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The Pick of the Litter

By Tom Word | Apr 05, 2018
Photo by: From a paintng by Robert Abbett

After Mary Muldoon’s win of the National Championship and the Free-for-All the same year back in the Dirty Thirties, her owner Harley Keen decided to breed her to his friend Richard Bain’s Billy Bones, the pointer that won the Free-for-All the year before Mary.

Keen and Bain were two rare fortunates of those awful days, at least in material ways. Keen’s company made cigarettes, Bain’s made whiskey, and for those two softeners of mankind’s misery day-to-day there was no slack in demand. Just the opposite.

But of course the softening was mostly an illusion, for cigarettes ruined the lungs and whiskey for too many formed a deadly addiction. They still do, eight decades later, and they are still legal and profitable for the makers. But that is not what this story is about.

Mary Muldoon was bred to Billy Bones in October, or so the papers said. She whelped only two pups, but they were beauties, a gyp and a male, both white with gold ears. With only two to nurse, Mary had more than enough milk, and they grew up healthy.

Booty Blevins, Keen’s handler’s scout and much more, saw them born and held them in his hands every day of their lives after that. As soon as they could crawl over the whelping box wall he walked them several times daily, watched them explore, discover frogs, turtles, bees, butterflies, song birds and then quail. Saw them flash point, chase, point, chase.

Then they were five months old and Richard Bain’s handler drove over to Harley Keen’s plantation to make his choice of the pups. The deal was Harley got first choice, and if there were four or more he got half if the number was even, or half less one if uneven. But since there were but two he got one, but the pick of the litter.

Booty had studied the pups constantly since they’d been whelped. He had a definite opinion as to the one that was best, the one he and Mr. Ed could make a champion! That was the bitch, and for one reason. Aside from that reason the two pups were about equal in every way. Booty had been studying on how he could make Mr. Richard’s handler choose the male ever since he heard what the deal was between the two owners, the King of Tobacco and the King of Booz.

Finally the day of choice arrived. Fred Eanes, Bain’s handler, drove up the live oak-lined lane to the kennel. Booty Blevins was waiting. He had the two pups in separate kennel runs at opposite ends.

“How was your drive over from Union Springs, Mister Fred? Could I get you a dipper of spring water, Sir?”

“No thank you Booty. I just want to see those two pups,” Fred Eanes said.

“I figured that would be the case, Sir, and I got that all arranged.”

With that Booty walked Fred Eanes to the run holding the male and quickly snapped a check cord in its collar’s D ring. Then he walked a few yards to an area where he had pen raised quail released in suitable cover. The male pointed three in quick succession with beautiful style and allowed Booty to flush them, then it chased until Booty softly commanded whoa and stopped it at the end of the cord. He then took the pup to open ground with almost no cover and removed the check cord, and it ran and searched with glee, light on its feet and with a high (for those days) cracking tail. In fifteen minutes Booty called him in and led him back to the kennel run.

Fred Eanes was favorably impressed, and Booty sensed it.

Then Booty walked Fred Eanes to the run holding the female Booty had named Molly, though he did not call her that as he snapped the check cord to her collar.

He had set up an area similar to that he’d used to show the male and released pen raised birds for her also.

She knew what was coming and in minutes pointed three birds as the male had. But she did so with little enthusiasm or style or intensity. Then, taken to open ground she dutifully ran, again showing little enthusiasm.

When Booty returned her to her run, Fred Eanes said without hesitation, “Mr. Bain will take the male.”

Booty was elated, but struggled not to show it. As soon as Fred Eanes’ Model A truck with the male pup in a crate in its bed had disappeared leaving a cloud of dust, Booty ran to Ed Moore’s cottage to give him the good news. He had intentionally not been at the kennel to see Fred Eanes for fear of interfering with Booty’s performance.

What Booty and Ed knew about the pups that Fred Eanes did not was that Molly had by far the superior nose, but disliked pointing released birds. She wanted only to seek and point wild ones, and did so with intensity and style. To the contrary, the male pup could find and point released birds but not wild ones, a frequently encountered weakness in the old days just as nowadays. A short nose, they call it, then and now, and it has no cure.

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