True Hunting Buddies
by Larry Mueller
Devoted little spaniels with a big desire to please and
Devoted little spaniels with a big desire to please and hunt.At a
recent seminar, I watched trainer Rick Smith choose a Boykin spaniel to
demonstrate an obedience technique. With eyes only for its master, this little
dog simply wouldn't acknowledge that Rick existed. Exasperated, Rick finally
looked at the young man who owned the dog and blurted, "Do you sleep with this
dog or something?" The answer was a somewhat embarrassed,
Century-old Boykins become
ever more modern as hunting and living spaces shrink.
And then I met the dog's breeder, a nurse named Patricia Watts. "The first time I saw a Boykin,"
she said, "there was an intelligence in those amber eyes looking back at me.
Somebody was in there. I had to have one. But I bought two. At the time, I had
lupus cerebritis, with unbearably torturous headaches. My doctor suggested
experimental monthly chemo for two years. I was ready to try anything,
including a .22 bullet. Gradually, the headaches became fewer and less intense,
but while I endured the terrible sickness of the chemotherapy, Hollow Creek
Miss Dixie wouldn't leave my bed. She was my best friend the whole time. Still
is. And she's a great hunting dog, my most devoted hunting buddy."
I was well aware of the Boykin's devotion, intelligence, eagerness to
please, strong natural retrieving instincts and extraordinary enthusiasm for
game ranging from doves through upland game and waterfowl to turkeys. I've
wanted to write about Boykins for years, but they have had a downside.
According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), almost half
develop canine hip dysplasia (CHD). I couldn't lead half of my interested
readers into buying dysplastic dogs, and I couldn't finding anyone willing to
address the problem openly. I even had Intercal (the manufacturer of Ester-C)
agreeing to consider Boykins for a larger repeat of Dr. Wendell Belfield's
successful attempt at preventing CHD in German shepherds with supplemental
vitamin C in pregnant bitches and then in pups for two years. No response from
the Boykin Spaniel Society.
On the contrary, and despite her being a society member from the South
Carolina region of Boykin origin, Patricia
Watts was very candid. She doesn't care to knock the society too
badly. It has done some very good things. And she believes that the more
responsible breeders are making some progress against CHD. But she does admit
that member breeders are under no obligation to reveal OFA results. When their
dogs fail, they might simply deny having ever tested them. To me, it's
unimaginable that an organization representing wonderfully people-oriented
little dogs with a CHD problem this big could simply turn their collective
heads. One ex-member told me that some Boykin breeders actually have taken dogs
with good hips out of their areas for X rays by veterinarians who won't
recognize their animals. Records can then be falsified by filing a good X ray
with a dysplastic dog's name.
I don't care to knock the society too badly, either, but I'd certainly
like to see it better managed by more involved and qualified people.
Watts verified that some people on the
board don't even own Boykins, and others engaged in puppy registration have
never bred a litter of Boykins.
Another issue is size. Boykins began as compact dogs that don't
overload small duck boats. They have been easy to conceal, especially easy to
live with in the house, outstanding as small flushing dogs diving into cover
and yet big enough to fetch or drag back any birds we hunt. The standard calls
for 30- to 40-pound dogs and 25- to 35-pound bitches. But 60- and 70-pound
Boykins are being produced, and some breeders want the standard changed to
accommodate their oversized dogs. That would take Boykins right out of the
niche they were originated to fill, which, due to more urban living and ever
shrinking hunting parcels, has never been bigger.
Find a BoykinShould you have that niche to fill with a
Boykin, contact the Boykin Spaniel Society about breeders (P.O. Box 2047,
Camden, SC 29020; 803-425-1032). However, until laxity toward CHD ends and
members breed to the standard on the excellent folder you'll receive from the
society, I wouldn't buy except on site. I'd demand to see OFA certifications
with X rays taken by the group's regular vet, and I'd pass on pups from
breeding stock either oversized or demonstrating joint problems.
A smaller but more certain source of sound dogs is a newly emerging
group called the Boykin Spaniel Club and Breeders Association of America. For
fear of being boycotted by the Boykin Society registry, it quietly petitioned
the American Kennel Club and got rare-breed status, therefore an alternative
registry. It consistently advocates breeding smaller dogs, promotes factual OFA
evaluations and is truthful about its dogs' CHD status.
Only five Boykins in the world test OFA excellent, and
Patricia Watts bred one of those. If
members breed an OFA mild male to an OFA good female, for example, CHD risks
are small, but you'll be told nevertheless. Puppies can be advertised through
the club only if the parents are certified by the Canine Eye Registry
Foundation (CERF), OFA-tested, meet the original standard for Boykins and
demonstrate hunting skills.
You won't be surprised to hear that a Boykin advocate as strong as
Patricia Watts is the person willing to
field questions about pups, the breed or the new club: You can contact her at
1018 Asbill Court, Leesville, SC 29070;. Regarding her own pups,
Pat is more adoption agency than seller.
Don't even ask unless your Boykin will live inside.
originally appeared in the May 2001 issue of Outdoor Life
with permission from the Author.