Most people don’t realize that I had no experience with dogs growing up as a child, other than my poodle “Snuffy” (no joke!). I have come a long way since the days with Snuffy. I now host two national hunting television shows, own 27 dogs, produce great Labrador retriever puppies, and train other peoples’ gun dogs. To say the least, dogs have given me a firm direction in my path through life.
This life started out with the simple desire to own a chocolate Labrador retriever. I wanted to have a dog that would go with me scouting for deer signs in the great Northwoods of Wisconsin. I wasn’t looking for an accomplished gun dog, just a buddy to walk through life with. I got my first Lab, Lily Belle, and really enjoyed her companionship and the team that we became in the field. It was amazing all she taught me about hunting dogs, including what not to do in training. I achieved my greatest accomplishments and had my biggest learning experience with this dog. She taught me more in life and ultimately in her death than I ever could put onto paper.
Lily also set into motion my future in life and career. I decided to have just one litter of pups with her. We kept a pup from that litter, and from there things progressed at a rate that would make your head spin.
I started to make plans for my retirement, some 20 years into the future. The goal was to start a small kennel, slowly build up the brand, and have a formidable business in place when my law enforcement career was over. Of course, we can’t see around the bend in the road ahead, and ultimately that retirement came much quicker than desired as a squad accident ended what was a promising career.
At 34 , I was a retired police sergeant, living on a modest pension, looking for a different direction. For months, I had been contemplating what I could do with my future, and all along, the answer was staring up at me with big brown eyes and a waggy tail. My girl Lily, who never left my side, surgery after surgery, would be the answer. I started to keep and breed more female Labrador retrievers. I didn’t have any real world business experience, but would use common sense and let the dogs lead the way.
Common sense led me to believe that ads in local newspapers would not be sufficient to get the word out on my new passion. I began public speaking, including, yearly seminars at the National Pheasant Fest, the convention for Pheasants Forever. I also was hired to speak at several other events annually, addressing topics such as quality breeding programs, health guarantees, and my love for dogs.
Maybe it’s the connections we create ourselves, or maybe it’s fate, but word continued to spread about Soggy Acres Retrievers. I was fortunate to be asked to appear on Outdoor Wisconsin to talk about puppies. Several groups in the outdoor hunting industry saw the clip and approached me about being part of a television show. I joined with a small group of friends from various backgrounds, and we created a show called SportingDog Adventures. The show was to be family-oriented, incorporating dogs, youth, and lessons learned in the field–a stark contrast to the high-fiving, hoodie-wearing kill-shows that had become commonplace. We are now heading into season three on the Pursuit Channel; clearly, we have a product that is in demand.
Opportunities in the dog world continue to roll in. I was recently offered the opportunity to co-host a second hunting television series called the Bird Dog Circuit World Championships on the Sportsman Channel. The show features the stiff competition of dogs and their handlers competing in the field for the title of World Champion. This show was a great fit for everyone, in that I got to enjoy watching the best of dogs compete, and the producers got to enjoy commentary from someone knowledgeable in both breeding and training hunting dogs.
I often tell people that my business isn’t just selling Lab pups, but is more like selling family’s dreams. The dream may be to have a best friend to frolic with in the park, drive around in your truck, or hunt in the field. Everyone’s dream is different, and sometimes our dreams take us in unexpected directions.
Speaking of unexpected directions, I wonder where this journey in life will take me. I’ve grown from two dogs to 27, from one litter of lab pups every two years to 12 annually, and from training my own dogs to training six per month for people serious about a hunting companion. Who would have thought a police sergeant from a small suburb would end up owning a kennel and hosting two national television shows? I never saw it coming…but then you just never know where a furry four-legged friend can lead you.
Image courtesy SportingDog TV