Remembering Breeze..grieving the loss of a young dog.

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In my minds eye I can still see her. Trotting along the tramlines in front of me in the cornfield behind the house. I can feel her still warm fur when I buried my head in her coat that afternoon at the vets. Her gaze, the particular markings on her coat and her bark have all been engrained in my memory.

Breeze was born on January 16th 2011. I had planned this litter for a long time. Believing it to be Winnie’s last litter I looked around for a very special dog. A dog that would bring the unique package of temperament, trainability and good looks.I found it in Gunner.

After a lot of correspondence and mountains of paperwork  between the repro centers in the US and here in Ireland and the department of Agriculture and Customs the semen landed safely in Tipperary.

Winnie came in to season  a few months later and by five weeks post insemination it was obvious she was pregnant. I was ecstatic, I could hardly believe it had worked. All the time, effort and stress worrying about paperwork and whether the straws would get damaged in transit was worth it. Especially when I saw those four tiny puppies for the first time.


Just one bitch with her three brothers. One bitch was all I’d ever wanted from this litter. She was to be my little piece of Winnie and I don’t know whether it was because I knew, right from the start, that she would be staying with me or just because she was what I was looking for either way I fell for her the moment I met her.

Just like most girls who grow up with brothers Breeze was more than able to hold her own in the litter. Her brothers were a very relaxed trio and let her have her way, most of the time.She was the biggest in the litter at birth with the boys catching up once they were weaned.

The Summer arrived and Breeze was growing into a beautiful active young dog with an inquisitive mind. She was soft and gentle around Elly quite happily following her around the garden. She mixed easily with any dog that came to visit and stay, large or small. Like her mother she discovered her love of water and nothing pleased her more than wading through the waves at Julianstown beach.

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Just under six months.

In July we travelled to the annual CBRC club show . It was her first time to travel such long distances and she took it in her stride, relishing the long beach runs and country walks that are in abundant supply in the UK. On that occasion she was just short of six months , too young to compete at the show but she enjoyed the attention she got while sitting ringside.

In late August we took another trip across the water. This time to South Wales.It was a double weekend. We were to compete at a working event on the Saturday and attend the WKC championship show on the Sunday.It was a weekend that surpassed all my expectations. Breeze’s mother, Winnie and her half brother , Bertie had a phenomenol day by passing all three levels of WD, WDX and WDQ in one day. The next day Breeze made her show debut and at her very first show she won Best puppy in breed, her mother won RCC and her half brother Mossy won his first CC and BOB! It was a weekend we will treasure for a long time and never forget.


The Welsh Weekend. From left to right Mossy, Bertie, Breeze and Winnie.

Then things took a strange turn, Breeze got sick.

She came in from the garden one evening in early September. I thought there was an odd sound coming form her throat. She didn’t seem unduly distressed, no panting or coughing. I felt along her trachea and sure enough there was a definite lump. My first thoughts were that she’d been chewing sticks, she was just at that age. I took her into the vets that evening and like me the vet could feel the lump but wasn’t particularly concerned as Breeze wasn’t showing any signs of distress. She kept her in to sedate her and have a closer look at the lump.

A couple of hours later I received a phone call from the vets with news I was not expecting. Breeze had been sedated but the swelling, whatever it was, had closed around her larynx and prevented them from getting an airway!! Thankfully, on this occasion, the vet had just spent six months working in anaesthetics at our vet college and was eventually able to pass a tube meant for a cat down past the swelling. She was given antihistamines, steroids and antibiotics and kept for observation overnight. The lump never showed up to be anything conclusive. We assumed it to be a wasp sting as she’s been eating apples in the orchard and the wasps had been particularly aggressive last Summer.

In the weeks that followed, though, a recurring pattern started to emerge. on two further occasions Breeze presented with drooling, lethargy and difficulty breathing. Diagnosis of possible poisoning to a viral infection were the only things the vet could come up with.  Apart from a very slight rise in her white cell count and a low grade temperature nothing showed and  after 24 hours on antibiotics each time she would bounce back and be the normal young active dog we knew and loved.

