Vickroy: Frankfort bar owner has top-rated setter in country
By Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy February 4, 2013 6:48PM
Don Keane's dog Betsy jumps up for some attention as he displays some of his other dogs' many awards at his business, Stray Bar in Frankfort, Illinois, Thursday, January 31, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 6, 2013 6:06AM
Don Keane’s mom wouldn’t let him have a dog when he was a kid.
But that didn’t stop him from fancying Irish setters.
“I’ve always loved these dogs,” said Keane, who today owns both Stray Bar in Frankfort and the top rated Irish setter in the country.
In fact, Keane has owned several champion Irish setters in the 40 years that he has been keeping them as pets, often two to three at a time. He has an impressive assortment of ribbons, trophies and certificates to prove it.
Right now, Amy, 3 years, and Betsy, 22 months, live with him and his wife Nancy, and are frequent visitors at Stray Bar, a stylish, swanky drinking establishment. The girls’ father, Reign, is in training in New York.
Reign is expected to win Best in Breed at both the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York next week and the International Kennel Club dog show at McCormick Place later this month.
“He’s living the life right now,” Keane said. “He’s on the road 47 weeks out of the year. He was just on a jet to California.”
Reign currently stays with his handlers, Jeffrey and Rebecca Arch, who live in Buffalo, New York. Keane used to handle and train his own dogs but he says that’s a young person’s job. “Once I got to 60, it was just too hard, like doing wind sprints all day.”
Irish setters, he said, are very active. The Westminster folks describe them as “standing 27 inches at the shoulder and having a rollicking personality” that requires patience on the part of their owners.
Keane laughs at the description and adds, “A good sense of humor is also needed. They have a neat personality among dogs. They’re happy-go-lucky. They love life. They’re just like me.”
Indeed, while Keane chats about his precious pets, Amy and Betsy trot up and down the aisles of the bar, pausing only for reassuring strokes from visitors.
Keane has been showing his dogs for 20 years. Reign and his offspring represent a long lineage of champion setters. Reign’s mother, Windy, won Best of Breed a few years ago at Westminster. There were earlier champions as well.
“At some point, one of these girls,” Keane said, stroking Betsy’s coat, “will go on to represent their breed as well.”
Amy might be living a champion’s lifestyle, but her father keeps beating her out, he said, chuckling.
Keane’s hobby is a pricey investment. Last year, he dropped $40,000 on training and competitions.
“But it’s also one of the best experiences ever,” he said, adding that he has taken his dogs all over the country, as well as to competitions in Ireland and the Netherlands. “They’re the most beautiful dogs.”
Dogs that compete at Westminster and other competitions are given elaborate names for American Kennel Club identification purposes, he said. Reign is Northwinds First Reign, identifying the kennel from which he came. When they compete, Amy becomes Northwinds Styled Dreams and Betsy gets named Northwinds Reign of a Queen.
A big factor in how the dogs place in a show is the number of points they’ve amassed from previous contests. With more than 1,200 points, Reign has nearly double that of his closest competitor. But much also depends on how the dogs perform in the competition, Keane said.
“They have to look good, and they have to move the way they were bred to move,” he said.
A dog needs to win at least two “majors,” a top score in a class competition, to earn a champion title.
“It’s complicated, like any specialty sport, and this is without a doubt a sport,” Keane said.
Sporting dogs, including Irish setters, can run for six to eight hours at a time.
Keane, a retired vice president of a mechanical contracting firm, opened Stray Bar two years ago.
“I wanted to open up a little neighborhood bar where I could bring my dogs,” he said.
Stray Bar represents an amalgam of Keane’s greatest interests. If he still had his boat, which he once considered using for dog/owner cruises, he would have the perfect trifecta, he said.
Keane welcomes the canine companions of his patrons as well. As long as food is not being served, dogs are welcome inside the bar, he said, and they’re welcome all the time on the patio when weather allows.
A lot of people take him up on that. He has a group of women who come by late on Saturday nights with their pets. They sit in one of the sofa areas. In summer, dog walkers stop by regularly on weekend afternoons to have a cocktail or two. Keane provides water bowls and snacks for their pets.
Keane is a member of the Western Irish Setters Club and the Irish Setters Club of America. He is also an advocate for rescue dogs and responsible pet ownership. He encourages prospective pet owners to adopt from a shelter and sponsors a yearly fundraiser for the Peoples Animal Welfare Society in Tinley Park.
If you’re thinking about bringing a dog into your home for the first time, Keane suggests first attending the IKC dog show, where prospective owners can meet breeders and learn about a breed’s personality traits.
“It’s a good way to learn what to expect from different dogs,” he said.
If you’d like to know more about Irish setters, stop by the Stray Bar. Keane was in his 20s when he got his first Irish setter.
“I set my sights on these dogs from day one,” he said. “I’ve never been sorry.”
Stray Dog is at 17 Old Frankfort Way, Frankfort; (815) 806-7185
The 2013 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is Feb. 11 and 12 in New York. For more information, visit www.westminsterkennelclub.org/
The 2013 International Dog Show of Chicago is Feb. 23 and 24 at McCormick Place. For more information, visit www.ikcdogshow.com/