Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Friday, January 21, 2022

A Privileged Life

 By Randy Lawrence

The text came in the early morning.  It was a photo of Lynn Dee cradling a week-old puppy on her lap.  The caption read, "This right here, is the real privilege of being a breeder." 

"Privilege."  Maybe some folks would find that an odd word choice for a veteran like Lynn Dee.  Her Firelight English setters entered their eighth generation last year.  Even for someone who breeds on a very limited and choice basis, that represents a very long time.  And it's still a "privilege" to hold a puppy?

For Lynn Dee, it surely is.  It's part and parcel of why she's so good at what she does.  Eight generations in, and she's still excited to unwrap the possibilities inherent in a new litter of Firelight gun dogs.  She considers it a privilege to be a thoughtful steward of this particular strain of English setters and acts accordingly, meaning I've never sensed that she felt entitled - her life as a hunter/dog breeder has been a privilege earned.

Think about it. Years and countless hours and miles spent proving out a young dog under the gun on wild birds.  Research and pedigree study, photos and videos, hours on the phone and in exchanging emails, arranging in-person hunts behind potential sires, trying to find just the right mate for a special dog.  

Miles between Kansas and Idaho and Massachusetts and Michigan and southern Indiana to stage matings.  Vet trips.  Waiting out the first signs of a dog's pregnancy.  Long hours of perilous obstetrics.  The angst that goes along with risking an irreplaceable companion gun dog just to bring another Firelight litter into being.

The countless hours in the whelping box, then later the puppy pen, then the big exercise yard, making certain all puppies are healthy and happily socialized before heading to their new homes, all the while gathering intel to make the best possible match with the best possible new owner, as well as get a sense of where this litter fits on the Firelight totem.  At some point will come the text, "Heck with it.  I am keeping them all," even as she knows that can never actually happen and keep her operation selectively small.

And don't even start toting up the monetary costs. Just know that it's "daunting," to put it gently.

There are the hours screening potential placements - more time on the phone, with more emails, texts, hosting visits, constant puppy consulting references.  The diplomacy involved in turning away some candidates, the faith required to accept others.  Because Lynn Dee's concerns and commitment do not stop when a Firelight puppy goes to live with it's new family.  In her role as lifetime guardian of every puppy she brings into this world, Lynn Dee stays as involved as the covenant she has with her puppy buyers will afford.

University of Houston professor and best-selling author Brene Brown insists, "What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude." Lynn Dee Galey would be the first to point out her gratitude for the life she's been able to lead with her Firelight setters, not to mention enduring contact between herself and her owners.  They grant her the privilege of sharing the magic of a puppy's first staunch game bird point, that first puppy retrieve of a wild bird handled perfectly, first anything of consequence.  

Of course with that yin privilege comes the yang: sharing the desolation of inevitable circumstances that steal young dogs, old dogs, any Firelight companion, away from us.

But all of that was far in the past or far into the future last Monday, as Lynn Dee picked up Dreamboat Annie's puppies, one at a time, studying them with her practiced eye, exercising what she considers the privilege of a lifetime of English setter bird dogs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The "up" in Puppies


by Lynn Dee Galey


Up:  Eight beautiful puppies, 4 days old from my Annie x Nash breeding.

Up:  All puppies were delivered alive and naturally here at home and Annie is healthy and being a great momma.

Not so up:  The worry when puppy #3 took almost 3 hours to arrive, causing much worry and making momma scream when she finally pushed his bigger body into my waiting hands

Up:  Sharing news and photos of the puppies with excited owners who have been waiting many months for their next bird dog to arrive.

Not so up: Discussing with families who had their heart set on a female that there are not enough females to go around, would they consider a male.

Up: Starting each day snuggling a puppy while drinking my tea.

Not so up: Sleep deficit from sleeping in the same room with 8 mewing, moaning, squeaky puppies.

Up: The promise of well bred puppies who will be an ideal age to hit the woods and fields with their owners this fall. 


