American Field

Repo Man

By Gerry MacKenzie | Jun 02, 2020

An allegedly true story by Tom Word appeared in an earlier issue of this outlet inspired this writing. His article involved a rescue of missing bird dogs.

The factual account that follows was a rescue of sorts, but more technically a repossession.

In 1976 I won the Pacific Coast Derby Championship with a pointer male registered as Cash Inheritance. Cash was but twenty months old when he won that stake.

He was a very precocious individual, and appeared to have a bright future.

I was quite proud of him, as I had raised both him and his sire, Taylordale’s Jon Henry, as puppies.

Cash was owned at that time by Dr. David Grimwood of Lake Oswego, Oregon. I was struggling to get established at the time, and Dr. Grimwood agreed to campaign Cash as a magnanimous gesture. He was pleased with the job I had done developing his Brittany pup, Roger.

In April of 1976 I accepted George Wold’s invitation to fly to Illinois with a few of my dogs and run in the Illinois Open Shooting Dog Championship. Cash was named runner-up in the Derby Classic that accompanied the Championship — a high quality stake that boasted a large entry on that year and thereby Cash established a favorable reputation among Midwest field trialers.

I relocated from Oregon to Missouri in September of 1977. I tried to sell Cash to someone who would be willing to campaign him, as I knew it would be asking a lot of Dr. Grimwood to continue to do so with 2,000 miles separating us. All who expressed interest in purchasing the dog wanted either to compete with him themselves, or place him with another trainer.

Of course I did not want that to happen, nor did Dr. Grimwood. He was aware of Cash’s and my history and being a friend as well as a client was sympathetic to the situation.

He agreed to continue to sponsor him in trials I elected to run him in, and we hoped that his stature would grow by so doing. We felt that if that was the case he could be sold on my terms.

So, I entered Cash in every trial I attended whether they were small weekend events or titular stakes.

During his “first year” season he placed in a couple of the weekend events, and deported himself acceptably in the larger stakes, although little mistakes not uncommon during that transition year kept him out of the money. His potential, however, did not go unnoticed.

He had an especially good performance in the Michigan Open Shooting Dog Championship. A few more good finds and he may have been in the money.

The following season he began to put it all together. He had an especially good performance in the Oklahoma Open Shooting Dog Championship, wherein a bad break was his undoing. His second covey, at about the 50-minute mark, was pointed with him standing facing almost bare, rocky ground with a small thicket at the end of it. The thicket seemed the logical place to flush, but I could raise nothing. I advanced toward him to allow him to relocate, and about fifteen birds rocketed from being amazingly camouflaged to blend with what seemed to be the bare ground, and flew right back in his face. He ducked to allow them to pass, and immediately resumed his lofty stand when I shot.

The judge covering the work stated sympathetically, “Aw, what a shame.” I saw nothing about the situation to discredit him for, but then I was not judging. If those birds had flown straight away from him, he well could have been in the money.

His best effort of that season took place once again at the Michigan Open Shooting Dog Championship. This time yours truly absolutely cost him that title with a bone head stunt that I was reminded of every time I returned to the Wolverine State.

By the 50-minute mark, Cash had scored five excellent finds and a beautiful voluntary back of his bracemate. His ground effort was scintillating, smooth, forward, and highlighted by his lofty, animated carriage. At that point all who saw him agreed that he would be the clear winner of the stake. When I say “all” it was a consensus opinion: the judges, the marshal, the entire gallery. It was a slam dunk in the making.

At the 55-minute mark his bracemate pointed to the left front. Not wanting or needing any more bird work, and seeing an opportunity to keep him in hand during the waning minutes, I steered him into a position where he would espy his bracemate on point. Whether or not he would back was not an issue, as he was quite reliable in that department, and in fact honored the stand beautifully the instant he saw it.

