Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Postcards From The Road: Dreamboat Annie Makes Her Maiden Voyage

by Randy Lawrence 



Lynn Dee's Log
Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021
8:30 AM

 "Beautiful sunny day here after several inches of snow last night.  Annie was thrilled when she was chosen to load up in the car this morning.  Storm and Sally, of course just assumed they'd be on board.  Kate was heartbroken."

My anxiety is over.  The timing is good.  I just know it!  Got as far as Mio and my tire warning came on.  Took care of that; back on the road."

Road tunes:  Eddie Money's "Two Tickets To Paradise."  "Hollywood Nights" by Bob Seeger.  Zachary Richard's zydeco version of  "Dancing at Double D's."  An Ann Wilson cover of "Life in the Fast Lane."

First rest stop.  Weather is still holding.  Radar says The Crew might get out in front of the storm.  The goal is to reach Chuck's cabin, graciously shared for this breeding between Annie and Tip, about 8:30 pm.  Meanwhile, flex leads are just the thing for airing dogs out on a road trip.

More road music.  The Dirty Dozen Brass Band of New Orleans.  Stray Cats and "Rock This Town."  Ironically, Steppenwolf's "Snowblind Friend."...because near Buffalo, Lynn Dee's luck with Winter Storm Uri runs out.

Lynn Dee's Log
5:11 pm

"Hitting some pretty hard snow right now.  Road is white, piling up.  Just taking it a little slower.  Before long, I'll stop, get gas, feed the dogs.  Maybe the snow band will pass.  The good thing is that it's Saturday so the traffic is pretty light.  If I could get off the road for a bit the plows will get out here and it will be better.  Service area: 10 miles.

Was going to feed the dogs, maybe take a little break inside.  Forget it.  I'm not going into the building, it's packed and hardly anyone is wearing a mask.  We'll head down the road a little further."

7:01 pm

"Had to pull off again.  Snowing so hard that it is blinding in the headlights.  Three or four inches are down already and there's more traffic, so I'm just gonna sit here at this west stop.  Still 40 miles west of Rochester.  I didn't get very far before the storm caught up with me - or maybe I caught up with it.  I figure two and a half hour to Chuck's. So cold I had to warm my hands to open the dog crates.  But they are fed and walked at least."

7:52 pm

"I am heading back out onto the highway.  This is one of the worst drives of my whole life (virtually)...white out conditions.  I am very close to pulling off the road and calling it a night, but that would require using a hotel (in COVID) even if I could get one to take me with the dogs.  I keep hoping that if I drive on, I will get in front of the storms...but they keep staying ahead of me it seems."

8:56 pm

"I had to get off the road.  Snowing hard, blinding, and almost no plows, so the only way that I knew that I was still on the road were the markers on the far edges of the road.  It was nuts. So I took the first exit that came along, and I am parked in a gas station parking lot, but safe.  This is so not fun."

While Lynn Dee waits out the storm, sirens go off at a nearby fire station, and emergency crews - fire trucks, ambulances - come racing from all directions up the ramp to the highway.  The following day, she will learn there was a 60 car pile-up on the highway not far away, one that she and the Good Ship of Dreams missed by pulling over and resting.  They do not go back on the highway until the emergency crews come streaming back and semi's start rumbling up on the highway.

She makes her friend Chuck's cabin just before midnight.

Lynn Dee's Log
Sunday, February 21, 2021

Dreamboat Annie's betrothed, a handsome grouse dog named "Tip," arrives , the first of two 11-hour 'round trip drives his owners, Brooks and Amy, will make this week.  Tip 'n' Annie introductions are rocky.  Lynn Dee writes, "She is mildly snarky and intimidating to him, it seems.  Tip is only somewhat interested.  Meanwhile, we're trying to get this done in a snowstorm, watching dogs no nothing.  Brooks is just really great, hanging in during this intense cold and heavy snow.  What stud dog owner does that?  A committed one, for sure. "  Everything remains close, but no tie that binds, through the afternoon.   Finally, Amy, Brooks, and Tip head back to their rental;  all concerned turn in with high hopes that tomorrow will go better.