Monday, January 10, 2022


By Randy Lawrence

The whelping box in Michigan may as well have been on the other side of the moon given the way I felt last evening.  It had been over eight hours since Firelight Dreamboat Annie off-loaded her first piece of precious cargo, a mostly white, tri-colored male.   Two hours had gone by since puppy #6 was delivered, and Annie was still in labor.  I knew the delivery had to be wearing on Lynn Dee and her friends and helpers, Paul Nensewitz and Bryan Burdick there at the whelping box.  Mostly, I figured Annie had to be getting weary.

This is the time in every puppy delivery I have attended where the little voice used to creep into my head: "What in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks were you thinking?  You wouldn't trade (Arran, Dixie, Fancy, Marquesa) for all the bird dog puppies on the planet!"



But that kind of half-panicked nonsense is for amateurs like me. 

Lynn Dee is no amateur.  She is the most competent brood minder I have ever known - thoughtful, thorough, intuitive, informed, cool in crisis, totally in tune with the dog in labor.  Paul is a Registered Nurse who has assisted Lynn Dee twice before, a most welcome ringer in the doggy delivery room.  Bryan was there as an understudy with aims of breeding his own setters one day, quiet and smart, a dog man's dog man, the perfect second to the two pros.   He rummaged through Lynn Dee's 'fridge and whomped up a good bait of comfort food during the vigil.   Both Paul and Bryan have Firelight setters of their own.  They know Annie and the rest of Lynn Dee's pack very well, providing another layer of calming influence.

Paul (l) and Bryan enjoying a post-hunt tailgate lunch this past fall. LD as photographer

The digital stream of photos and updates and funny anecdotes flowed from 11:29 am until the last puppy was born at 8:17 pm, and then on until the fellows went home and Lynn Dee settled into her nightwatch air mattress at 11:20 pm after one very long day of navigating Dreamboat Annie through the neonatal buoys.   Firelight Generation Eight, eight puppies strong,  rested in safe harbor.

But forget for a moment an all-day whelping.  Well before that, this batch, like all Firelights, has been a long time coming. 

There were the years of watching their dam come into her own in the field, a fast, cover-slashing, tail-cracking performer whose white undermarkings flash on even the dullest days.  She goes about her business with bold purpose and stands game with high style and electric intensity, a worthy heir to her superb dam, the hard-driving bird finder, Firelight Mustang Sally, and Annie's sire, my boon companion, the greatly missed October Blue Doc.  

Firelight Mustang Sally (maternal grand truly "grand dame!")

In some ways, this litter carries even more than the usual edge-of-our-seats anticipation.  For Annie's second mating, Lynn Dee continued research she had begun years earlier, then took time out of her hunting season to travel 1500 miles round trip to hook Annie up with a dog named Nash, a stone cold bird dog with uncommon "receipts," as the young people say.  How Nash's background nicks with Annie's is...well...the stuff of which dreams are made.

Nash on wild birds - Kansas

Nash, cheesecake shot, training at home.

In that vein, I have been thinking of Dreamboat Annie's puppies as a merry band of proto-dreamcatchers.  Authentic dreamcatchers have their roots in Ojibwe culture, a tribe that, by the early 17th century, had established itself in birch bark wickiups scattered through the region where Annie lives, hunts, and whelped her litter.

The original dreamcatchers were crafted of willow hoops woven with sinew, draped with game bird feathers, and hung above sleeping platforms.  The notion was that dreams from the spirit world would be filtered through the dreamcatcher's web with only good dreams making it through.

Birdhunters are nothing if not dreamers of good dreams, absolute fools for signs and portents.  A photo of puppy #5, a tri-colored male, came in at 4:33 pm.  

That's about the time I must have gotten something in my eye, I guess.  Anyway, the photo became a bit wet and blurry, coming back into focus looking like this:

My late Doc (maternal grandsire)

That whelping box may be 413 road miles from this cold and snowy hill farm, but it is centered smack dab in the middle of a sentimental old bird hunter's soul.  

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Be It Resolved!

 by Randy Lawrence

(Scaled Quail on the Mexican Border)

On the eve of New Year's Eve, I laid out several resolutions for 2022.  Be it resolved that beginning January 1, I shall abstain from K-Pop music, running marathons, field trialing Wirehaired Dachshunds  or Small Muensterlander Pointers.  I am also going to stop being so darned judgmental - even of those who field trial Wirehaired Dachshunds or Small Muensterlander Pointers.


