by Scott Wilson
More than a decade ago in Ireland a litter was born to Intl FTCH Rozel Rocket of Tasco and FTW Meadowbrook Lass. One of the pups in this litter was Intl FTW Turning Teal, a remarkable yellow Labrador the Wildrose family has come to know by his call name “Widgeon”. He was imported to the United States in 2008 where his work in Oxford MS began. Widgeon hunted, trained, trekked, and traveled with the Wildrose crew throughout his career as a sire. Much like Widgeon, his pups have proven to be exceptional hunters, trekkers, companions and service dogs. Widgeon is a classic “Gentleman’s Gundog TM”. We are happy to report that Widgeon is quite healthy and he has officially started his retirement career.
A little more than a year ago the stress of being a “retired” stud living amongst so many viral young studs at Wildrose Kennels was beginning to show on Widgeon. My wife Roxy and I were honored to be asked if we could provide an “assisted living” retirement home for Widgeon away from the everyday hustle and bustle of the kennels. We said yes, of course, and shortly thereafter we traveled with Widgeon 500 miles north from Oxford Mississippi to Champaign Illinois in the middle of one of the coldest winters on record. We enrolled Widgeon in the Senior Care program at an AAHA accredited veterinary clinic within walking distance of his new home and set up several orthopedic beds for him. During Widgeon’s first three weeks in Illinois he experienced more than a foot of snow with wind chills of 20 below zero. For those of you who never had the pleasure of working with Widgeon, he has arguably the most relaxed and gentle temperament of any Labrador and he accepted these changes like nothing was out of the ordinary.
In his “assisted living” retirement life Widgeon gets aired at least four times every day, walks 2 to 6 miles every day, trains 20 to 60 minutes every day, still eats just once a day, drinks at least 8 cups of water each day, travels nearly every Tuesday and Thursday to a remote trekking or training site, spends at least an hour in his home crate almost every day, and curls up to sleep next to 3 year old WR Cora (Luke x Delta) several times a day. This February we will add 1 year old WR Suzy (Kane x Amy) to Widgeon’s small retirement pack. As has been said many times before, the only thing better than having one Wildrose dog in your home is having two or three WR dogs.
Widgeon sleeps more than he did during his youth, he dreams about his memories and future adventures several times every day, and while he thoroughly enjoys meeting new people, he is relatively quick to lie down and relax when humans are just talking. As has always been the case, Widgeon is ready to go on a moment’s notice. Every single morning after showering and getting dressed I find Widgeon standing by his nighttime place, eyes fixed toward mine, waiting for his call name to heel downstairs to his daytime place whereupon he quickly goes back to sleep for a few more minutes until Cora heels downstairs and we all venture out for a long morning walk. Anyone who knows Widgeon knows he never just walks, he prances. Widgeon still articulates every joint in his body with every step. His tail is down when prancing slowly but it moves to a neutral position at a moderate or fast walking pace and yes, his ears still bounce in rhythm to his prance. When training, Widgeon still comes off the line with enthusiasm but he admittedly displays the most energy for scented tennis balls and birds. He really likes quail and his most recent quail picks were in this particular field in St Joseph IL. <Video 2> We think he seems just a bit bored with feathered bumpers and Dokkens because he always retrieves them but is sometimes a bit slow to deliver. I hesitate to humanize his behavior but I think he is simply requesting more selective use of his favorite picks. Widgeon’s memory is still remarkable. During his first spring in Champaign, while Roxy was setting up a circle memory for Widgeon in our lake, she inadvertently pitched a Dokken up into a tree. We searched for 30 minutes but could not locate the Dokken, so we decided not to send Widgeon into an unknown situation where precarious branches were overhanging water. The following day I put a kayak into the water to search from a different direction but still could not locate the Dokken. As a last resort Roxy paddled her kayak to the opposite bank in case the Dokken had fallen into the water and floated across the lake but still no luck. While Roxy was searching on the water I was working with Widgeon on the peninsula. On his third retrieve, a trailing memory located in some shoreline bushes roughly 15 yards from where we had lost the Dokken the day before, Widgeon was lined from 80 yards away and he immediately sliced over toward yesterday’s lost Dokken. When I saw the branches over the water moving I suddenly realized Widgeon was hunting for yesterday’s Dokken as a delayed memory and in a panic I began running toward him. I was about half way there when Widgeon came prancing out of the bushes to deliver his 24 hour time delayed memory. I sent him back for today’s trailing memory like nothing was out of the ordinary.