Dreamboat Annie

"How're YOU doin'?"  Tip, using his "A" material.

Tip, between attempts at love. "They said she'd be nice.  They PROMISED she'd be nice! What gives?"

Lynn Dee's Log
Monday, February 22

While they wait for Tip's entourage to return, the Firelight Gang set up shop with one of their relations, Chuck's Ellie.  She is Firelight Mustang Sally's granddaughter, and learns quickly that Lynn Dee's Gal Sal is not all sweetness and light in the Granny Role.

Ellie (right) thinks she is playing with Sally.  Grandma Sally has other ideas.

Ellie, granddaughter of Firelight Mustang Sally, daughter of Firelight Encore Deacon

When Tip shows, the action picks up.  Once, twice the deed is almost done...until it isn't.  It's snowing hard and all hands are soaking wet.  Lynn Dee feels certain the breeding will get done today.

12:34 pm

"We tried again and they were actually less interested.  I think if either was experienced, it could have happened in the first round.  But when she snarks, he retreats.  (Tip) is very sweet and soft.  I'm thinking (Annie) is just not ready.  She will stand and flag if he courts, but he is not trying very hard.  Are we too early?  Still, a positive change from yesterday.  We are progressing. "

4:35 pm

"We are done for today.  Tip tweaked an old pastern injury when playing with Annie.  He shows a real lack of interest now.  This is the first time ever that I traveled and not gotten a breeding on the day we thought it would happen.  But then, we've always gone to the stud's home." 

Tip's owners very graciously agree to leave their dog with Lynn Dee there at Chuck's.  There is talk of the two inexperienced dogs, the disadvantage of trying to conduct a mating on a "neutral court," the distractions, etc.  But it's time for Plan B, and the vet's office is called for an AI mating for Tuesday morning.  

10:00 pm.

Lynn Dee hears from her friend Nicole, another Firelight owner, back in Mio.  Nicole and her  puppy, Firelight  Clementine, are hunkered down with Lynn Dee's Flint, Seth, Dance, and Kate, keeping the home fires burning.  "This is interesting.  Seth has been doing pretty well but was noisy overnight last night.  He knows that it's time for Annie.  Been smelling her markers in the yard every day until I left.  Timer in his body went off last night.

I told you he has a heck of a nose.  700 miles! "

Lynn Dee's Log
Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021
7:32 am

"if I ever again think about traveling to breed a maiden bitch and an unproven male, please whack me upside the head!  This morning he is showing mild interest.  They are playing but that's all he is doing:  playing.  Annie is...not standing as cooperatively as yesterday.  He is showing more interest, (but) she does not want him to mount her, she who wants to dominate the world.  He doesn't have the Romeo skills yet to woo her into standing so she jumps away each time he even tries.  Such newbies.  Ugh. On my way to the vet."

10:07 am

"Just met the vet and had to leave the dogs - COVID requirements.  She has bred Bloodhounds for 40 years, so probably knows what she is doing.  Crossing my fingers.

I felt so bad for little Annie.  In just the past three weeks, she had to go in for blood for brucellosis test, and then now her second progesterone test.  Sometimes I do not like being a breeder.  Plus, I so hate leaving my dogs.

She was so unhappy to be led away from me.  Tip tipped the scales at 62 pounds.  He is a little taller than Flint but not quite as hefty in build, yet he has really good bone."

11:01 am

"Woohoo!  Just got the call that they managed the AI and I can come pick them up!  Imma coming Annie!  Vet said good collection.  85% motility.  We will know more when we get the results of the progesterone tomorrow morning."

7:57 pm

"After a hard day, sometimes a girl just needs her mother."

