A Conspiracy With a Happy Ending

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They had been rivals since 1916, the year of the first Yankee Field Trial, that trial held every Presidents Day by the Georgia-Florida Field Trial Club and called by its members (all quail plantation owners) the Owner’s Trial. They were three adjoining quail plantations, owned by cousins now, once by siblings, children of the same Cleveland Robber Baron, a coal and iron ore man, fabulously wealthy, who owned them all and called it Heavenfield. Before that assembly, the ground had been owned by a dozen turpentiners and small-patch cotton farmers. They sold for $6 an acre in 1885 to a straw man for the coal and iron ore man.

It was now 2004. Pine Top Plantation, Oak Stump Plantation, and Cypress Knee Plantation , adjoined one another along the Georgia-Florida line just south of Thomasville. The owning-cousin families got along well enough, despite occasional secret affairs among members and/or spouses of members of the owning families. When such an affair ceased to be secret there had been predictable uproars, but this tale will not deal with those minor dramas. This is a bird dog story. Its central character is the pointer female Pine Top Nell, owned by Pine Top Plantation.

Nell proved a fabulous Blue Hen. The bird dog trainer-handlers on the three plantations recognized it with her first litter, because each got a pup from the litter supposedly sired by Pine Top’s lead wagon dog but suspected by the other two Plantations’ dog men and known for sure by Pine Top’s dog man to have been sired by a more noble stud dog from the field trial world which shall remain nameless but will be called Rip.

Then lightning struck the bird dog world. The American Field announced the DNA test requirement. Terror engulfed the dog men of all three of the Plantations, most severely Pine Top’s. The truth would inevitably out, possibly, no almost certainly, costing him his job. Maybe costing all three their jobs.

That’s when Charlie Cole, Pine Top’s dog man, called Ben Reach. They met in Ben’s library-conference room at 4 PM. At 5, Sam Nixon MD, Charlie’s physician who had steered Charlie to Ben, joined the two, and Ben had Joanne set out libations, ice and chasers (Canadian Club for Charlie, The Macallan 16 for Sam and Ben).

“What the hell do we do? “ Charlie asked in despair, sure his sire switch was going to cost him his job, and his reputation.

Ben said, “Let me talk to your boss. I’ll need your permission to tell him the truth, or most of it.” At first Charlie resisted, but soon he realized there was no alternative. His boss must be told, and better by Ben Reach than by him.

Predictably, Fred Neal, owner of Pine Top Plantation, and of Pine Top Nell, was furious, despite Ben’s explaining that what Charlie Cole had done was just part of the culture of bird dog men. It had been used as antidote to a boss’s kennel blindness as long as bird dogs had been bred. Every true bird dog man lucky enough to have a Blue Hen in his (or his boss’s ) kennel wanted her bred to the best stud dog available, not to the favorite meat dog of the boss. Only thus was the drag of the breed kept out of a quail plantation’s kennel.

“ I’ve checked around, and if we correct the registrations with the Field Dog Stud Book to show the right sire, instead of your favorite wagon dog, and prove it with DNA test filings, every thing will be OK. A lot of folks around the country are doing that as we speak,” Ben said. Fred Neal finally agreed on that approach.

But when Rip’s handler was approached by Charlie Cole to supply a correct Stud Dog Certificate and DNA saliva swab from Rip for correcting Pine Top Nell’s litter enrollment, there was a problem.

“Can’t do that. I didn’t have Rip’s owner’s permission to breed Rip to Nell, and I sold the stud fee pups to other owners of mine. If I tell Rip’s owner what I did with Rip’s services I’ll lose him as an owner and he might prosecute me for larceny. He is a law and order man.”

When Ben heard that he recalled his father’s admonition from his youth, “Never take a case involving a dog.” But he chuckled when he imagined defending a client charged with larceny of bird dog semen.

“What a mess,” Sam Nixon MD said when Ben explained what was happening at breakfast at Millie’s Diner.

“Give it a little time,” Ben said. “Rip’s handler is going to realize he has to tell Rip’s owner what happened to get the registrations right on the two stud fee pups from Pine Top Nell he’s got with other owners. Once one of them places in a championship its DNA will have to go to the Field. Rip will have to be shown as the sire.”

And so it happened. Rip’s handler won the Continental Derby Championship with one of the Rip-Nell pups. Rip’s handler came to Ben for advice.

“You have a carrot to offer Rip’s owner. If he agrees to sign a stud certificate and supply a DNA swab from Rip for Pine Top Nell’s first litter, I can get Fred Neal and Charlie Cole to breed Nell to Rip again, and Rip’s owner can get two stud fee pups from that litter, a first pick and a third. That will produce a win-win. No, a win, win ,win , win.” (Ben was thinking of the Rip-Nell pups on Oak Stump and Cypress Knee Plantations whose registrations could also be corrected).

And so it transpired. Soon the whole bird dog world knew that Pine Top Nell was a Blue Hen and Rip and Nell a true Nick. And if you do not know what a Blue Hen and a Nick are, study this story and talk to some bird dog folk.


About the Author

Tom Word
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Tom Word is a lawyer who represents individuals about managing their assets and for amusement writes fiction and non-fiction about bird dogs and humans obsessed with them.


About the Artist

Leah Brigham
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After graduating from Millersville University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s of Science in Art Education, Leah began teaching Art to inner city Middle School students in Houston and later Dallas, TX. Leah has shared with her students her passion for art and nature. This passion has sustained her and continued throughout her life in the form of painting and drawing.

Leah was introduced to American Field Horseback Field Trails and has been able to experience the excitement of seeing her own dog, competing for the National Championship at Ames Plantation in Grand Junction, TN ...standing on point, head and tail held high. This has inspired her to create works of art depicting dogs and the wildlife associated with the sport and hunting.

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