I had seen a competitor of mine on the West Coast rather than dismount and stand beside his dog when it backed, simply stop his horse and sit astride it until the work was completed, demonstrating his dog’s impeccable manners. He would then give it a short whistle signal and send it on. Why I chose to emulate this guy I will never know. I guess I thought a bit of showboating would put the icing on this fantastic cake Cash was baking.

Sadly, I did exactly that.

When my bracemate’s handler put a pheasant to wing, his dog broke and chased it, may even have barked a bit. I guess Cash figured he might help catch the bird. He broke and chased as well. And there I sat, helpless, holding a “big bowl of icing” with nowhere to put it.

That very spot has been commemorated as the site of MacKenzie’s Waterloo, or with a similar fitting description, and in years afterward every time the gallery passed the scene, and I was riding, someone would be “kind” enough to bring it to my attention.

If there was a silver lining in that cloud, it was that those who witnessed the performance did not hold my stupidity against Cash. All were impressed with his performance, and rightfully so.

Afterward I began to receive overtures as to whether he might be for sale, as many were aware of the circumstances involving his owner, who was very much an absentee owner and not one to gain his pleasure vicariously.

One gentleman seemed very persistent in seeking to acquire the dog, even to the point of soliciting the help of others to negotiate with me. This fellow was from a small town in Canada located fairly close to the Ionia grounds.

He was Italian in descent, bilingual and at times difficult to understand. Being half Italian myself, and having been taught a bit of the language by my maternal grandparents, I at least developed somewhat of an affinity with him.

I explained to him that if the dog was sold, he would have to remain in my string to be campaigned. He assured me that this would not be a problem. The selling price was established. He agreed to that, and asked if he could put $500 down and pay the balance later in the spring. I said that would be fine, and explained that the registration papers would be held until the entire debt was satisfied. Once again he assured me that it would be no problem.

He then made a request that made me a bit uneasy. He knew, since I had told him, that the trial I was attending would be my last until fall trials began. He requested that I leave the dog with him so that he could be run in some small stakes in his region that extended later into the spring. He promised that he would return the dog to me as soon as those events concluded. As “collateral” he would send two Derby-age dogs home with me so that I could work them for the remainder of the spring.

Seemingly protected on all sides, I agreed to go ahead with the sale. He had tendered the down payment, Dr. Grimwood held the registration certificate in escrow, and I had the man’s Derby-age dogs as real collateral. More importantly, he had promised solemnly to live up to the terms I had laid out.

Having grown up in a small, predominately Italian community, I knew that an Italian’s word was his bond. In matters such as this, Italians were not inclined to lie, especially to fellow Italians. Those who did so were known to suffer dire consequences. And so I left Michigan minus Cash and holding this Man’s check and his two Derbies. I cashed the check (it was a good one) and sent the proceeds via a money order to Dr. Grimwood, with adamant instructions not to release the registration certificate under any circumstances until he was paid in full.

WHAT was it that Gomer Pyle used to say at the slightest turn of events? “SURPRISE! SURPRISE”!

Well, I got two of them courtesy of my new “client”. I began working the man’s Derby-age dogs that I had felt were valid collateral in this scenario. Guess what? They were worthless. I conveyed this discovery to said client and HE did not seem surprised. What I had deemed as collateral he probably regarded as relief on his feed bill.

When I inquired as to what to do with them, he curtly replied, “I donta care, you jus’ agetta rid of Derbs. I donta wanta ’em no more.”

Well, this was a problem I did not feel was mine to solve. Since the field trial season in his region had ended prior to this conversation, I asked when he would be returning Cash to me. Then came surprise number two. “I no senda him back, I keepa him here for myself to arun.”

As I was explaining to him the promise he made and that he still owed Dr. Grimwood $2000 and would not get the dog’s papers until Grimwood was paid, my answer was a loud CLICK on the other end of the line. Any further calls I made were not answered. I could not understand this man’s logic or lack thereof. Without papers, the dog was worthless to him, as he could not run him in trials or breed him. To simply use the dog as a gun dog would be both difficult and a terrible waste of talent.