Lynn Dee's Log
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
9:04 am

"Vet just called.  (Progesterone level) was 6.9 yesterday, so the timing of the AI was optimal.  Bill for just the progesterone test was $200, more than $80 more than back home. She gave the whole vet spiel about the timing, yadda yadda and I asked, as a breeder, if this was your dog...she said that she would feel comfortable with just the one AI because the timing was ideal and the quality of the collection was excellent.  I think I will let it play out to see if by chance we can get a natural today.  I am doubtful, though.

Meanwhile, Seth has been whining since Monday night (back in Mio).  He knew.  He knows."

12:13 pm
"Making serious progress.  Several mounts and efforts.  The last one, he was there, but had not tied, and Annie freaked.  She flipped backward, taking him with her, and the two of them were lying in thigh deep snow with me trying to get to them.  They were separated by the time I reached them.  The way they they were both lying in the snow screaming - Yikes!  They are fine, so I guess maybe they are both just drama dogs!  We are all taking a break now."

Stud Dogging is Difficult:  Tip Takes Sanctuary

Tip has been trying.  Pretty good effort.  But Annie's defiance plus the million distractions are just too much.  I will try the dogs again in the morning, but I think that Annie is not going to allow a breeding.  Unsure about another AI.  Just don't want to regret it if I don't do it."

2:25 PM
"They just won't try indoors, so just in from another hour.  A couple of modest efforts.  My feet are ice cubes.  Tip has definitely shown progress today, but might not be enough for Annie who still prefers to be on top of his head.

As I am writing this and thinking, in my anxiousness to get home so Nicole can go home, I think I may be rushing things.  When I looked at the calendar and realized it is only Day 13 of Annie's heat, that slowed me down.  I certainly don't like to impose, but Chuck keeps insisting that he actually loves the company and dog kookiness! 

I had offered to drive Tip home tomorrow or meet Brooks halfway, but Brooks is pretty much insisting that he will drive all the way here to pick the dog up, another 11-hour round trip for him.  Just amazing how helpful everyone has been, a real blessing, all of them."

Lynn Dee's Log
Thursday, February 25, 2021
9:01 am

"Turns out the vet is not available today to do an AI.  Meanwhile, Tip is suddenly very gung ho so I will just let him keep trying until his people come to get him.  Annie yelps and leaps away each time he mounts her her on Day 14 of her cycle.  She is a very bossy, dominant female.  Day 14, and she will stand for him now, but will not tolerate consummation.  But Tip is suddenly looking very competent, very confident.

On Wednesday, when I was out in the driveway for many hours with the dogs, I could've gotten some beautiful photos of Both Annie and Tip as they kept going up onto the snowbanks, beautiful hemlock trees behind them.   There were times that they even posed side-by-side.  Could have been epic photos...but being so single minded I could not bring myself to mess around with getting pictures.  

3:00 pm

"Got a tie!  I had been doing the 30 minutes exposure, 30 minute separation thing all day to see if absence really does make the heart grow fonder!  At the 2:00 try, they tied.  Annie stayed calm and did well!  (Tip's owner) will be here at 5.  Whew!

After dozens of refusals, she just decided to stand through the tie..  I am tired, but I feel as if I gave this my best shot.  The next several weeks of waiting are the hard part.  I am fortunate, really fortunate, to have such good friends who made this possible.  We WORKED for this breeding, all of us!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ship of Dreams

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
  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:

Heading out this morning, into the sun

Riding on the diamond waves, little darlin' one

Oh Annie, dreamboat Annie
Ship of dreams
Oh Annie, dreamboat Annie
Little ship of dreams*

 * Heart. “Dreamboat Annie.” Producer: Mike Flicker, Performers: Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson. Aug. 1975.

