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David Jones and John DeMott with three generations of
Saighton's spaniels: Seeker, Sapphire, Spitfire, Shield, and Scout.

David Jones was coming down the outside edge of the woods. When we got to the end of the drive, David came over to me and said, "I don't know where Talbot is. He must have walked off and left Spitfire. Spitfire is sitting by herself in the pasture amongst the guns. Pheasants have dropped all around her and she is just sitting there waiting for someone to tell her to retrieve the birds."

I often felt her brain didn't operate quite like the typical canine brain. Spitfire became quite well known amongst the regular guns. Often they would come down to the kennels the evening before their first day's shoot. Nearly every one of them would say something like, "Hi John. Is Spitfire ok? I hope you can bring her out tomorrow."

Spitfire seemed to have limitless endurance for work. The first full season I worked Spitfire we had shooting parties six days a week from mid-October until the end of January. Besides shooting pheasants from 9:00am to 4:00pm everyday, there would also be three or four evening duck flights, and one or two morning flights each week. Spitfire would be on all the flights and out all day, everyday, in between. At lunchtime, I would put her in the Lodge. I would put the morning dogs into their kennels and do whatever chores needed doing. Spitfire would be sleeping in her basket while I ate lunch. I would think to myself, "She must be exhausted. I will leave her in this afternoon." As I got up to get fresh dogs for the afternoon shooting, Spitfire would spring to life and be at the door before me. There was no way she would let me go without her. While she was working she always acted as if she was a fresh dog. At night she would collapse in seemingly total exhaustion. I just didn't think it was possible for one dog to do so much work day after day for so long.

"Spitfire seemed to have the ability to figure out how to do things, without being taught how to do it."

I retired Spitfire from regular work when she was ten or eleven years old. One incident made me make that decision. There had been a morning flight for geese on the lake. I had not gone on it for some reason. One of the under keepers came to the kennels while I was doing the morning chores, and asked if I could bring Spitfire to retrieve a couple of geese. It was a very cold morning. The lake was about to start freezing. Two geese were pointed out to me. They had floated across the main body of water and were floating amongst the reeds. They were retrieves of maybe 90 and 120 yards. I sent Spitfire on the line for the first goose. She swam straight to it. She was quite cold when she got back, but went for the second goose strongly. When she was about 30 yards from the goose I noticed her swimming was slowing down. As she turned to come back with the goose she started floundering. Immediately I thought she was suffering from hypothermia and was going to drown. I breathed a tremendous sigh of relief when she started swimming normally again. Her legs had got tangled up with one of the wings. By the time she got to the shore she was moving very slowly. I realised then that if I kept asking Spitfire to do these sorts of things, one day I would send her into a lake or bog and she might not come back. No doubt her spirit was willing, but her body may no longer be able to handle it. After that I would occasionally take her out for an afternoon as a treat, but I never worked her hard again.
Spitfire on holiday, highest point on the Exmoor.

Even in her thirteenth year I would take her to the beach with the young dogs. I would give the young dogs dummy retrieves in the sea. If they lost the dummy bobbing in the waves and moving with the currents, I would send Spitfire before it got too far out to sea to save loosing the dummy. Sometimes while Spitfire was heading out to sea one of the young dogs would get the dummy and come back in. Spitfire was pretty deaf now. I couldn't whistle her back and she would be heading out to sea: next stop Ireland. The only way I could get her to come back without the dummy was to start walking away off the beach with the other dogs. Eventually Spitfire would look back, see us walking away, and come in.

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