by Randy Lawrence
The word “amateur” gets a bad rap in the modern English language. We equate “amateur” with a fumbling, stumbling, bumbling approach to something that “professionals” do better because…well…they do it for the dough. If they don’t do it well, presumably the market dictates (other than notable exceptions among elected government officials) that they don’t get to be professionals for very long.
But we get the word “amateur” all wrong. Even I, who academically bobbed and weaved through two years of high school Latin, recognize the roots of “amateur” as “amare,” meaning “to love.” Only the rare person has the passion and commitment to rise toward the top of a profession doing it pretty much strictly for joy.
In dog breeding, “top of the profession” can mean any number of things: field trial wins, bench show trophies, performance dogs that excel in a particular sport, purpose-bred service animals, healthy companion dogs that live long and active family lives. None of those achievements lends itself to money-raking volume; too much time is needed to prove out individuals at different life stages to meet exacting standards. It’s a niche biz, a boutique operation if you will, that survives only through the dedication, expertise, and almost ruthless discrimination in selecting and proving out bloodstock.
Folks know what they pay for a puppy. They multiply that by the number of pups they presume the breeder is selling. They do what they perceive as the math. Their eyes get big. Visitors look around and see the modest house and yard, the vehicle old enough to vote, a property where only the dogs sparkle. Certainly some are thinking “off shore bank account” or “illegal substances,” maybe even “online casino habit.”
A terrific bass player I know books gigs as a high end act. He never apologizes for that. “Look. They’re not paying me just for that night. They’re paying me for fifty years of rehearsal and performance. All the nights I sat in my room and practiced until my fingers were numb. The nights I played to an empty house, the ones I played three encores that were SRO and never saw an extra dime. The bad food, long bus rides, and weird venues we played when we toured out of Nashville. They can’t possibly pay me what that’s worth, but they can pay fair freight for what I bring to that bass, that performance, every time out.” He has a job any night he wants to work, because his talent, pride and work ethic deliver the goods.
Top breeders (should) price their puppies that same way. Even so, expensive travel to provide the day after day, immersion wild bird hunting background, the breeder's expertise, health screening, mating searches, prenatal and postnatal care, proper screening of buyers and making placements that further a breeder's interests for just one or two litters a year is only sustainable if it's a deep passion...that old "amare" thing again.
Lynn Dee has been planning this next litter, in essence, over eight generations of Firelight setters.She has decided that it is Dreamboat Annie’s turn to contribute to the
totem. To that end, Lynn Dee has been scouring the country, looking at photographs and videos, watching dogs work in person, listening to evaluations of like-minded folks, looking for a heavily hunted, wild bird-proven, OFA-certified mate whose disposition, conformation, athleticism, size, and overall looks matched Annie’s.
Certainly, there were studs standing in more convenient locales, ones that another breeder might deem “good enough,” at least under the notion of “Most Convenient Sperm Donor.” But the net continued to widen as this, that, or another dog fell short against Lynn Dee’s hard and fast breeding rubric earned over an entire adult life dedicated to the single minded pursuit of producing talented, hard-hunting companion gun dogs.
She actually was lucky this time around. Not only did she find what she feels is the perfect match for the lovely and so talented Dreamboat Annie, but said suitor is only some 1200 round trip miles away.
By comparison, the mating that produced Firelight Moondance in 2019 was also a 1200 mile trip. As in “1200 there, and 1200 back.”
Of course Annie, being Dreamboat Annie, would only sail into heat as virtually the entire United States and Canada sinks into a stormy deep freeze. Arrangements made weeks ago have been remade, revised, and strung through a connection of friends along the way who will shelter Lynn Dee, Annie, and the ubiquitous she-who-rides-shotgun, Firelight Storm.
The obligatory brucellosis test has been done. A progesterone reading is pending to determine the best EBD (estimated breeding date), and therefore the best ETD from Michigan. Over east, a veterinarian is on standby for an assist with an artificial insemination if necessary. Another great friend has been enlisted to keep the Firelight home fires lighted while Lynn Dee is away.
Meanwhile, Annie has the whole pack in an uproar. She has taken to role-playing the wrong role by mounting all and sundry compliant (and those not so much) housemates. Firelight Seth has upped the Annie Angst Ante with his usual lovelorn lunacy, featuring falsetto whining, the occasional Howlin’ Wolf blues lick, and back beat barking. Lynn Dee claims she is wearing ear plugs as she looks at the weather, packs the truck, eyes her shallow bank account, and counts days against progesterone levels. Rumor has it she catches herself humming the theme music from this midwinter voyage:
Riding on the diamond waves, little darlin' one…
Oh Annie, dreamboat Annie
Ship of dreams
Oh Annie, dreamboat Annie
Little ship of dreams*
Captions: Firelight Dreamboat Annie, dam of upcoming litter
Firelight KM Tip, chosen sire for this next litter
Firelight Dreamboat Annie