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Outdoor Life

Outdoor Life True Hunting Buddies
by Larry Mueller

Devoted little spaniels with a big desire to please and hunt.

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, "Yea-a-h..."

Hollow Creek's Gus
Century-old Boykins become ever more modern as hunting and living spaces shrink.
Photo Corley Photography

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.

Where to 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.

This article originally appeared in the May 2001 issue of Outdoor Life
Article reprinted with permission from the Author.

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