More than 78 million dogs live in the United States, and families and individuals alike in the Midlands have their fair share. A dog teaches people lifelong lessons in friendship, responsibility and unconditional love; that and more come gift-wrapped in fur.
For many, dogs often prove to be better companions than people. “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs,” said the late Charles De Gaulle. The only dog better than a household pet is one that serves as a hunting partner as well. For three Midlands men, the saying that a dog is man’s best friend is no cliché.
The South Carolina State Dog
“Boykins are happy being the family pet, but when I pick up a shotgun or put on a camouflage shirt they are ready for business,” says Boykin spaniel owner Beaver Hardy. Were it not for Allen Jones Boykin and Lemuel Whitaker (Whit) Boykin, Beaver’s great grandfather and great uncle, the breed wouldn’t exist. They developed the breed in Boykin, South Carolina in the 1920s.
Beaver then went on to help make the Boykin spaniel a registered breed. In 1977, a group consisting mostly of Beaver’s family members formed the Boykin Spaniel Society. Beaver served on the first board and was president of the board from 1980 to 1981. “We met for years to work out the details of registration,” says Beaver.
The board tasked Beaver with chairing the committee to get the Boykin spaniel designated the South Carolina State Dog. “We had a wonderful time promoting the dog to the legislature, and the Boykin became the state dog in 1985,” he says.
With such a family legacy, Beaver has always been interested in Boykins. He purchased his first in 1962 and has had Boykin spaniels ever since. Beaver’s current Boykins are Joe, age 11, and Murphy, age 7. Joe is lucky to even be around.
In 2005, Joe was Beaver’s only Boykin. On a brisk March day while turkey hunting, Beaver received a frantic call from Rhett, his wife, that Joe was missing. “Our yard is fenced, but somehow he had gotten out, and since we live near a busy highway, she was greatly concerned. We looked and looked and continued to look for him for the next week.”
They put ads in the newspaper and pictures on telephone poles, and they drove around and checked with the pound and sanitation department every day. No Joe. “Rhett was constantly in tears. I thought at the time that if I got about a third of those tears from her when I die, I would have had a great marriage,” says Beaver. “After a week I couldn’t stand any more tears, and we went to buy another Boykin.” They found a 3-month old puppy in Woodruff and named him Murphy. They brought Murphy home, Rhett quit crying and they enjoyed having this new puppy.
“Three days later,” says Beaver, “our son, Heyward, was playing with Murphy in the back yard and heard barking coming from the neighbor’s upstairs garage window. He looked over, and there was Joe sticking his head out the window. He had apparently chased a cat up some very steep stairs and wasn’t able to come down. He was up there for 10 days with no food or water. He chewed out the window but suffered no harm from this ordeal, and he gets along beautifully with Murphy.”
Beaver says that he hunts a little more than the average person, and he’s always liked having two Boykins. “During the hot September dove season I can hunt them on alternate days,” he explains.
Over the years Beaver has taken his dogs to Saskatchewan, Ontario, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Ohio. “Many times mine were the first Boykin Spaniels people had seen, and they usually did me proud.” Down in Louisiana, the Cajun guides laughed at Pat, his small Boykin. “What kind of poodle dog dat is?” they would ask him. “Down here we use Labs.”
“But after three days of fabulous hunting,” says Beaver, “they wanted to get one.” Even though Pat was 12, Beaver says she put on the show of her life retrieving more than 50 ducks for Beaver and the guide over the three days and lost only one. “Not only were they impressed with her retrieving, but her small size was perfect for hunting from the pirogue,” says Beaver. “’Dat’s some good dog,’ I overheard one guide tell another. ‘He do everything a Lab do except turn over the pirogue.’”
Beaver’s Boykins have always been housedogs, but they get retriever training every day. “I line them up at the front door to get the newspaper which is delivered to the end of our driveway about 25 yards out. Murphy gets the paper Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Joe gets the paper Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.” And Sundays? Beaver flips a coin.
At the end of the workday, Murphy brings Beaver’s slippers to the den when he comes home. “He takes one shoe at a time to the bedroom and returns with a slipper.” The training pays dividends come hunting season. “Murphy is an excellent dove and duck retriever, and since my bird dogs aren’t very good retrievers and wild quail are at a premium, I’ve started taking Murphy on my John Deere Gator to handle difficult retrieves on quail.” Beaver also has three English pointers and one English setter for bird hunting.
Boykins have sweet temperaments, train easily and love being with people, but never forget they love to hunt. “Our grandchildren love them and sleep with them when they come to visit,” says Beaver. “When my daughter, son, grandson and granddaughter started going hunting, they loved sitting with me, handling the dog and seeing him retrieve. Boykins are content being the family pet but when I start to gather the hunting gear, I can’t load them up into the truck quick enough.”
A True Canine Colleague
“Really amazing!” That’s how John Thompson describes Deuce, his 4-year-old black Lab, who accompanies him to his New York Life Insurance Company office in Camden. Deuce does double duty as a sporting dog and family friend.
