I own a lot of dogs. It's sort of an addiction. Every year I tell my wife I'll cut back. But I don't.
In high school in the mid-'60s, I hunted and competed with Irish setters. I was 16 years old. I got into beagles, too, for cottontail hunting, and at one point had 15 of them. I was a senior in high school when I got my first bluetick hound for fox and coon hunting. I still run hounds, but today use them for coyotes and bears.
When you have dogs, things happen. I own a few Labradors for field trialing and for hunting, and one fall I took one to North Dakota to hunt ducks. He was coming back from a retrieve and was hit by a pickup going 70 miles an hour. He survived. We X-rayed him when we got home. He had no broken bones, and we ran him in field trials two more years.
But it's English setters I work with most, and I've bred the same line since 1967. In 1982, I had a puppy from that line named Houston. I had quit trialing by then because I didn't have time. But Houston was a great dog, and one spring, when I went to breed him using frozen semen, I bought 13 female setters from around the country, looking for good mates.
Out of one of those breedings came a bitch named Belle, which was my best dog ever. Unfortunately, I put her down this spring. She had bone cancer and was 10 years old.
Belle was exceptional even as a puppy, and when she was 7 months old I sent her to Jerry Kolter, a professional trainer from Sandstone, Minnesota. With Jerry handling her, she won the Minnesota Grouse Dog Championship and the Wisconsin Grouse Dog Championship on back-to-back weekends. One stake had 58 dogs, the other, 62.
Belle also ran in the Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Championship Invitational twice, and was runner-up once.
Belle's excessive speed made her great. She ran like greased lightning. She also had great style, was beautiful on point and could find birds when other dogs couldn't.
As a breeder, you want to produce great bird dogs in every litter. But you're always hoping the exceptional ones come along, too.
Like Belle. Speed. Style. A nose for birds. Dogs that have it all.
Paul Hauge is a dentist living near Centuria, Wis.