One of the things that makes me realize how fast time’s flying is watching the pups we’ve acquired and bred over the years grow up and grow old. Over the recent holidays we were looking at old family photos and came across one from 1995 with our eight and ten year-old sons and our first English Cocker Spaniel puppy. Though not initially welcomed by everyone at our ranch, that pup ultimately won the role of superstar in our wingshooting program. I’ll tell you how it all came to pass.
My husband, Joe, and I opened Joshua Creek Ranch in 1990 as the result of our own 1988 and ’89 driven pheasant shooting experiences in Scotland. We returned to Scotland year after year for the thrill of the sport. There we witnessed the hard-working little English Cocker Spaniels relentlessly retrieving pheasants that seemed as big as they were. What a delight it was to watch them working.
I think my instant attraction to the breed resulted from the fact that my family had always had American Cocker Spaniels as our pets. In fact, Joe had given me a cocker puppy as a first wedding anniversary gift. I prefer a dog small enough to fit in my lap or pick up and carry if need be. But there was another dynamic in play from Joe’s side of the family: dogs are meant to work, and preferably, that work would be hunting. All things considered, the English Cocker Spaniel seemed like the perfect breed for us.
So in 1995 when I heard about a litter of English Cocker pups with UK pedigree that would soon whelp in the U.S. not far from where we lived, I immediately inquired. When I excitedly told Joe about the breeding, he wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was. I’d not thoroughly checked out the hunting background of the dam and sire which was of utmost importance to him. The truth was that I’d take one of these little darlings as my house dog in a minute whether he or she had a nose for gamebirds or not. I just remember thinking at the time that surely within the next six weeks an opportunity would present itself for me to tell Joe I’d already bought one of those puppies.
That opportunity never did come up, so on the pick-up day, I simply told Joe that the boys and I were going to pick up our new pet. We wanted a female and the boys picked the liveliest one. She was solid black with a white diamond on her chest. By the time we got home, she’d been named “D.D.” What a fun-filled summer it was with that precious pup. And since Joe hadn’t been an active advocate of the acquisition, I figured we had a stay-at-home family pet…one that wouldn’t have to go to work in the hunting program at Joshua Creek Ranch like the English Setters and Golden Retrievers we’d had.
I had an ally at the ranch as well for keeping D.D. as our family pet, the wingshooting manager himself. He didn’t want anything to do with that dog. He was a superb dog trainer and handler but was all about English Setters, German Shorthair Pointers, Springer Spaniels, Labs, and Goldens. As far as he was concerned, an English Cocker had no place in the Central Texas hunting scene.
But as D.D. matured beyond her puppy stage, Joe decided he’d like to know if there was a chance she could earn her keep. Since the hunting manager didn’t want any part of her, she was assigned to our youngest guide, Jason, who absolutely adored that little gal. She worked for him with all her heart and they made each other look like superstars in the hunting fields. He made sure D.D. was treated with utmost respect by telling his clients that she was “Ann’s dog.”
Even our wingshooting manager came around to admiring D.D.’s talent and became enthusiastic about the English Cocker breed. One day I overheard him say to some hunters who were raving about D.D.’s performance on a driven pheasant shoot, “Yeah, I just see one thing wrong with that dog. She ain’t mine.”
Ultimately Jason acquired an English Cocker male that was bred to D.D. (officially “Shimmy D of Joshua Creek”) and there was plenty of demand for their pups. We imported additional English Cockers from the UK to expand our bloodlines and have continued to breed superior flushing and retrieving stock. At Joshua Creek Ranch we still have descendants of D.D. and actually expect a litter to whelp from her granddaughter, Lacey, within a few weeks.
I can remember my disappointment at giving up D.D. as our family pet as clearly as if it were yesterday. Our young sons loved playing fetch and chasing around our yard with her. But we’re all so proud of the superstar she became and the tradition she started at Joshua Creek
Ranch for flushing and retrieving upland birds with English Cockers. And the fact is, her happiest days were “working” in the hunting fields.
As for my house dog who never has to go to work…she’s a mixed breed stray we adopted in 1996 who’s still with us. Our two sons on the other hand each have an English Cocker Spaniel as their personal pets.
Ann Kercheville is President of Joshua Creek Ranch. Located in the renowned Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio and 90 minutes southwest of Austin, Joshua Creek Ranch occupies a uniquely diverse terrain including miles of Joshua Creek and Guadalupe River bottomland planted in fields of grain crops for prime upland and deer hunting habitats. You can visit their web site at http://www.joshuacreek.com.