By Bill Behnke
Somebody once told me that bringing home a puppy is pretty much assured to be a “countdown to sorrow.” I didn’t realize how much truth there was in this statement until this morning. Today I lost a very special friend.
Field Trial Winner Glenshee Ghillie of Craigenross (“Ghillie”) was born at Wattieston Farm in Kilbirnie, Scotland and was imported by Wildrose Kennels in 2003. Later in 2005, Wildrose imported Ghillie’s littermate, Field Trial Champion Gusty Garry (“Kane”). Both Kane and Ghillie possess an impressive pedigree with 12 titled ancestors of 14 in a three-generation pedigree, including FTCh Pocklea Remus on both the top and bottom of their bloodlines.
Ghillie wasn’t my first dog and he will not be my last; however, he will likely be the dog that I will always have the fondest memories of. My story starts in 2006. I had been hunting pheasant in North Dakota regularly with a group of friends and it became obvious to me that the hunters that enjoyed the experience the most were those that had their own dogs. For the rest of us, pheasant hunting in the Dakotas was an absurd combination of shooting, cross-country running and hide-and-seek. Upon returning from North Dakota in 2006, I invested various bottles of good wine and several long nights perusing the Internet looking for breeders of upland trained hunting Labradors. In my quest, I repeatedly came across many recommendations and endorsements for Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi.
I will not go through the whole story of contacting Mike and Cathy. Getting “pre-qualified” for a finished Wildrose retriever involved writing a long letter describing my hunting experience and exactly what I wanted and expected from a retriever, sending off my deposit via FedEx and then pacing around waiting expectantly. Being a new to the process, I expected finished retriever to arrive almost immediately much in the way a Coke drops out of a soda machine after you put in the last quarter. Needless to say, I really didn’t know what I wanted nor did I know what to expect during the process.
In February 2007, Mike contacted me and indicated that he “may” have a retriever that “might” be well suited to my relatively ill defined needs. The only catch was that I would be required to travel from Alaska to Oxford to participate in the Basic and Advanced Handlers Class before he could determine if this yet unnamed dog would be a good fit. Additional details regarding my prospective hunting companion were scarce and Mike was reluctant to send any photos until he had an opportunity to meet me. I’ve been through a few job interviews in my life and in every way it appeared that I was being interviewed to determine if I was “suitable” for consideration. While somewhat frustrated with the next hurdle in the interview process, Sandy and I made immediate plans to travel to Wildrose that March.
A day prior to the start of 2007 Basic Handlers Class, Sandy and I made the 3,300 mile journey from Anchorage to Oxford. Our plane landed in Memphis shortly before 4PM and we didn’t waste any time driving straight from the Memphis airport to Wildrose to meet our prospective retriever. Mike and Cathy were having dinner when we arrived and, after waiting impatiently for them to finish, Mike gave me my first introduction to Ghillie.
After some initial discussion, Mike began to introduce me to Ghillie’s handling skills. Off lead Ghillie heeled along side Mike first turning to the right and then to the left. Mike followed by working Ghillie through some lining and casting drills. Then it was my turn. Ghillie walked next to me on a lead as I walked around the yard, he sat when I asked him to sit and he did a few short retrieves. Casting left, right or back was somewhat beyond my very limited abilities. Regardless, after five minutes I had firmly decided that Ghillie and I were a perfect pair and I pulled out my checkbook to seal the deal. This is where the interview recommences. Mike took the position that he needed to see me work with Ghillie further during the Basic Handlers class before considering if Ghillie and I were a good match. Clearly my bonifides needed to be further tested before Mike was willing to seriously consider parting with Ghillie.
As I am frequently reminded, my first trip through the Basic and Advanced Handlers Class was a train wreck. Cast left with your left hand, cast right with your right hand – this all seems simple in principle but proved much more challenging when there is a dog on the other end of the command. All through the training, Ghillie remained patient and willing. He seemed to know intuitively what I wanted him to do and would respond slowly when the command didn’t exactly match what he knew to be the desired outcome. After three full days of training (and daily attempts on my behalf to complete the purchase), Mike reluctantly consented to letting Ghillie return home with us to Alaska. It was a wonderful day that I will always be thankful for. Sandy and I are truly indebted to Mike and Cathy Stewart for enhancing our lives in so many ways.
Ghillie returned to Anchorage to become my full-time companion. He came to work with me and, when possible, he traveled on business trips with me. I work in a high-rise that prohibits dogs – a policy that was reversed after others in the building met Ghillie. It wasn’t too long after Ghillie came home that he was properly “badged” such that he could join me in frequent business meetings at AT&T’s headquarters building in Anchorage. There were very few places I went that Ghillie wasn’t welcome.
At his core, Ghillie was a true “Gentleman’s Gundog”. We have hunted for pheasants in the open fields of Oregon, Montana and the Dakotas and we have chased covies of quail in Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Ghillie and I have sat in countless blinds hunting waterfowl in Alaska, Mississippi and Arkansas.
When not hunting, Ghillie enjoyed adventures. Our trips took us from Cold Bay, Alaska to Key West, Florida and from Boston, Massachusetts to San Diego, California. Ghillie has traveled in fishing skiffs in western Alaska, party barges on Red Shirt Lake, corporate jets, commercial turbo props, floatplanes, seaplanes and helicopters. His quiet nature and solid obedience skills made him easy to take along everywhere.
Ghillie not only won our hearts, he touched others in a similar way. Wildrose protégée such as Buzz, Andy, Dino, Dakota, Ash, Diver, Sasha, Leah, Foxy and most recently Shelby have all found their owners through Ghillie’s influence. Ghillie has served well in his role as an ambassador for Wildrose in Alaska.
It has been a few months since Ghillie was able to participate in any of my long evening walks with Ice and Opus. We often wander the same routes each night and something seems missing when Ghillie is not there. I guess that’s a feeling I’m going to have to get use to and it makes me sad. I will forever think of Ghillie as being a very special best friend.
Good-bye Ghillie…. I want to thank you for everything you taught me. Rest well my friend…I love you.
Ghillie is returning to Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, MS and will be laid to rest beside his brother Kane in the Wildrose Gundog Memorial Cemetery