After our third vet trip with nothing conclusive we changed vets and a bronchoscopy revealed that three-quarters of her chest cavity was filled with fluid. Where it was coming from and what was causing it remains a mystery to this day. My vet’s main priority was to remove the fluid as quickly as possible. At last I felt relief as we had some sort of a diagnosis to guide us with possible treatment.

Alas it was not to be and two days later I lifted the phone to the vet to be told that Breeze had passed away. Until the final hours before her death she gave absolutely no indication as to how sick she really was.

between visits to the vets she competed.

I have grown up with dogs and loved and lost many through out my life. Just the previous February I had lost my beautiful hunting companion Ria at the age of ten years old and even though I grieved her loss I could look back on her life and know she’d had a full and happy one but Breeze’s death affected me more than any other dog I’d ever lost. I went through the full rigours of grief. Questioning myself again and again as to whether I’d done enough. Could I , should I have spotted something earlier. I was angry at the junior vet for being so dismissive. I felt that I had let Breeze down by not doing the best by her but most of all I just missed her. The hardest thing in the weeks and months that followed was moving forward as everything in the near and distant future had my plans for Breeze worked into it.

I remember going to the first show I had entered just a couple of weeks after she died. Opening up the letter with her number and name on it was one of the most difficult things I’d had to do. I wore her number that day, under Mossy’s. I remember bursting into tears when an aquaintance asked me how the puppies were doing. Poor girl didn’t know what to do, I’ve since apologised.

Time is a great healer and life has a funny way of dragging you along with it. Sometimes, rather reluctantly. Winnie came into season . Des and I then had to make one of the most difficult decisions we’ve ever had to make regarding the dogs. This bitch who had given us so much in her life could we ask her one more time to produce a litter of puppies? It wasn’t that she wasn’t fit and able it was more to do with the fact that after losing two dogs in one year we were terrified of losing Winnie also. We also knew this would be her last oppurtunity to have a litter of puppies and the thoughts of letting that pass and later regretting it made our decision for us.

And so the story has come full circle. The last of the C litter puppies goes to his new home tomorrow and we have been blessed with a beautiful little girl puppy whom we’ve called ‘Uisce’ meaning water.

My memories of Breeze are still fresh and sometimes she floats across my mind so unexpectadly it makes me catch my breath. I wonder what she’d be like now. How she’d have gotten through her first Winter as a working dog and how she’d have developed as a show dog. I still miss her but my memory of her is very specific to her and I am grateful that Uisce , so far, is very different.I’m looking forward now to sharing a whole new set of adventures with her.


Retriever training with Mr Paul Toal Altiquin Labradors

I have known Paul since I became involved in gundogs over a decade ago and I’ve always admired his calm approach when working his dogs.

Colum and I have reached a point now where we realise that if we want to progress our dogs we need to improve our handling skills and not just merely rely on luck for the dogs to find the dummy. Both of us are aware that we fell short of the standard at the last working test.With that in mind we were able to gather a small group of four and booked Paul for an afternoon of training at Lough Ennell.

Our group comprised of a flatcoated retriever, a golden retriever, a curly coated retriever and a chesapeake…all working dogs attempting to play the summer gundog games.

Paul started the session with the very basics . Tips for tightening up on heelwork and steadiness.These are things I tend to get lazy about preferring to focus on lining and blinds but it’s often the small things that lose the most marks in a working test.

The next aspect was most interesting as I subsequently was told the same thing by another trainer last weekend. When teaching the hunt up command I had traditionally just introduced the whistle when the dog put its head down on a marked retrieve and worked it from there. Now retrievers are being taught to hunt up in a quartering style, like a spaniel. It’s much more specific and much more efficient. The real beauty of it is that Bertie loves this game. Already I’m seeing an improvement in his attitude to the whistle as it’s not being used to nag him but to steer him.

Moving onto improving marking skills , again he showed us some wonderful ways to encourage our dogs to mark better, to succeed and build confidence. All just little things that can make a huge difference to our dogs.