This canine commuter, described by John as “the pick of the litter,” sports the registered name of “Deuce’s Wild of Liberty Hill.” He goes to work with John every day, and there’s a reward at day’s end. “After work, we take lengthy woods walks,” says John. “My concept of taking him to work with me every day was part of my training routine. I had planned to do this for the first six months. I found that I really enjoy having him with me, and he travels well, so I just couldn’t leave him at home in a kennel all day.”
John brought Deuce home at 49 days old, and training started almost immediately. “Rarely a day goes by that I don’t work him in some fashion.”
John has personally done all of Deuce’s training, teaching him to hunt doves and ducks, the sport for which this energetic species was bred. “He is full of desire and absolutely loves to hunt,” says John. “I can walk out of my basement carrying a shotgun, and he will kennel into the back of my truck automatically. He knows it’s time for business.”
John finds watching Deuce work a joy, adding that his enthusiasm has turned many a mediocre hunt into a memorable outing. His most unforgettable hunt with Deuce to date occurred several years ago.
John and his sons, James and John, III, were hunting ducks with a neighbor in a local beaver pond one morning when John knocked down a drake wood duck, which hit the water about 40 yards away. “I sent Deuce to retrieve it,” says John, “and when he got to within five feet of it, the duck dove. To our amazement, Deuce dove after him. He was totally submerged. When he popped up, he had the duck in his mouth. I’m sure our cheering could be heard for miles.”
Then in 2012, John and Deuce went afield to hunt doves. “We were on the edge of a field planted in sunflowers and corn. Behind us was a large field planted in soybeans, which were about waist high.” When Deuce went into the beans to retrieve, John would lose sight of him in the tall beans. “This wasn’t much of an issue,” says John, “because most of the birds were falling only 15 to 20 yards into the beans.”
Then John hit a dove that sailed about 75 to 80 yards into the beans. Deuce marked the bird going down, so John sent him in. “He looked like a porpoise jumping through the beans.” When Deuce got to the bird, all John could see were soybean tops shaking.
“The beans started shaking farther and farther from where the bird went down,” says John, who assumed the dove was running to escape Deuce. “The chase was on. Then I suddenly saw Deuce bounding back towards me with a mouth full of I didn’t know what.”
There came Deuce with an entire soybean plant plus the bird in his mouth.
Deuce is the fourth Labrador John has trained, and, John says, the best. “Deuce is family.”
Wink Rides Shotgun
Often cruising in a blue, muddy PT Cruiser with an English setter in the front seat, Taylor Brennecke finds hunting season to be his favorite time of year. Wink, his 3-year-old English setter, is also an avid hunter and loves to leap in and out of trucks, boats and, obviously, PT Cruisers.
Taylor’s 97-year-old granddad, Edmund Taylor, has always had bird dogs, and he gave Taylor some advice: “Dogs should always be part of your life.” And for a long time, they were. But then Scout, his 11-year-old setter, developed cancer. “I had to put her down,” says Taylor. “It was a very tough time.”
With a big hole in his heart, he remembered his grandfather’s words and decided to get another dog. He went to his bird-hunting friend, Bob Harkins, for help. Bob helped Taylor get 6-week-old Wink from Alec Sutton, a Rock Hill man into shoot-and-retrieve field trials. “Wink,” says Taylor, “came from the last litter of Sutton’s grand national champion, Snake’s Carbon Copy.” It wasn’t long before Wink was healing Taylor’s heart and hunting like a champion. “If we take him anywhere, all he wants to do is hunt.”
Bob took Wink to South Dakota in 2012 to hunt pheasants and prairie chickens. “Half way through the mornings, they’d rotate dogs, take a break at lunch, then rotate dogs again in the afternoon,” says Taylor. Not Wink. He’d hunt all morning, break for lunch and hunt all afternoon.
“He’s a covey dog,” says Taylor, adding that Wink loves to hunt woodcocks.
When Wink’s not hunting, his habits sound a bit like those of a college kid. He shares a home near Five Points with four guys, including Taylor. If Wink’s not on the porch with Taylor, he’s in his own easy chair, where he definitely knows how to relax. “He’ll knock your beer over and drink it; he’s not scared of a Bloody Mary either,” says Taylor.
Wink’s partying ways aside, he loves to spend time with Georgia, Taylor’s mom, and Sarah, his fiancé. “He adores Sarah and heels beside her,” says Taylor. Wink’s a member of the family. “I was living with my parents when I got him, right after I graduated from Clemson, and Mom helped raise him. To this day he loves my mom more than anyone in the whole wide world. He sees her, and he goes crazy.”
Wink answers the bell as a guard dog. One Wednesday around midnight a neighbor spotted a stranger on Taylor’s porch peering into windows. He called Taylor and told him the man was headed toward the door. Taylor and Wink bounded down the stairs. When Taylor opened the door, Wink shot out, and the man took off. Wink cornered the suspect across the street and held him at bay as Taylor called the police.
And that muddy blue PT Cruiser where Wink rides shotgun? It makes for quite an unconventional hunting vehicle, and Taylor catches a lot of grief from his pals. No big deal. “A dirty PT Cruiser and a lonely wife makes for a happy bird dog,” says Taylor.
As the saying goes, dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. Beaver Hardy, Taylor Brennecke and John Thompson wouldn’t disagree. All three men look forward to the great memories their dogs are certain to create, memories that will make their lives complete.