In early January this year we took Widgeon and Cora to northern Wisconsin and spent some time hunting unseen scented tennis balls in the snow. Observing Widgeon on the hunt in a snowy forest with heavy ground cover is a sight worth seeing. He seems to measure every step and jump with a very seasoned elegance using only the energy required and playing to the judges for “style” points. In the middle of one early morning walk I sat both dogs down momentarily so I could clear some snow off a head high pine branch to get that branch away from the trail. As soon as Widgeon was released to take care of his business he moved directly to investigate that pine branch now nearly 6 feet off the ground. We often practice off the ground finds, so I could only assume that he was looking for a bumper. Remarkably, Widgeon stood straight up and balanced on a precise vertical to reach up and paw that branch above his head presumably to make absolutely certain there was no bumper. He did not get excited or jump, he just reached up with a paw in his usual elegant fashion to touch the branch and satisfy his curiosity. For a fleeting moment I thought he might stroll on two legs over to the nearest tree for a quick pee standing up. Not exactly what one expects from a dog his size and age. Widgeon really seems to love the snow, occasionally even bouncing up and down like a puppy with his eyes fixed on his handler whenever it is obvious we are heading for a training session. So, Widgeon’s “assisted living” retirement home seems to agree with him but there was still something missing. A great dog always needs new experiences, new challenges to dream about, and a few new techniques to learn so we looked into the possibility of a therapy dog career.
Everybody loves Widgeon and most institutions would have been pleased to accept Widgeon’s help without any officially recognized training but we decided to find out if there were any therapy dog programs in our local community. As luck would have it, one local group, Champaign-Urbana Registered Therapy Dogs along with their affiliations Pet Partners® (formerly Delta Society) and Dog Training Center Champaign-Urbana (DTCCU) already had a well established training program for therapy dogs. Pet Partners® helped to develop the AKC awards program for therapy dogs and so our not so rapid journey began. The very next day we discovered that no dog could register for the CURegisteredTherapyDogs training class at the DTCCU until said dog had achieved his/her AKC Canine Good Citizen award. To make matters interesting, CGC exams were being administered that very evening at the indoor DTCCU facility and would not be given again in the local area for another three months. We printed a copy of the CGC test requirements from the internet, loaded Widgeon and Cora into the car and headed over to the DTCCU facility. We were a bit concerned that our Wildrose dogs might not be prepared for the CGC exam so we carefully read the requirements out loud to the dogs in the car on our way to a large indoor facility full of excited barking dogs. One of the three large arenas in the DTCCU was set up for dogs and trainers to practice for their CGC exam but Roxy and I decided that our dogs were more than capable of passing this exam as long as the new distractions did not overwhelm their focus. We heeled into the practice area, occupied two chairs on the perimeter, and sat our dogs down to watch all the other participants practice so Widgeon and Cora could get relaxed in the noisy and bustling environment. Widgeon stretched out on the floor and almost immediately went to sleep while we waited for our turn. Cora followed Widgeon’s lead in a few minutes but she stayed vigilant and never really went to sleep. Widgeon took to the examination arena first and he was marvelous as expected. After the evaluator had finished her task she asked if Widgeon would like to meet the six support staff that worked the wheel chairs, noise makers and various other distractions. We heeled over to the six seated volunteers and introduced ourselves to each one separately. Widgeon gently placed his head in each volunteer’s lap like he knew he was setting the stage for young Cora who was bound to be more nervous and distracted. Widgeon let these volunteers and examiner know that Cora and her inexperienced handler, me, were part of his gentle pack and deserved every consideration. Talk about over humanizing a dog! Cora did great, of course, and she also passed with flying colors.
