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The Boykin Spaniel comes home for national trial

Event to be held in Boykin for first time in 15 years

Posted: April 1, 2014 3:43 p.m.
Updated: April 2, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The story goes something like this: sometime in the early 1900s -- likely between 1905 and 1910 -- Alec White was approaching his church in Spartanburg, close to finishing the 15-minute walk from his home, when he came across a little brown spaniel-looking dog. Accounts differ as to exactly which church White attended (most likely First Presbyterian) or whether or not the stray managed to get inside the church. The one fact that has held up during the 100 years is that the dog was waiting outside for him and followed him home.

According to Mike Creel and Lynn Kelley in their book, The Boykin Spaniel: South Carolina’s Dog (revised edition, 2009), White named the dog Dumpy because it was so small compared to much larger Chesapeake Bay retrievers and bird dogs in his kennel.

While White liked Dumpy, he didn’t have the time to train him, so he sent him to “Mr. Whit” Boykin in Kershaw County for master training. For Boykin, and others who hunted along the Wateree River, Dumpy’s arrival was providential. Hunters in the area had been looking for a dog smart and talented enough to retrieve game, but small enough not to upset the sectional boats they used on the Wateree. Boykin bred Dumpy with a reddish-brown dog named Singo giving rise to what would ultimately be known as the Boykin Spaniel breed.

Fast-forward to June 1977. Edmund “Beaver” Hardy, Henry and Kitty Beard, Baynard and Tillie Boykin, Alice and Whit Boykin II and Dr. Peter McKoy founded the Boykin Spaniel Society in an effort to keep the breed unspoiled as its popularity soared. Three years later, May 1980, the society holds its first national hunting test.

Now, 34 years later and for the first time in its history, the society is bringing its National Field Trial to the place where the breed was born: Boykin, Kershaw County, South Carolina. The four-day event will begin April 10 and promises to bring hundreds of dogs, their owners and their families, and spectators to Boykin and Camden.

It’s a homecoming of sorts for the Boykin Spaniel, which became the official South Carolina state dog in March 1985.

The society

Kitty Beard, a school nurse for 30 years, remembers setting up her manual typewriter on a card table so she could come up with the first letter inviting other Boykin Spaniel owners and fans to join the newly formed society, dated July 5, 1977.

“We used the invitation list for the Boykin-Cantey Reunion and then sent it to anyone else whose address we had,” Beard said.

As reprinted in The Boykin Spaniel, the invitation laid out the society’s concern: that “indiscriminate breeding” was endangering the breed. According to Dawn Crites, the society’s executive secretary and editor of the society’s official magazine, the invitation mentioned a $10 membership fee. The society next met on Aug. 9, 1977.

A periodic newsletter followed as the society continued to work out of members’ homes. For a time, the society’s official headquarters was in Beard’s husband, Henry’s, office with a secretary helping out. By the mid-1980s or so, new headquarters were established in Dusty Bend.

Of the founding members, Beard said Dr. McKoy, a veterinarian, was the only member who never owned a Boykin Spaniel. That didn’t keep him from being pivotal to the society’s early success.

“He was our president for several years,” she said. “He lived in Boykin and knew all of us and realized the breed was going to go to pot unless we got organized.”

It all started when Creel wrote an article in South Carolina Wildlife magazine.

“Then, all of a sudden it got popular, and that’s when Peter got involved,” Beard said.

In his book, Creel and Kelly related how McKoy was upset by deformed dogs he saw in his practice, a result of “greed and indiscriminate breeding,” and others who passed off dogs as Boykin Spaniels, when they weren’t, just to earn money.

“He really saw it (forming the society) as a need and it stuck with everyone at the meeting,” Beard said.

Another person who helped was Eddie Durant, Beard said.

“About six months after the first meeting, he wrote the rules,” she said, referring to work Durant did -- along with Hardy and John Chappell -- to create what would ultimately be the first Boykin Spaniel national field trial three years later.

“The early ‘trials’ were get local get-togethers for the first three years,” Crites said.

June 1980: the first “mini” trial and “show off” for Boykin Spaniels is held at Hardy’s rice pond near Elgin. Eighty-four dogs are listed as foundation stock in the society’s registry; 61 participate in the trial.

