Best in Show, Best in Water

While some folks claim salt water in their blood, Chesapeake Bay retrievers have a love of water bred into their genes.

Best in Show, Best in Water

David Harp

Gary Burgess and his fiancée, Loura Waid, have 20-plus Chessie children that absolutely love the "w-a-t-e-r." After a few whispered references to the five-letter word, every resident at Ches-Shores Kennels wants a trip to the beach―now.

Bribing their owners with affection, eight puppies shower Loura in kisses, while an older dog props its paws on Gary's shoulders. Reciprocating the hug, Gary looks into his furry friend's brown eyes.

"Marsh and I have been socializing since he was 10 weeks old," he says. Ears perking, the 85-pound dog barks in affirmation. Following Marsh's lead, the rest of the pack joins in song. "Be quiet, everyone," says Loura in a mothering tone. Because no one seems to be listening, she shouts over the group, "Chessies have selective hearing, just like men."

Eager to hush the crowd, Gary and Loura survey the compound and quickly decide that Marsh, Shelly, and Mickey deserve a romp at the shore. Only two minutes from Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, the couple's home provides the perfect place to raise water-loving pups. Gary enjoys hunting with the crew, while Loura's passion is dog shows.

Their affection for this breed began in 1991 when Gary gave Loura a little Valentine's Day surprise. "When we first introduced Candi to the water, she was fascinated," says Gary. "She'd splash her paws at the waves and then bite the bubbles. Chessies are absolutely obsessed with water."

Indeed. Shelly, Mickey, and Marsh begin whining incessantly with another mention of water. They stand, tails wagging, next to a giant utility van. Individual cages inside the vehicle ensure it's not a dog-eat-dog excursion. But Marsh, the kennel's top dog, loudly barks his disapproval of neighbor Mickey. Gary calms them down, but Marsh still glares at his opponent. "Stop eyeballin' Mickey," says Gary with authority. Whimpers and whines erupt, but finally the troop is on its way.

Upon arrival, Gary and Loura swing open the van's back doors, revealing to the dogs a shore lined with shrimp boats and skiffs. The smell of salt water and the tempting view elicits enthusiastic yelps. To control the three heavyweights, only one is released at a time. Shelly isn't as rambunctious as her male comrades, so she patiently waits until last. "Looks like you're going in, Mick-meiser," says Gary. He lures Mickey with one simple question: "Where are the birds?" The born hunter catapults out of confinement and sprints toward the water.

All eyes follow Mickey as he races for the end of the dock and executes a perfect swan dive, or Chessie dive, into the bay. With his front and hindquarters fully extended, back arched, and head held high, Mickey delivers a perfect 10 in form. As for splash, his entry is anything but subtle.

A wave of water engulfs his reddish-brown coat and before anyone can applaud such a marvelous performance, Mickey's head emerges from the water. He seems to be grinning from ear to ear. Paddling swiftly toward shore, he reaches standing ground and leaps onto the dock for another run. But before bounding off, Mickey widens his stance for an extreme shakedown. Recognizing the signs, everyone stands back to avoid a saltwater shower.

"My ultimate dream is to let the dogs swim all the time and then I'd never have to worry about giving them a bath," says Loura. With her arms outstretched revealing a fluffy, white towel, Loura calls Mickey to her side. Disobeying orders, he dashes down the dock for another dip.

As Mickey paddles leisurely around the bay, Loura finally waves the white towel in surrender. Snickering nearby, Gary retorts, "Don't even try to restrain them near the water. Bring a Chessie to the Chesapeake Bay and this is what you get."

For more information, visit the American Chesapeake Club Web site, amchessieclub.org or the American Kennel Club, akc.org/breeds/chesapeake_bay_retriever/index.cfm.

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