benjamin
Q: How did you start in dogs? When and how did you found your current breeding program? Briefly outline the important breeding decisions you made and identify the most successful dogs you have bred.
A: We have both always had dogs. Doug grew up with gundogs and terriers. I had Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Beagles. I wanted a horse and my parents were not amenable to the idea; they both grew up on farms and thought a horse was a luxury we did not need. I played on my parents' love and enjoyment of dogs, and they agreed to purchase their first Irish Wolfhound in 1973.
The nearest breeder was Sam Ewing in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, about 45 minutes away from my home. My parents called him and we made our first visit to his farm. When we saw our first Wolfhounds in the flesh it was life-changing. We drove up a winding driveway, and to the left was an old bank barn. The Wolfhounds appeared one by one at first, then we could see a collective heave of movement as the rest of the pack stood. In their Sighthound way, they warily watched our car meander up the driveway. As they shook and woke up, they wagged their tails and invited us in. We went home with our first Wolfhound that day; I was 12 years old.
We had no idea that Sam was one of the most influential Wolfhound people at the time and would go on to breed and influence Wolfhounds for more than 50 years under his kennel name Eagle. We co-owned and co-bred with Sam until his death ten years ago. He became our educator in many things Wolfhound; showing, breeding and otherwise. A true mentor.
Doug and I met in college in Virginia, where we both rode hunters. When it was clear that Doug was as enamored with horses and dogs as me, the rest is who we are today: Aerie Irish Wolfhounds. We bred our first litter in 1983.
We have bred many dogs with major specialty wins and more than 30 AKC champions. In the last seven years (2008-2014) we have six times either owned the sire of the national-specialty winner or co-bred the winner of the national specialty. In 2008 and 2010, Ch. Kerryarc Fast Cars, whom we co-bred, won the national. He was the result of a bitch we sent to the Tyler family in California (Kerryarc), who had a suitable match for her.
Our good friend Herb Myer bred to our Quintus and had a litter that produced two national-specialty winners, Ch. Kellykerry Emmit of Aerie (2009 and 2011) and his sister Ch. Kellykerry Peggy Sue of Aerie (2012).
A highlight of our breeding is our national-specialty winner Ch. Hound Hill Valley of Aerie, who comes from one of the original foundation bitches that Sam Ewing sent us almost 25 years ago. Valley, as a puppy, went to live with our friend Donna Brown of Hound Hill, where she was shown lightly and won her AKC championship undefeated. She came out of retirement after two litters of puppies and won our national specialty in 2013. She has produced some successful heirs. We are currently showing her son, Hound Hill Vanderbilt of Aerie, and daughter, Ch. Hound Hill Vale of Aerie.
Valley is a daughter of our Ch. Pitlochry’s Quintus, whom we imported from the Netherlands as a puppy. We felt that breeding our tight Eagle lines to outcrosses from the Netherlands would produce the size and bone we were missing. We found some dogs in Europe that we felt met that requirement. After watching some of these lines for several generations, we were lucky enough to be involved in the decision-making that produced Quintus. He went on to sire nine individual dogs that won specialties, including four nationals. Quintus won nine stud-dog classes and retired or contributed to the retirement of several stud-dog trophies. He hated showing — he didn’t see the point.
We also bred a wonderful bitch, Ch. Giggles Aerie of Eagle. She won many impressive accolades at shows, including nine veteran classes and produced two specialty-winning daughters. Another one her daughters, Giggles of Aerie, went to the Netherlands, and I had the pleasure of traveling with, and showing, her several times in Europe. The highlight was the World Show in Denmark in 2010, where she won CACIB. She went on to finish her championship in several European countries.
Currently we are showing GCh. Riverlawn Exit of Aerie, Ch. Opal of Aerie, Ch. Galena of Aerie, Jeepers of Aerie and Echo of Aerie, to mention a few.
Winning the 2013 IWCA national specialty with Ch. Hound Hill Valley of Aerie, bred by Aerie and owned by Donna Brown, Doug Marx and Amy Benjamin. Left to right: breeder-judge Jocelyne Gagné (Starkeeper), Canada; handler Amy Benjamin. Donna Brown, Doug Marx and Pat Cobb, IWCA President. Photo Mindy Levin.
Q: How many dogs do you keep at home? Approximately how many litters do you breed per year? Are you planning to maintain this level of activity?
A: We like to keep 15-20 dogs at home, but that number can sneak up on you. We breed about two litters a year and for now we plan to keep at that pace. We both work full time, so set-up, planning and coordination are key.
Q: Is it easy to find good homes for puppies? How do you screen puppy buyers? What is the average litter size in your breed? Terms for sales, co-ownerships, etc.? Is there an average price in your breed for a pet vs. show-quality puppy?
A: It is the best of times and the worst of times. We have more inquiries than we can keep up with. We try to screen the obvious people off the top. That would be those who want to have a big guard dog, saw one in a movie, want a pair for breeding, or a bitch to breed for the family experience. Most people who get a Wolfhound will always have one in their life, so second-time owners are prevalent and the easiest. We have met some of the nicest people you could ever know.
