I traveled to Britain in the mid 1980’s to learn more about that nation’s retrievers and how they might be used in the American hunt. Finally, to better understand the possibilities, I imported two adult Labradors and three puppies from the UK.
That initial immersion eventually led to an importing and breeding business that spanned three decades before my wife mainly ran it and I sold it five years ago.
In that time I’ve learned a lot about dogs and a lot about people, but more about dogs and Humans – especially how dogs are almost uniquely able to generate great joy in a person’s life, be it a queen or a commoner. . . or a president.
When Millie, President HW and Barbara Bush’s Springer Spaniel, died in 1997 at the age of 12, the news broke nationwide, even though President Bush had been out of office for three years. Millie was celebrated in the First Lady’s 1990 book, which raised $1.1 million for the Bushes Foundation for Family Literacy.
At this point I had imported a number of jumpers for US customers. One was Will Farish, a thoroughbred breeder in Kentucky, former President of Churchill Downs and longtime friend of the Bushes. Farish was also a friend of Queen Elizabeth II, who stayed at his house on trips to the Bluegrass State to buy horses.
One day Farish called me. “The Bushes need a jumper to replace Millie,” he said.
‘Good,’ I said, handing the job to Tony Parnell, my English friend who not only runs Sandringham House for the Queen but is also an excellent retriever and jumper trainer and handler.
A month passed before Parnell called back. “I found a jumper,” he said.
When informed of this, the Bushes, through their secretary, asked me if they could collect the dog while they were in the UK to attend Wimbledon. They also wondered if Parnell could meet them with the dog at the Queen’s Windsor estate because they had never visited before.
I called Parnell. “Is the Queen ok with the bushes meeting you at Windsor?”
He had the answer within hours. “No problem,” he said.
That was before the Bushes’ travel plans got even more complicated and it seemed like America’s newest dog for crossing the Atlantic could be confined to the luggage compartment of an airliner.
To spare the dog this humiliation, a member of the Saudi royal family who was a friend of President Bush came to the rescue. His plane was big enough – and much larger – for the Bushes’ new dog to fly comfortably with them, upstairs and in an assigned seat if desired.
“Everyone left for America happy,” Parnell said.