We finished the session with blind work . Again incorrect use of the whistle appeared to be one of our main problems when handling our dogs but something that was so simple to correct. Remembering to use the whistle as an aid rather than  a corrector.

I think the most important thing I gained from the afternoon was that there is always scope for learning and that retriever training is progressing and moving all the time. Paul has a very open minded and patient approach to his training which works well when dealing with novice handlers and dogs. As he worked with us that afternoon he gave a structure with which we can carry forward to our training sessions in the next few weeks.We will most certainly be calling on him again before the end of the Summer.

In praise of the working gundog.

This is a story in praise of the working gundog. We all know them and of them. They are the foot soldiers of the gundog world. The ninety-nine per centers that are owned by Tom, Dick and Harry who regale us with their dogs’ exploits. We smile indulgently but smugly choose to only half believe the owners biased opinion of their ‘fantastic’ working gundog.

We may enquire as to whether this superb dog has any field trial awards or even been placed in a working test? If the answer is ‘no’ then that is all many of us want to or are interested in knowing.

I have one of these working gundogs. His name is Chester. He is a Chesapeake. I have had dogs before him and have had dogs since him but none could or can equal his skill as a gamefinding and pure working gundog. His  real talents never lay in the competition field although he has had his fair share of success there also in working tests. As a field trialling dog he was too noisy. A real shame as he is a fantastic handling dog with the softest of mouths. Both of which he has passed onto his progeny.

This year will be his tenth shooting season. He has never missed one due to injury and as can be expected there are many tales and adventures I could share of our Winters’ together.

Today , though, I want to tell you a story of a day Des took Chester when he went shooting along the shores of the Shannon.

It was the 10th of January 2009. Des had been asked to join a friend of ours, Pat, and three of his friends for a morning’s decoying on the Shannon. It was a cold one, frost lay heavy on the ground and the edges and shallows of the river were iced up where they spread out the decoys. The temperature was well below freezing. For one reason or another Chester was the only dog there that morning. The thing about decoying is that you never really know what to expect. It could be a slow morning. The likelihood was that this particular morning was expected to be, as it was mid January and by that time in the shooting season calender the Shannon Basin is generally well plundered. One dog should have been more than adequate.

The boys settled down and waited. As daylight dawned the action began and continued for several hours until a halt was called at about mid-day. Bird after bird had to be retrieved from the icy waters. Again and again the chesapeake hunted for and found each bird brought down. Many times having to swim through ice and rushes to find wounded birds. It was so cold that although Chester initially waited in the water for each retrieve, he had to be moved on to a clump of rushes to avoid the risk of hypothermia. In the end the bag was 47 duck, a mix of Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon, Pintail, and Gadwall. A few birds got away that fell injured a distance away while Chester was returning with a bird, some were picked afterwards but two or three were probably lost. Chester worked himself to a standstill which was where a combination of exhaustion and the cold meant he couldn’t continue and he wasn’t asked to, he had retrieved probably 30 of the 47 birds, breaking through ice for many until Des decided Chester had done more than enough. A combination of the wind and currents meant that the birds shot afterwards were drifting into an enclosed area and were picked up afterwards from the boat.

Chester has put in many more working days since then but unless you’re one of the lucky ones to stand with him on those mornings you will never fully appreciate the value of the true working gundog. The dog that may whine while waiting to retrieve. The dog that may run around a bush rather than through in pursuit of a retrieve. The dog that may not be completely steady to gunshot. He is the dog, however, that will work tenaciously and tirelessly in pursuit of his quarry and bring each and every one back gently to hand and fit for the table.

So the next time Tom, Dick or Harry regales you with tales of their amazing working gundog. Stop a minute and listen more carefully he may just be the type of dog you’re looking for.

The travelling Irish and four Chesapeakes..

For the third time this year the car was packed and we took the ferry across to the UK. This time we took the trailer as we were travelling with four chessies.

The weather was grim as we crossed the Irish Sea with no promise of improvement for the weekend.