In 1982, a regional, companion club formed -- the Carolina Boykin Spaniel Retriever Club (CBSRC). The society acts as the official registry organization for the CBSRC.

“We were so focused on the registry. We didn’t have the time,” Beard said, to host the multiple trials the CBSRC does as a local club.

Crites explained that the CBSRC holds its own events and awards while the Boykin Spaniel Society crowns a national champion.

“(It’s) to basically keep training for the big event which is the national and then also for hunting retriever club events through the United Kennel Club around the country,” she said.

Since the original national trial, the event has been held all over South Carolina -- Winnsboro, Remini, Patrick, Society Hill, just to name a few; even in Camden and at the late Leonard Price’s North Camden Plantation near North Central High School. But never Boykin, except for once. The 20th annual trials were held at the Boykin Mill Club, April 8-11, 1999, according to The Boykin Spaniel.

The society also hosts the Upland National Field Trials in January of each year, begun in 2002.

2014 Field Trial

As of March 25, the Boykin Spaniel Society boasts 3,200 members from all over the country and around the world. There are now 29,079 registered Boykin Spaniels following 9,119 litters since Dumpy and Singo were first brought together a century ago.

The National Field Trial set to begin April 10 will feature some 150 to 175 Boykin Spaniels, Crites said.

“That’s 250 to 300 spectators and participants,” she said. “All the B&Bs and hotels are booked up -- just about everything. We had one hotel fully booked by Christmas. A lot of them will be eating here, buying gas and snacks.”

April 10, a Thursday, will start things off at Camden’s Rhame Arena as the Boykin Spaniel Foundation (BSF) offers free eye and heart screenings. The foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, will likely spend $10,000 on the free clinic. That day will also feature the society’s annual meeting.

That evening, participants who have purchased tickets as part of their entry will head to Boykin and the Boykin Grill Company for the society’s seventh annual oyster roast. Crites expects 250 people to enjoy the meal.

Friday morning, April 11, there will be a handlers meeting at Rhame. After that, “stakes” will be held in puppies, novice, intermediate and open categories as part of the quest to become national champions. Side games will also be offered at the Boykin Gun Club on S.C. 261.

Crites said the side games include, among several a Benelli gun skeet shoot, Duck Dog shootout, speed obstacle course and hot dog retrieve.

“Not a lot of hot dogs come back,” she said, adding that the side games help keep the dogs -- and handlers -- happy between events. “Rescue dogs can participate in the side games, even if they’re not registered dogs.”

Another one of the highlights of the event will be a tour of where Whit Boykin lived, Pine Grove Plantation.

“We got permission from John and Elizabeth Fort, who own the property now,” Crites said. “They’ll get to go where the first Boykin Spaniels were bred, tour and walk the property.”

Friday night, the society will host a banquet and cocktail party with a live auction to benefit the BSF.

Saturday morning, April 12, will feature the conclusion of the trial with four champions determined, one for each stake. The crowning will be back at Rhame Arena.

That’s not the end of the weekend, however. Sunday, April 13, the society will offer a roustabout as a cap to the annual event.

“It’s the cherry on the sundae,” Crites said. “The dogs love to get out there and flush the birds out.”

The entire experience is not only to determine which dog runs in the straightest line, or has the cleanest start, or follows command the best. It’s to help teach the dogs to do all those things in order to help their masters hunt.

“It’s all about not losing game,” Crites said.

But, she and Beard point out, only 10 percent of all Boykin Spaniels ever participate in field trials

“The vast majority are hunting dogs and pets,” Crites said.

“It wasn’t for show,” Beard added about why Boykin and other Wateree River area residents loved the results of breeding Dumpy and Singo. “They wanted a dog that wouldn’t rock the boat. They could jump in or out and not cause it to capsize.”

That explains the dog’s size as a retrieving dog that can be taken out on the water. But what about one of the Boykin Spaniels’ most recognizable features: a docked tail?

“It was a turkey hunters’ dog first. They would wag their tails so fast, it would rustle the leaves on the ground, making too much noise, so they docked them,” Beard said.

For more information about the Boykin Spaniel Society, the breed and this year’s event, visit www.boykinspaniel.org.

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