We have visitation/education days where we have a couple of families visit to learn about living with a giant Sighthound. It is not unusual for us to have a relationship with a family for a year or more before a puppy goes home with them. We sell to companion homes only with contracts that include spay/neuter requirements, limited registration and a lifetime return policy with no questions asked. We occasionally co-own breeding and show stock with close friends and associates. Average price on the East Coast is $2,000.
GCh. Riverlawn Exit of Aerie relaxing at home in one of the paddocks.
Q: Some claim it is possible to breed dogs for profit. Do you agree?
A: We see limitations to any sport when money becomes a driver. We believe we can ethically sell to companion homes and give people the wonderful experience of living with a Wolfhound. If our mortgage or car payment depended on puppy sales, I believe we would make completely different decisions than we currently make. We would breed every bitch, not just the healthiest, best specimens. We would ship puppies without meeting the owners. We would not answer the phone when there is a problem. We would not sleep at night either.
Q: What about health concerns in your breed? What do you test for?
A: Doug is the president of the Irish Wolfhound Foundation, which is the Irish Wolfhound organization that focuses on health, rescue and education. Doug and that board evaluate and award grants for studies and support for all of these issues. With the relatively short lifespan of this breed it is imperative that health concerns remain at the forefront of our focus. We do basic testing and additional testing in some lines.
Q: If you have kennel facilities, please describe them. Do you have property where the dogs can run? What is your daily kennel routine? Do you have kennel help?
A: Our property is adjacent to 8,000 acres of preserved land. This provides a buffer for any future development. We have 12 acres fenced with page wire and rider board for the dogs. We have our house/barn in the middle of the property, which is a big field edged by woods. Our house and barn are connected. When you walk out of our back door you are in what is a stable block, which includes a large wash-rack in the middle and six stalls forming somewhat of a “U” around the wash stall and back door. To the right is a large room for feeding and whelping. At one end of this room is a commercial, stainless-steel sink for feeding, with large overhead storage for medications.
Whelping and feeding room.
The adults live like a hunting pack of foxhounds. They have bright and airy stalls with wooden boxes filled with fresh timothy hay. Their stalls are connected to grassy paddocks. We generally have three bitches and one male in each pack. We have Dutch doors to let sun and air in as appropriate and can shut everything up for cold winter nights. We have no heat or air-conditioning and believe the dogs are healthier for it. We utilize ceiling fans and heat lamps as necessary.
We have no kennel help. We feed twice a day, where every dog gets fed individually and is visually and physically evaluated during each feeding. Every day each smaller pack gets to run in the big field, which is kept rough at one end for hunting. They regularly take down prey, such as pheasant, ground hogs and deer. We prefer to keep them, so that they have an opportunity to check out the property perimeter and hunt every day. We believe this not only makes for a healthy dog, but it makes them a little edgier as a show dog.
Older dogs have the option of sleeping in the house, but usually end up demanding to go out.
Q: How many dog shows do you go to per year? How do you select those shows?
A: We concentrate our resources on specialties, Hound shows and supported entries in the U.S. and Canada. We attend fewer all-breed shows than in past years. We used to spend almost every weekend at all-breed shows when Sam was actively showing, using that time to glean knowledge from him about all things dog show. Now we attend approximately 15 to 20 all-breed shows a year.
Q: Do you handle your own dogs or do you employ a handler?
A: We handle our own dogs and hope that our breed remains a breeder/ owner/handler breed. Isn’t that the point? If someone has a health issue and is unable to show their own dogs a handler is important. Hiring a handler to drag a Wolfhound around the country, so you can be “top” Wolfhound is against what we believe in.
Ch. Hound Hill Vale of Aerie. Recently finished, she represents five generations of Aerie hounds.
Q: If you could change a thing about the current dog-show scene, what would it be?
A: Let us tell you what we miss. We miss when most of the people at the show understood the purpose of a dog show: an exhibition of a breeder’s work and dedication. We miss when judges actually seemed to enjoy judging the classes and didn’t look around the show site to see who is there. We miss Groups where a regular person had a chance and dogs were judged as breeding stock and not by their point standings.
Q: Do you have any time for any activities other than dogs?
A: We both grew up foxhunting and showing horses. We have had racehorses, flat and timber (racing over solid wooden fences), driving ponies and combined training horses. I used to judge horse shows and have judged sweepstakes at several Wolfhound specialties, including our national. We belong to, and are active in, the Irish Wolfhound Association of the Delaware Valley, Irish Wolfhound Foundation, Irish Wolfhound Club of America and Chester Valley Kennel Club. We both work in Delaware state government.
Our basic philosophical approach is one of common sense and old-fashioned animal husbandry that seems so elusive these days. We believe our animals should be raised to mimic their true calling as much as is practical in today’s world. We are fortunate enough to have been able to accomplish this.
Ch. Opal of Aerie winning a Specialty BIS in Quebec, Canada, under breeder-judge Dagmar Kenis Pordham (Solstrand) from the U.K.