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The News & Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina
Thursday, February 26, 2004 8:38AM EST
'Weims' at work
Weimaraners aren't for everyone, but the sometimes-maligned breed inspires loyal fanciers who love its assertiveness, its slower hunting pace and its willingness to please. Fans strive to preserve distinctive-looking dog's hunting heritage
By MIKE ZLOTNICKI, Staff Writer, The News & Observer, Raliegh, North Carolina
SNOW HILL -- It certainly didn't look like a gathering of bird-dog fanciers. Instead of pickup trucks, the parking area at Johnson Marsh Hunting Preserve was filled mostly with shiny SUVs and mini-vans. Wire crates, not wooden or aluminum dog boxes, filled the cargo areas. And though some patrons wore typical upland garb, few of the garments sported blood stains or briar nicks. Many of the participants were female. Even the dogs were different. Instead of the usual pointers, setters and spaniels, only one monochromatic breed was present - the Weimaraner.
They were brought together Friday as the Tarheel Weimaraner Club conducted a hunt test for members' dogs at Johnson Marsh. The club, with about 120 members, is dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the breed by sponsoring confirmation tests, obedience trials, field trials and hunt tests.
The club tests in three categories: shooting dog, retrieving dog, versatile dog. Within the shooting dog ratings, there are three levels:
* Novice Shooting Dog, in which young or inexperienced dogs are guaranteed bird contact, tests desire, boldness, basic obedience, gun shyness and pointing instinct;
* Shooting Dog tests definite hunting ability, bird sense and field training, and retrieving ability as birds are shot over the dogs;
* Shooting Dog Excellent expects dogs to be what must bird hunters call "finished" or "broke" dogs: stylish in the field, staunch on point, willing to honor a brace mate's point and able to retrieve.
The dogs were released in a "back field" to release nervous energy and to get used to brace mates, then they made their way to the "bird field," where quail have been released. Horseback-mounted judges from the club's ranks scored the dogs, which wore yellow or orange collars for identification.
Dog fanciers used to competitive field trials with hard-charging pointers and setters would have found the event much more laid back from canine and handler standpoints. Weimaraners, and their owners, are unique.
"At the lower levels, we don't have to kill birds," said Betsy Amos of Knightdale, secretary of the club. "You don't have the politics of field trials. You either pass or don't pass."
Most of the dogs wouldn't have passed muster at a typical field trial, nor would one expect them to. Weimaraners hunt at a much slower pace than most pointing breeds and are not as stylish in the field. Because most hunting is done by foot, not horseback, that can be a desirable trait. And it's not the only trait that endears these dogs to their owners.
"They're willingness to please is awesome," said Randy Hall of Kinston, owner of Casino Weimaraners kennel and a trainer with 20 years of experience. "They're a closer-working gun dog than a pointer or setter or something like that. They won't take hard corrections during training; you have to finesse them in and out of things. You can't kennel a 'Weim'; they have to be around people all the time."
Betta Breuhaus of New Hill echoed his comments. An equine veterinarian at the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine, Breuhaus got her first Weimaraner in 1978 and has been breeding the dogs for 10 years.
"The average suburban family probably doesn't need a Weim. They can't be left out in the yard. They usually need a job: running, hunting, obedience," she said. "They make great gun dogs, but you can't leave them in a kennel for nine months a year.
"We're just trying to make sure that the dogs we're selecting for our breeding programs retain the natural hunting instincts."
Her 10-month-old bitch Emme is a good example.
"She's earned almost all of the points needed for her show championship," Breuhaus said. "Today was her debut in the bird field, and she did great. She had four finds."
The number of female handlers and owners at the event was also unusual. And part of the breed's popularity with women has nothing to do with hunting.
"I think one reason so many women own Weimaraners is the protectiveness of the breed," Amos said. "In many cases, a Weimaraner will get its body between you and a perceived threat."
Certainly, the deep-chested dogs -- the largest of the pointing breeds -- would make a would-be attacker think twice. They are assertive, not aggressive, by nature and have been used as police dogs and rehabilitation dogs and in search-and-rescue roles.
Some recent roles Weimaraners have played -- anthropomorphic models for William Wegman's photos and videos and guest appearances on the children's TV show 'Sesame Street' -- stick in craw of many owners. Popularity has been a nemesis for many breeds because of the resulting indiscriminate breeding and unknowledgeable owners.
"Wegman's prostitution of Weims is one of the worst disservices ever done to a breed," said Amos, shaking her head. "They're on 'Sesame Street,' and that's the Good Housekeeping Seal for some people."
Clearly, Weimaraners are not suited for everybody.
"I see quite a few of the dogs up here," said Harold Hill, co-owner of Johnson Marsh, "but I haven't seen very many with strong drive and desire (in the field).
"But I'm glad to see a group putting the effort into getting the dogs back to what they were originally bred to do."
For more information on the Tarheel Weimaraner Club go to www.geocities.com/ncwiemaraner.