Our first stop when we reach Wales is generally JCT 17 on the A55. There is a fantastic dog friendly beach here. It gives the dogs a chance to have a good blow out and  a swim after the long journey. This morning it was completely deserted, only a mad Irish woman and her brown dogs were brave enough to take on the deluge of rain that was pouring from the heavens..

After towelling off the dogs we pushed on to Husbands Bosworth where we would be staying for the next two nights. It’s a really pretty little village , quentisentially english with no shop just one pub. We were staying in The Old Hall, an Elizabethen house with a fascinating history and a very welcoming hostess. Well set in off the road and surrounded by parkland it was perfect for travelling with dogs.  Carolyn, our hostess, outlined some walks where we could run the dogs safely. After unloading the car we took the dogs for a long walk through the village and down along the tow path . We ate at The Hall that evening, something we appreciated after our long journey as we would have an early start the next morning.

Saturday morning we were up and on the road by 8.30am heading to Peterborough to the East Of England Champ Show. We had entered Chester and Mossy. Both would be competing against each other in Open Dog. This is a show we’ve never done before and it was just luck that it happened to coincide with the same weekend as the Club Show. There were six chesapeakes entered. Three dogs and three bitches. Our judge was a Mr R Morris, who I’d never shown my dogs under before. Judging that day was slow as all the rings had to be moved indoors due to flooding. It was late afternoon by the time judging of our breed started. I was happy with the way both dogs behaved in the ring and delighted when Mossy won Best Dog and BOB and his father, Chester, won Reserve Dog. We waited on for the group and although Mossy showed well we didn’t make the cut.

On our way back to our accomadation that evening we stopped at a lake outside Peterborough and took the dogs for a long walk through meadows and rain. We settled and fed the dogs back at the Old Hall and walked down the road to the local pub for a bite to eat.

Now Des and I have long been fans of the English pub scene. We love the old cluttered charm that exists in many of them. You get the feeling when you enter one of these establishments that you’re walking into someone’s sitting room.You immediately relax , settle down and let the evening unfold. The food is always comfort food , exactly what the weary traveller is looking for. The Bell pub, I’m pleased to say , was exactly one of these pubs that we love. The entertainment for the evening came from the land lady with the purple hair and her immaculatly dressed daughter . Poles apart in looks and personality but complemented each other perfectly as an effective and efficient team for running a pub.

There seemed to be some sort of area pub quiz going on and every now and then the phone would ring. The land lady would answer in her loudest voice and so would pursue a lengthy discussion as to whether it was the right or wrong answer. All food and drink orders were put on hold while this exchange took place. Silence would descend throughout the pub as we all craned to hear and waited to see if the correct answer had been given. It was heart stopping stuff…

We walked back to our B&B. The rain had stopped, sheep were bleating in the park as we wound our way up the lane and everything looked promising for the show next day.

So our final show of the weekend also happened to be the pinnacle of the UK CBRC Show calender,  the Championship show. More importantly a chance to catch up with friends and aquaintances. It always has the atmosphere of a lawn picnic and almost always has fantastic weather. Although this year’s forecast had not been the most promising it turned out to be a beautiful Summer afternoon.

There were over fifty dogs entered under breed specialist Mrs M Woods. Mossy entered in Open Dog  won his class. Chester entered in Veteran dog also won his class. In the line up for the dog challenge both dogs moved and showed well. Today it was the turn of the Old Fella , Chester. He won Dog CC and Best Veteran in Show. It was a very proud moment for Des. Of all our dogs Chester is his.  Mossy won Reserve Dog CC. Winnie won Veteran bitch class but was beaten by Chester for Best Veteran. Although she had very little coat and is only 16 weeks after having puppies she has regained her figure, moved well and most importantly enjoyed herself in the ring.

We also brought Uisce for the weekend. This was her first big trip . She took everything in her stride. Tried her best to keep up with the adult dogs on walks, lapped up the attention at the show and travelled without any problems. Photos courtesy of Ms Sue Worrall Watersplash photography.