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Islander named best setter breeder

Melissa Newman has been breeding English setters for 17 years. Here with three of her champion dogs, Zion, Teakoa and Sahara, at Setter Ridge Kennel in Clinton. She was named AKC Champion Breeder of the year for sporting dogs.  - Gayle Saran
Melissa Newman has been breeding English setters for 17 years. Here with three of her champion dogs, Zion, Teakoa and Sahara, at Setter Ridge Kennel in Clinton. She was named AKC Champion Breeder of the year for sporting dogs.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Ask champion dog breeders where Clinton, Wash., is and they will say that it's home to Melissa Newman and about 24 English setters.

Newman, with her husband Paul, has put Clinton on the map for a number of people around the world by breeding world class, champion show and field trial dogs. Newman's dogs won "Best in Breed" at the Westminster Dog Show in 1994, 1996 and 1997, perhaps the most significant accomplishment in the dog breeding world.

This month, Newman was named AKC Breeder of the Year in the sporting dogs class. She is one of seven winners, each representing a different class of dog.

"This is really an honor for us because it is the first year the award has been given," Newman said.

She is the only West Coast breeder selected to be among the seven winners. Newman's dogs have received over 124 awards for best in show, national specialty and field trials. Dogs from her kennel, Setter Ridge, live in 20 different countries and almost every state.

Newman's love of English swetters began when she was 18. She decided she wanted a beautiful upland pointing dog with "tons of coat." She was committed to a type of dog that could win "best in show" in the ring and that could hunt in the field.

English setters are derived from a medieval hunting dog, the setting spaniel, which was trained to find birds and crouch or lie down -- or "set" - so a net could be thrown over both the birds and the dog. Well-bred English setters have a calm, friendly, gentle, affectionate temperament and a competitive hunting drive.

Newman's appreciation for hunting dogs began when she started hunting game birds with her father when she was 8 years old. By the time she was 18, she knew she wanted English setters.

"I chose them because they are so beautiful, classic. And to watch them in the field, doing what they are bred for, is just wonderful," Newman said.

The most famous of those is a sire who still reigns supreme in the breed, with eight all-breed "best in show" awards and a legacy in his progeny of 124 American champions. He is also the top producing English setter of all time.

Sharon Edwards, a Langley-area Labrador breeder, said Newman represents the best of what dog breeders do.

"Most of us are proud to compete on a local level and do what we can locally, but Melissa and her dogs have competed on an international level," she said.

But Newman's dogs are more than show animals. They are also family pets enjoyed by the Newman's children, daughter Micah, 11, and sons Montana, 7, and Hunter, 3. They help care for the dogs and participate in some junior dog events and 4-H.

Newman says the English setter is a gentle dog that requires a soft hand.

"If someone wants an English setter to show, I want them to understand that these are soft dogs," she said. "You can't push them too hard or too fast."

Newman does not, something evidenced by how well her dogs have shown over the years. Winning a best breeder award is a recognition of the work she has done.

"This is far beyond my wildest dreams," Newman said. "I am thrilled that I will be representing the Sporting Group and our wonderful breed."

According to a press release from the American Kennel Club, Newman and the other six winners this year are examples of breeders who have dedicated their lives to improving the health, temperament and quality of purebred dogs.

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