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Continued: Anderson: Pheasant Fest kicked off with pooches on parade

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 16, 2013 - 9:44 PM

Love strolled through the Minneapolis Convention Center on Friday, four feet accompanied by two, tethered by leashes.

Called the Bird Dog Parade, the furry conga line featured scores of swaggering dogs and smiling masters and kicked off Pheasants Forever's annual Pheasant Fest.

Exhibited were all manner of canines whose love for their owners was matched only by their adoration for pheasants on the wing -- and, ultimately, in their mouths.

Breeds featured were many, among them large Munsterlanders, small Munsterlanders, Italiano Spinones, English setters, Weimaraners and, of course, Labrador retrievers, yellow, black and chocolate.

Each strutted in a nose-to-tail procession before climbing onto a Convention Center stage to be introduced as fur-clad royalty.

Applause rang out as each dog's lineage and rooster-finding aplomb were ballyhooed.

And tails wagged.

This year's Pheasant Fest -- which moves from city to city each year -- marks the 30th anniversary of Pheasants Forever, which was founded in St. Paul and is headquartered in White Bear Lake.

Open to the public, the festival concludes its three-day Convention Center run Sunday, with an expected attendance of 30,000. Highlights include more than 300 exhibitors, along with seminars on habitat development, wild game cooking and, of course, dog training, among others.

"I've made every Bird Dog Parade, all seven of them, and so has Gordon," said Joe Strang of Cascade, Iowa.

Alongside Strang, a regal-appearing 12-year-old yellow Lab -- that would be Gordon, sire of 396 puppies -- nodded virally.

A member of the Twin Rivers (Iowa) Chapter of Pheasants Forever, Strang also was accompanied by two of Gordon's offspring, Frankie and Ted.

Traveling farther still to strut their stuff were Todd Wirthlin of Kalispell, Mont., and his Pudelpointer, Tana Montana.

"I had Labs most of my life, trained them and field-trialed them, but my wife wanted a dog that didn't shed," Wirthlin said. "So I got on the Internet and did some research and ended up buying Tana from a breeder in the San Francisco Bay Area. She's terrific."

Like most -- if not all -- participants in the Bird Dog Parade, Wirthlin is a serious bird hunter. He takes two weeks off every October to scour the Dakotas and Montana for pheasants.

"Then I hunt big game," he said.

The Pudelpointer, Wirthlin added, is a versatile dog developed in Germany in the 1800s. Pudelpointers point, retrieve on land and water, and, he said, are quiet and gentle at home.

"I took a chance, because the first live Pudelpointer I ever saw was this one when she was shipped to me," Wirthlin said. "But she's been great."

Dave Belisle also made a long journey to the Bird Dog Parade, accompanied by Prince, a 7-year-old red setter, as well as Prince's 9-month-old son, Marley.

Belisle is a retired school teacher from Swartz Creek, Mich., who spends three months each fall guiding hunters in South Dakota.

"Back in the '70s, the limit for pheasants in Michigan was two daily, with a 10-day season," Belisle said. "At the time, there were places to hunt and I could get my birds. That's not so true anymore, so I do my hunting in South Dakota."

Red setters, Belisle noted, were developed in the 1930s.

"A group of people got together who wanted to keep the hunting lines of Irish setters, not the show lines, and they did that, calling them 'red' setters," he said. "But the AKC [American Kennel Club] wouldn't recognize them, so red setters have their own registry."

Friday's pageant was the fifth for Belisle, who has attended previous Fests in Madison, Wis., Des Moines, Omaha and Kansas City, Mo.

"Look," he said. "If everyone had the same breed of dog, it would be really boring. I had Irish setters back in the '70s. Then in 1994 I bought a red setter, and I've been strictly red setters ever since."

Distinct among breeds in Friday's procession were a pair of Italiano Spinones owned by Nancy Schultz of Wayzata.

Schultz said she and a group of friends hunt pheasants over Lucci and Gretta each fall in North Dakota.

Also in the procession, among many others, were Smoke, a 17-month-old English cocker, and his owner, Kevin Gaddie of Fergus Falls; Marley, a golden retriever owned by Jim Thomas of Mankato; and Valborg, a standard poodle owned by Pheasants Forever chairman Bob Larson of Minnetonka.

Grand marshall of the convoy was Raven, whose owner, Ron Schara, has registered his dog as both a Labrador retriever and a cash cow.

But perhaps no attending pooch was so simultaneously laid back and cocksure as Gordon, the buoyant yellow Lab owned by Strang.

"Gordon and I have had so much fun at previous Pheasant Fests and met so many nice people that a couple of years ago I decided to hold a 'Gordon Fest,' " Strang said.

"Actually, I've held two. I invite all of his puppies, all 396 of them, along with his grandpuppies and past girlfriends. We hold it at a club near my home that has a 4-acre pond.

"Last year, 107 of his puppies showed up, 16 of his grandpuppies and seven girlfriends. All afternoon the dogs ran around off leash and swam in the pond.

"At the end, I said to everyone -- Gordon was alongside me -- I said, 'Take a look at this old dog and all the people he has brought together.'

"I guess that's why I also come to the Bird Dog Parade. For the dogs. But also for the people."

Dennis Anderson •  danderson@startribune.com

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