Having said that about being, as an eye-rolling friend recently put it, "so freakin' judgey" (What kind of person whips out a make-believe word like "judgey"? ), I must confess that I will likely never stop believing that I can take the measure of someone's very soul by the way he or she handles a shotgun, a gamebird in possession, and a bird dog. 

(General Sherman, American Water Spaniel, works a hot corner in the dove patch)

Gun manners begin and end with safety.  Those practices are iron clad, and those careless with firearms cannot join our hunts.  But along with safe gun etiquette should come other manners: Shooting only birds the dogs have handled correctly.  Never shooting directly over a dog's head.  Of being sensible about the gun barrel in relation to dogs underfoot, about safety while walking in on a point.  Having a crystal clear sense of what constitutes a "sporting chance," passing up hero shots that are more likely to wound than kill. Having an equally clear sense of "enough" in tallying a game bag.  Making sure empty shot shell hulls ejected to the ground are always retrieved - ours and those left by more shiftless others.  Being the first to say "Your bird!" when a companion happens to fire at the same instant and the shot's author is in some doubt.

A bird in hand is a treasure.  A gift.  Respect for same means making every attempt to recover a downed bird.   Respectfully spreading out game that could otherwise just be tossed in a pile in the September heat when doves are pouring in over the stand.  Quickly and humanely dispatching a bird ferried in with its head up.  Paying attention when stowing game at a hunt's end, making sure it's in the best possible shape for the larder upon arrival back home.

And whether it is a Firelight Setter or a fussbudget Wirehaired Dachshund pressed into the role of bird dog, watch how the handler makes connections with the dog at the vehicle, going into the woods, during and after the hunt.  Connections that require but a light, deft hand.  Connections that teach, that sustain, that honor the dog as a partner. 

Those constantly whistling and hollering at their dog during a hunt are probably one-and-done as hunting partners for many of us.  Does that person not trust her or his dog, at first to learn the business of its genetic inheritance, then later the business of experience and training?  Does that person give her dog the benefit of the doubt in curious circumstances without blinking issues which need attention?  Is the handler paying attention to the weather and the terrain to have an idea of what her dog might be experiencing in terms of scenting conditions or footing? 

Does the handler carry enough water along when conditions warrant?  Does he pay attention to changes of gait that might indicate anything from snow balls between the toes to a cut pad or torn nail?  Does the dog's partner wipe the dog down at hunt's end, make at least a quick check beyond the obvious for stickers, burrs, deer ticks, etc., and make secure, dry, and draft free travel accommodations?

I confess that the person whom I judge the most against these standards is myself.  My family has never gotten over the careless gun handling that claimed the life of my dad's older brother;  I can never erase the memory of the time a dear friend asked to look at my bird gun back at our motel room, drew that sleek double out of its slip, then, from gun safety habit, broke it open.  Twenty years later, I can still see the gleam of brass from across the room, the sick flip of my stomach over the gun I had left loaded, and then mindlessly cased as I broke up a dog ruckus (made possible by heedless handling) at the truck tailgate.

I remember one of my bird dog mentors coming up from behind and softly saying, "Did you drop these?", offering the pair of purple 16-gauge hulls I'd ejected in disgust after an embarrassing miss on the edge of a South Dakota fence row.

I think back on all the companions who were meticulous in their gun manners, thoughtful in their sporting ethic, considerate of their dogs.  The ones who by their every action honored every bird brought to hand.  The ones who brought extra dog water to share.  Who offered a spare towel to wipe down my wet dog.  Who showed by example how to allow for conditions, how to support a dog on the move, on point, and finishing a retrieve.  Whose love for the sport and whose generosity toward me helped me live down, live through, and move beyond the hallmarks of a clueless maladroit.

(Photo by Nancy Johnson)

All of the above adjudicated me redeemable, and perhaps that's a more worthy resolution for 2022 - to be more discerning than judgey about when, how, and to whom we extend that same courtesy of sharing a Better Way to enjoy this sport that gives us back so much.

As for running shoes on my doorstep, the boy band BTS on my music playlist, or a Small Muensterlander riding shotgun in the 'Yota?   I shall hold firm.  May 2022 keep you and yours healthy, happy, and finding better ways to get right with that good bird dog.