Being a major media attraction isn’t a walk in the park. Neither is being adored by thousands. So hats off – or extra biscuits – to the dogs of Pheasant Fest.
It can’t be easy for a true bred hunting dog to line up in a parade of varied breeds in a strange hallway then march through a crowd to pose before an even bigger crowd. The enormity of the convention center, with its sensory overload of colors and noises, is a far cry from the sharp air and clean swoosh of prairie or sunlit morning gold of the southern quail pines. But these beautiful dogs took it all in stride, wagging at admirers and absorbing pet after pat after kiss.
Some of the dogs posed proudly on tables, others beckoned visitors into their booths. A small Munsterlander waited patiently while conversations rambled on around her. A sleek Weimaraner stood confidently by his owner’s chair, making eye contact with every camera lens turned his way. Reclining on an elevated platform, a noble chocolate Lab seemed to have magnetic fur, luring hands from nearly every passer-by. While their owners answered a myriad of questions about breed and training, the dogs themselves drew the attention. No written or verbal information could equal attendees’ hands-on and eyes-on experience of being able to study and touch each dog.
One of the best moments I witnessed was late Saturday afternoon. Fergi, a young German shorthair, was lying visibly pooped on her training table in the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) booth. She’d been doing retrieving demos and obedience drills all Friday afternoon and Saturday. Getting a break from the demos, Fergi was due for a nap. When a young boy came over to give her a pet, her eyes glanced up. His hand went out to stroke her head. Calmly, quietly, Fergi rose up, turned in a very slow half circle and settled back down for her snooze, offering her back and hind quarters to the boy’s hand. She was so tired and so sweet, not wanting to pull away from him but not able to take one more pat on the head. Within seconds, she was deep asleep while the boy stroked her flanks. A win-win situation.
Dogs rested in crates in the back of booths. Dogs performed on stage, focusing on their trainers instead of the distracting crowd. Dogs strolled the aisles with only their owners’ leashes keeping them from tempting jerky treats, french fries, and candies galore. Throughout, it was clear that these dogs enjoyed the opportunity to please their handlers and participate in the event…even if there were no coveys to point or roosters to retrieve.
National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic 2015 will be February 20, 21 & 22, 2015 at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.