Feeling I really had no remedies, I had resigned myself to the fact that Dr. Grimwood and I had been dealt a losing hand.

Then one day I got a call from a young man from Michigan who was getting involved in trials in that area. I had worked a couple of setters for him, and shared other common interests with him as well. I asked if he knew who this guy was and why he would do such an underhanded deed. He said that he did not know him personally, but simply knew of him through the field trial channels.

Upon hearing of my dilemma, he said, “Lemmedo a little research. I might be able to help you. I’ll call you back when I get more information.”

I certainly had nothing to lose, so I quickly agreed to his offer.

I did not know a lot about my friend’s professional life. I knew he worked in the legal department for a large manufacturing firm, but I didn’t know in what capacity. I later learned that his job was to track down deadbeats, and my new “client” certainly fell into that category. My friend was also an Italian, in fact a full-blooded, registered one and not a half-breed like me. Raised in an “old school” family, he took great umbrage by an Italian double crossing another Italian. I also later found out that this guy could find anybody, anywhere. He was sort of like Joe Lewis describing the fast, elusive Billy Conn before their epic fifteen-round bout — “He can run, but he can’t hide”.

In a couple of days he called me and explained that he had completed his research and would have the dog back to me in less than a week. I couldn’t believe it, but dared not ask him how he would make it happen.

Sure enough, two days later he called and told me the dog would arrive at the Springfield, Missouri airport (I lived at Taberville, Missouri at the time) the next day at noon. Early that next morning he called and said Cash was on his way. Cash arrived right on schedule.

How did this “Repo Man” make it happen?

This is how he explained it to me. He made a trip to the town where Cash was being held, posing as a tourist. He discovered that the man kept his dogs in a fenced-in kennel compound at the outskirts of town. Casual surveillance showed that he went to the kennel twice a day — first thing in the morning before he went to his place of business, and promptly at 4:00 p. m. to feed and clean kennels. Subtle questions posed to townsfolk revealed that he did not vary from this routine. So, the next evening, with forged registration papers and health certificate he crossed the border, returned to the village after dark, and with the help of a friend scaled the fence and entered the compound. He then led the dog to the fence, lifted him over the top to where his friend waited on the outside, and lowered him into his friend’s waiting arms. After scaling the fence in the opposite direction, it was on to the border, a show of the forged papers, and a quick trip home. Cash was flying the friendly skies the next morning and landed in Springfield exactly as promised.

Dr. Grimwood was delighted to hear that his dog had been returned. He graciously agreed to campaign him until I could find a suitable buyer for him, but insisted that the sale would be conditional upon leaving the dog with me.

When Cash was seven years old, I received an inquiry from a gentleman who lived in one of the southern states. He candidly expressed his desire to use Cash as a plantation shooting dog, and agreed to our asking price if he could do that. I felt that Dr. Grimwood had been benevolent enough up to then, and with but a year or two left to be competitive, the decent thing to do would be to go ahead with the sale.

Dr. Grimwood got back a fair amount of the money he had spent, Cash earned a retirement I’m sure he enjoyed, and I was fortunate to have a good group of young dogs with which to replace him. Later I was able to negotiate a trade wherein the “Repo Man” ended up with arguably the best field trial dog he has ever had. We all live happily ever after — SO FAR.

A Postscript

I visited Oregon in 2012, and called Dr. Grimwood to see if he’d like to have lunch the next day. I called with a bit of trepidation as I had not spoken to him for a few years, and since he would have been in his nineties, was not sure he was still with us.

He answered the call cheerily, said yes he had just turned 93, but could not make lunch the next day. He was a part of a charity ride held annually by his motorcycle club. He was excited because he had just purchased a new bike and was anxious to try it out.

“Maybe next time, Gerry,” was his closing greeting. Right!


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