Maquoketa has a new champion, and he’s a pioneer for his breed.

Rubywood Saint Soulfully Iron Hill is only the fifth-ever “fox red” Labrador to become an American Kennel Club champion.

Chris Shanahan of Iron Hill Retrievers breeds and raises Labradors and golden retrievers. “Fox red” is technically a variation of dark yellow Labrador, reminiscent of the color people associate with an Irish setter.

Meeting Saint, the most noticeable thing isn’t his pedigree, his conformation or even his color, however. The most noticeable thing about him is his temperament.

Saint is quite mellow. He’s friendly, without the slightest bit of the over-active energy of some Labs. He’s happy to sit on your feet and get petted and is calm with strangers.

Saint gets a little sillier with his owners at home, Chris says, even licking her husband Ron Shanahan’s head if he’s been gone for a long day. In public, he’s on perfect behavior.

The Labrador world is full of color politics. Purebred Labs can be black, chocolate or yellow, and occasionally even judges need to be educated that “fox red” is an acceptable variation of yellow in the breed.

Shanahan’s website includes a history of “fox red” Labs, which were the first yellow Labs but fell out of fashion as lighter Labs became popular.

Dogs earn the champion moniker

by collecting points over a number of shows, with larger shows garnering the dog more points. It can be an expensive investment for a breeder, who may send a dog to a professional handler and take the dog to shows around the country.

Veteran handler Erin Hall showed Saint at his final win. Hall has been showing for more than 50 years, starting as a very small child.

“She wants to make history with fox reds,” Shanahan said. “She’s very well-known in the dog world. We’re honored that she wants to show for us.”

It’s a small but wide world of fox red Labs. Saint was born in Latvia and was produced by Regina Rubina of RubyWoodLabs. Both his parents are American, and his dad’s frozen semen was shipped to Germany. Saint’s grandpa, Keepsake’s Cajun, was also a fox red champion.

Long term, Shanahan hopes that Saint is the first of many fox red champions to come from Iron Hill. 

“We want to breed the best dogs we can, and we want to breed more champions,” she said.

Shanahan has been breeding dogs since 2003. She said she “fell in love” with the eye-catching red color, and she hopes Iron Hill can play a prominent role in the color’s growth in the Lab world.  

Next up, they’re taking dogs to the huge Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac show in April. Iron Hill Labs are “English-style,” which tend to be a little shorter and stockier than some of the Labs you might see on the street.

Iron Hill has donated puppies to the Puppy Jake Foundation and has pledged toward Maquoketa Schools’ tentative therapy dog program.