Boykin Chief by Dan Reel
My mind is racing and at the same time it's a blur as I make my way to the presentation podium to accept the National Open Championship award on behalf of my Boykin spaniel, Saint Thomas Chief. As I hug my wife Susan, we are overcome with emotion at what is the pinnacle of four years of hard work, persistence, a little luck and a little brown dog. Our baby "Chief" was born March 17, 2006, Saint Patrick's Day. In Savannah, Georgia, our home, this is the biggest holiday of the year, hence the Saint portion of his name. Thomas comes from a former in-law (now an outlaw), and Chief was my Dad's nickname and the whole reason we got here in the first place.
I grew up in North Carolina on a cattle farm with plenty of land to roam and play. My Grandfather, Dan Sr., father, Dan Jr. and myself Dan III worked the land and farm. We also enjoyed hunting, mostly squirrels, quail and waterfowl. The most memorable times were spent in the field chasing game behind working dogs. Most of our dogs were mixed breeds until we got serious and obtained a couple of English Setters, great dogs. Nothing better, until one day in the late 70's, my Dad brought home a strange looking dog he called a Boykin spaniel. He said that this dog could hunt upland as well as waterfowl. Not much of a pointing dog but he did like water and was good on ducks. What a fireplug, this dog went full speed all the time. The family went on to raise several litters keeping one pup named Beau, who had exceptional hunting abilities. I remember taking this seven month old pup into a beaver dam wood duck pond. This wet shivering pup was not too sure about all this, especially when all the shooting started. Then, one lone duck came flying straight in and Beau watched in anticipation as my Dad fired and dropped him within ten yards of the pup. I saw the light come on in Beau's eyes and he went from a pup to a hunting dog at that instance. Another time, I dropped a wounded duck near the beaver lodge, the deepest part of the pond. After several excruciating minutes of calling Beau, who had disappeared going after the prize, which seemed like an eternity, he finally comes swimming back with just a wing. Apparently, the duck was lodged in the lodge and Beau was not coming back empty handed. We spent many an hour in that pond, but none were more memorable.
Beau was sent off to a professional trainer friend for the basics and came back ready to work. We entered several Boykin Spaniel National Field Trials and were amazed at the quality of the dogs. We watched a young lady handle a Boykin to a blind, I didn't even know that a dog could be handled. Life goes on and we became more focused on raising kids rather than puppies. Hunting became less of a part of my life but rather an occasional occurrence. My Dad unexpectedly passed away in 1991, and the Boykins soon disappeared from our homes.
Moving to Savannah, my career became the focus, with no time for a dog. Finally, I met my current wife Susan, also a dog lover. She had two mixed breeds, a Scottish terrier and a lab and when these two passed, it was my turn to pick a dog. I immediately started looking for a Boykin. After much research, we found a respected breeder and brought home Chief. He was perfect, smarter than I remembered. He was retrieving soft toys and socks at seven weeks of age. If hunting was all we were going to do with this pup what were we to do with him the rest of the year? Well Chief was about to fill us in on that.
A friend suggested that we enter a hunt test. Arriving at the test grounds with this four month old pup, we were informed to our horror that they would be using real ducks. Chief had never seen a real duck and had only retrieved socks, bumpers and soft toys. Needless to say it wasn't a pretty sight. He ran out to the first land mark with such enthusiasm, we knew he was going to grab up the duck and bring it directly back. Wrong! He did pick it up but immediately spit it out and looked back at me as if to say, where is the bumper? He hunted diligently for the bumper or toy only to return empty handed. I was so embarrassed. But as people in the dog world know, this is a game of humility. I received a lot of encouragement that day from owners whose dogs performed similar feats of ineptness. I was talked into running the water series that afternoon. Between the land and the water series Chief was introduced to ducks, off premises, of course. During the first mark of the water series, Chief grabbed the duck's wing and was on his way back with his first official retrieve, when we all were distracted by a loud commotion including screams of a derogatory nature. Apparently, a new handler's dog did not perform as expected and was being somewhat belligerent while being placed back into his crate in the back of the truck. The dog tried to escape and the handler decided to apply some discipline by forcing the dog into the truck bed. The handler dislocated his shoulder in the process but most notably caught the eye and subsequent rage of a lady by-stander. As the handler was rolling around on the ground in agony, the lady began to tell him what kind of heritage he came from in such a way that most witnesses thought they were married, which was not the case. In the mean time, the belligerent dog had made his way down to the water and proceeded to swim out and take the prize duck away from Chief. This was our first experience at a hunt test.
All was not lost; we made a lot of new friends... misery loves company. One such friend was Mark, who was running a rather large black lab puppy. During the water series, Mark knelt down at the edge and sent the pup for his first water retrieve. This rather large puppy decided it would be more fun to play with his owner instead, so he jumped on Mark pushing him into and under the water. The totally demoralized and half drowned owner quietly leashed his extremely happy pup and worked his way back through the hysterical gallery. I tell this to say that the pup that tried to drown his owner was GRHRCH UH Big Black Dude II, at one time the only Grand Hunting Retriever Champion in the State of South Carolina and Chief's training partner from that day forward.
Since the first competition, this little brown dog has amazed everyone, but mostly me. His unique combination of intelligence, hunting instincts and physical skills gave him a reputation before I even knew we had anything to brag about. I was introduced to Richard Gardner at a hunt test and his very first comment to me was "You have cost me a lot of money." He went on to elaborate how he and his dog Bogey had been traveling all over the country chasing Chief's records. What records? I was unaware of any records that Chief possessed. Richard, who has little time for someone else talking, informed me that Chief was the youngest Boykin spaniel to achieve his Started Title, Hunt Retriever Title and was well on his way to becoming the youngest spaniel of any type to receive his Champion Title in HRC (Hunt Retriever Club). He also took 2nd place in the BSS Nationals in the open class at just over two years of age and he is the youngest spaniel ever to achieve the 500 points club of HRC and compete in the UKC International Grand Retrieving competition.
As I reminisce about Chief's phenomenal run and long list of accomplishments over 4 years, I am jolted back to reality by the announcement that the open ribbons are being awarded. Two years earlier, we were hoping for a JAM (Judges Award of Merit). When third place was called and no ribbon, we were slightly disappointed until they called Chief's name for 2nd place. How could a two year old dog finish 2nd at the Nationals? But our little brown dog did. The following year he slipped back to 3rd place, but this year he had a solid run. When the third place dog was called, only Chief and Mule were left. The judge announced that the 2nd place dog was Just Ducky Just for Kicks (Mule). The 2010 National Open Championship belonged to Saint Thomas Chief. It is impossible to describe the mix of pride, joy, accomplishment and satisfaction at reaching what seemed like such an unattainable goal only a few years ago. I hug my wife and we are both overcome with emotion. A friend once told me that "If you've never set a goal that brings fear into your heart, you are missing out on one of the great joys of life." The joy that night is what life is about. I draw wisdom and encouragement from my dad's memory and I still see the big Chief, my dad, smiling deviously down on me and the little Chief. I think the best is yet to come for the Boykin Chief.
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