Captions:    Firelight Dreamboat Annie, dam of upcoming litter

                    Firelight KM Tip, chosen sire for this next litter

                    Firelight Dreamboat Annie


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Staving Off The Spork


by Randy Lawrence

Once upon a time, on a three-day hunt to a far away locale, I missed nine wild pheasants in a row.  Over points.  With a 12-gauge shotgun that cost more than my first car.


To paraphrase Churchill, I missed them over land and over sloughs.  Through shelterbelts.  Along fence rows.

 Nine in a row.  Over solid points.

Looking back, I liken it to being slowly eviscerated with a spork.

Did I mention they were all over dead-red, locked-down, there it is, points ?

 Are you feeling me here? The dog that you’ve maybe bred, birthed, raised, trained, endured through canine puberty and into wild hare adolescence has done everything right…and you can’t step up there and put a swarm of angry #4 plated shot in the way of a coat of many colors ditch parrot that’s cackling obscenities as it wings away. 

Make that a dull spork.

I suppose this would be amusing (for someone else) if (A) I didn’t have to lie awake at night wondering if any of those nine birds left without a single sign of carrying errant pieces of my shotgun’s pattern, and (B) if holding up my end of the bargain with my dogs wasn’t so vital to me.

Forget ego.  People who shoot for their ego are not only craven boors, but they’re not likely to be reading in the Firelight blog.  So let’s move on.

We want to shoot well because we are humane, respectful stewards of precious wild game. We want to shoot well because we want a reward for our dog beyond the point, to have feathers in her mouth, to keep her stoked and keen and to build intensity.  We want to shoot well because we’re the third corner of the game, gun dog, and bird gun holy trinity…and there is art and beauty and a certain majesty to that.

Besides…I cherish skillfully hunted, prepped, cooked and served grouse, pheasant, woodcock laid out for good folk who know what a game meal actually means.

So what do I do about learning to “miss ‘em closer,” as one waggish instructor was fond of saying?  It’s the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall (or for you young folks, the stage at Red Rocks)…practice. 

Maybe you’d like to take a wingshooting lesson with an instructor who enjoys teaching game gunning.  It’s amazing what several sessions with a good coach can do for our move to the target, our way at looking at game.  For women shooters, particularly, a lesson is a natural place to check on eye dominance as well.  Most of all, the best instructors make the experience fun, reminding us of why we like to shoot in the first place.

And if your instructor has a good background in gun fitting, a series of lessons is a great time to check to make sure that your shotgun comfortably, easily shoots where you look.  The best teachers can check how your physique, technique, and the stocking of your particular gun match up.

Another good practice is to shoot sporting clays a different way. Visit courses that allow guests to choose their targets.  If you arrive at a stand with marks that don’t replicate your hunting, maybe you pass and move along.  When you get to a station that has a fast quartering bird that gets up and gone like an orchard corner grouse that’s foiled you more than once, maybe you stay and shoot that station longer.

On outings like that, less is more, especially with a lightweight small-bore gun.  Certainly we are stoking that beauty with sensible target loads, but still, a long afternoon whanging away at clays without suitable breaks in the action can make even a seasoned Gun sloppy about her gun mount or overly aware of recoil.

The best sporting clays shooters I knew in my 30 years covering the game picked up their gun every day in training. Some did drills with mini-mag lights stubbed in the barrel, others tracked the joint between their den wall and the ceiling, others mounted their gun in a full length mirror…every chance they got, upwards of 100 times a day.

We can do a version of the same thing.   We can argue the semantics of “muscle memory,” but the idea is that we want to groove correctly bringing that gun to our face until all conscious thought is out of the move.  On August 1st, every year, my old friend Bob Thompson brought out his Superposed 20-gauge and kept it by his TV chair.  Whenever he walked past that empty shotgun, he’d open it (as we always do) to check safe, close the action, and thoughtfully rehearse his gun mount. 

He did that each and every day until the season, and he only stopped then because he was getting out with his dog every day.   I suppose that is as close to religion as Bob ever got, but he was a faithful penitent until the year before he died at age 88.