Hampton kennel is one of the best in the country for French Brittany Spaniels
When he was a kid growing up on the edges of St. Paul, John Mooney had a neighbor whose dog made a habit of escaping its kennel and running the neighborhood. One year when Mooney was 8 and his brother, Bruce, was 12, they decided to take the dog, an American Brittany Spaniel, to the fields on the edge of town and train it to hunt.
The brothers never told the dog’s owner what they were doing — “I imagine that dog’s owner that fall was pretty happy,” John said — but the experience sparked a love of Brittany spaniels that has continued to this day. It’s a passion that has helped the brothers and their Hampton kennel become one of the best-known trainers of French Brittany spaniels in the country if not the world.
The brothers grew up with the American version of the Brittany spaniel, but in the early 90s they became disillusioned with the direction the breed was headed. So, they started taking trips to France to learn about the French version of the dog, known formally as the Epagneuls Bretons. They talked with some of the best breeders in France, learned how to pick the right dogs to produce the kinds of puppies they wanted and brought a few back to get started.
By 1999, John had retired from a 21-year career at Xcel Energy and gone full time with L’Escarbot Kennels. The business is named after the brothers’ grandmother, who moved from France to Canada.“It’s become a very famous name in this country,” John said. “I’m very proud to say that.”
The kennel has become famous enough that the map on the wall of John’s office has at least one pin in every state in the country, representing places where the brothers have sold dogs. It’s become successful enough they have been able to bring their dogs to field competitions in France and come home with top finishes.
The first time they brought a dog to a competition in France it was the first time any American dog had taken part in the field trials, which require the dogs to locate pheasants and stay still while hunters flush and shoot them. They came home with a second-place trophy. Their next trip, they earned a first, a second and a third. And on their most recent trip, taken last October, their dog earned two firsts and a third.
Most of the dogs L’Escarbot sells — 99.9 percent, John says — go to people who use them for hunting. But the dogs also make good family pets. Many of the owners send the dogs back after six months so John can complete their training. One owner in California recently sent his dogs back by private jet.
It’s the training John enjoys most.
“I get to go out there and I get to see what I produced,” he said. “I’m seeing dogs that are really friendly, good bird finders.”
They’re just the dogs he remembers from that year his neighbor’s dog got out.