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Pocotaligo Kennels Boykins make showing at Westminster
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Boykin Spaniel Sly, playing with owner/trainer Kim Parkman, was one of the first of the breed to compete in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show last month. - photo by Gee Atkinson

The first Boykin Spaniel that Kim Parkman ever saw was in 1980 when her future husband, Jule, gave his father a puppy as a gift. "He was the foundation stock with the Boykin Registry," Parkman said.

Parkman now breeds, trains and sells Boykins at Pocotaligo Kennels, located behind her home on Lake Ashwood Road in Lee County.

Since the breed's beginnings in the early 1900s in the Boykin community of Kershaw County, the affable animal has been making steady inroads in owners' hearts and Southern culture.

The Boykin was bred to hunt ducks and birds, and hunters liked its smaller size because it was easier to lift in and out of boats.

The dogs have a wavy, dark chocolate coat with soulful amber eyes. "Boykins have friendly, eager-to-please temperaments," Parkman said.

The Boykin Spaniel became South Carolina's state dog in 1985. Last month, the breed marked another milestone---14 Boykins became the first of their breed to compete in the Westminster Kennel Club's 135th Annual Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York.

And two of them were Parkman's dogs.

GCH CH (Grand Champion, Champion) Pocotaligo's Big Lick JH (Junior Hunter), also known as "Peach," and GCH CH Pocotaligo's Swamp Fox SH (Senior Hunter), called "Sly," competed in the sporting dog section, made up of spaniels, retrievers, pointers and setters.

While they didn't win, Parkman couldn't be prouder.

"It was a good experience and I think they did great," she said. "They're not show dogs at all and they're not treated around here like show dogs. I'd rather see them running around the farm than a show ring. Both Peach and Sly have hunt test titles; I make sure all my dogs are trained as they should be. They are hunting dogs. I've said in the past that no Pocotaligo dog will ever be a show dog. I kinda had to eat those words."

The road to Westminster had an unlikely start, Parkman says.

"The first show Peach was in, there were only three Boykins. And I'd just given Peach a hair cut," she said. "She got beat on Day 1 and Day 2. The owner of the other two Boykins said in a public forum that 'it's never pretty when hunting dogs come into a show ring'."

That didn't sit too well with Parkman and Peach's co-owner, Sandra Johnson of Tennessee, so they set out to see if it was true.

And apparently it wasn't. Peach became the breed's first Grand Champion leading up to the Westminster show. "We beat that woman and her dogs every time we came up against her," Parkman said.

Parkman trained Peach to be a hunter, but to get her "citified" and used to being around people, Peach spent a few months in Atlanta.

In New York,  Parkman took the dogs to Wall Street to be part of the closing bell ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange.

"It was my first trip to New York, too," Parkman said. "It was a lot of fun and I think the dogs enjoyed it, too. They loved the attention; our dogs are very sociable. They love people."

Now Parkman can say that she and her dogs were there when history was made. "It was history for our state and history for the breed," she said.

Not bad for two little country dogs who'd rather be hunting.

Boykins will be a fixture at the most famous dog show of all, but Parkman doesn't know if she'll go back.

"Boykins aren't the best kept secret in South Carolina any more," she says. "But they were bred to be flushing and retrieving dogs and that's what they're happiest doing."

Parkman started raising training and dogs for a living in 1986, establishing Pocotaligo Kennels. She worked and trained with Nancy Jackson of Swift Creek Kennels for a year.

Parkman has trained or bred 22 Boykin Spaniel Society National Champions and has successfully campaigned dogs in AKC Retriever and Spaniel Hunt Tests as well as UKC/HRC and NAHRA events.

Recently, Parkman has taken a job training dogs with the U.S. Marines American K-9 Interdiction in Hartsville.

The dogs, all of them labrador retrievers, some of them champions, are trained to find bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs)  in Afghanistan.

"It's interesting and rewarding work," Parkman says. "You are actually helping to save someone's life, someone who is putting their life on the line for our country."

Parkman said most of the dogs she trains and re-trains have been deployed before.

Several hundred bomb-sniffing retrievers have been deployed with the Marines in Afghanistan.

"The dogs, just like soldiers, will serve a deployment, then come home and get checked out," she said. "The dogs have to go through a re-certification process before each deployment."