We immediately registered Widgeon for the next available Pet Partners® Therapy Dog Class. The Pet Partners® Class, Online Course, and remote examination are quite thorough but Widgeon is ready for any challenge. Widgeon earned the highest rating on his first attempt and the examiner even penned several remarks about his gentle demeanor. Of the roughly two dozen scenarios we had to pass as a therapy team, Widgeon scored less than perfect on just two. The examiner noted that Widgeon was a little slow to sit down on command. This was very predictable because everyone knows that Widgeon never really enjoys sitting all the way down. <Photo 10 and Photo 11> His only other average score occurred during a remote stay when the examiner was passionately petting Widgeon and I was asked to execute a recall. Suffice it to say, Widgeon really likes being petted and he required a convincing “Widgeon heel” command to complete the recall. The examiner, in addition to the observers and volunteers, were all amazed that Widgeon was so relaxed in the midst of 6 humans discussing the next scenario that he would just lie down and rest to wait till the humans finished talking. There was one unfortunate, unintended consequence from the scenario wherein the therapy dog was required to gently take food directly from the hand of a friendly stranger. This scenario was well intentioned to confirm that the handler would not allow the dog to accept food from a stranger without permission and that the therapy dog would never nip a stranger’s hand that happened to be holding food. For the duration of the evaluation Widgeon discretely checked each friendly stranger’s hands and pockets for treats even though only the examiner actually offered a treat. This was just a safety test and accepting treats from strangers is not a requirement; however, we may have to devise a different habit to replace this unintended consequence. As documented above, Widgeon doesn’t forget much; I suspect he will remember that taking treats from human hands is nothing out of the ordinary. We will certainly keep walking, training, trekking and hunting so Widgeon is reminded that the “hunt ’em up” command does not mean “check everyone’s pockets for treats.” Widgeon and I are already scheduled to help University of Illinois medical students relax through their final exams and also to represent CURegisteredTherapyDogs at an upcoming Cancer Survivor’s Reunion. We are very excited about his new retirement career as a Gentleman’s and Gentlewoman’s Therapy Dog.
Widgeon has adjusted very well to the new suburban environment of his “assisted living” retirement home. He understands all of the subtle necessities of suburban etiquette and safety. Always walk on the sidewalk unless you are directed “off-trail” to allow neighbors to pass or you are heeled into training or trekking areas. Always stop at every roadway or traffic intersection to make eye contact and heel safely across the auto path. Always stay composed taking care of your personal business on lead because some suburban areas have very strict leash laws and because the human has no particular desire to search for your deposits preceding the obligatory bag it up. Always wait patiently while the human collects your deposits. If you must make a deposit in a flower garden or in Widgeon’s case on a neighbor’s tree trunk, do so carefully with grace and style. Always approach a stranger with caution and never approach without an invitation. Always ignore your neighbor’s dog even though he is barking like the sky is falling. Always ignore the suburban squirrels and rabbits because they lack a clear understanding of nature’s food chain. Even Widgeon in all his wisdom has a hard time ignoring the dumb suburban rabbits.
After an exciting youth working fields in Ireland and England before heading to America to help create more remarkable “Gentleman’s Gundog TM“ puppies and to pursue a long and very fruitful career training, trekking, and hunting in Oxford Mississippi and all over the United States, Widgeon has landed in Champaign Illinois. In addition to his new therapy dog career, Widgeon will continue to train, trek, and hunt all over America with his small retirement pack. In conclusion I have to say that Widgeon has truly “assisted living” in the Wilson retirement home.