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But one drizzly mid-winter day years later, my attention shifted back to my early enthusiasm for dog training. That was the day I had the opportunity to watch a group of field Labradors being trained. They sat patient, but eager, as each retrieving dummy was thrown from the other side of a large pond. Then with a single word from their handler, they plunged through cold water, up the bank on the other side and, nosing through the fallen leaves, found the dummy. Their return to the handler was equally impressive. They swam straight back across the pond, and once by their handler's side again, sat shivering and dripping, holding the dummy until told to "Drop". The more advanced dogs could do double, triple and even blind retrieves, retrieving dummies they hadn't even seen being thrown, going on heart--and the belief that their handler knew exactly where the dummy was hidden. I watched in awe as these dogs responded to whistle commands, stopping in the middle of their swim to take a signal from their handler. The intensity of their desire was overwhelming. I was hooked.
What I saw that single day led to a lifetime commitment to the training and breeding of this wonderful animal, the Labrador Retriever. Now as co-owner/trainer at Deep Fork Retrievers, I share that commitment with my husband--professional hunting retriever trainer John Amico. As members of the Professional Retriever Trainers Association, our goal is to breed and train outstanding performance Labradors.
Deep Fork Retrievers is the oldest and largest hunting retriever kennel in Oklahoma. Our clients include Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma and Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, as well many other individuals and guide services from across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Several of our dogs have achieved national notoriety: Deep Fork-bred, trained and titled HR Grande's Rolling Stone Hunter currently appears in a national print ad campaign for Bismuth shotgun shells. Our kennel also will be featured in the pilot episode of "The World of Dogs," a new PBS series about various breeds of dogs scheduled to air on U.S. and European television markets next year.
Through my involvement with Labradors, I have met numerous women who enjoy field training and competition as much as I do. Some are the "other halves" of well-known husband-and-wife training teams. Others are fellow competitors and judges I have met at hunt tests sponsored by the Hunting Retriever Club, Inc. (HRC), a subsidiary of the United Kennel Club--a national registry for sporting dogs. In hunt tests, dogs compete not against each other but against a standard in a pass/fail format in simulated hunting scenarios. Although men traditionally have dominated these types of competitions, the number of female participants is growing rapidly. Other national retriever organizations such as the North American Hunting Retriever Association (NAHRA) are reporting increases in female retriever enthusiasts and a rise in their female membership. Of the over 1,800 NAHRA members nationwide and in Canada, some 600 are women. I am proud to be the first licensed woman HRC hunt test judge in the state of Oklahoma.
This past year I also started a women's training group for the largest number of female clients our kennel has had in its 25-year history. The group allows women of all backgrounds to enjoy the outdoors and each other's company while developing special bonds with their dogs. The majority of the women in the group became involved in retriever training through their husband's interest in waterfowl hunting; however, several have become very astute trainers in their own right. Most of the group's members began training their dogs in our kennel's "Puppy Headstart" program. Here, puppies learn the field disciplines required of a working dog--swimming, marking falls at distances, and becoming acclimated to gunfire. They also become familiarized with the "tools of the trade," such as boats and decoys, all in an effort to produce a willing student ready for more formal training.
As my interest in getting even more women involved in retriever sports grew, I became an instructor for the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program. Through this program, I have been invited to teach waterfowling skills to women in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri. Many of the women in my classes have duck-hunted with family members or friends, but most have never had the opportunity to actually handle a field retriever themselves. The greatest satisfaction I gain from teaching these classes is seeing women experience the same feelings of awe and admiration that I have for these wonderful dogs.
I once wrote in my monthly magazine column for Magnum Outdoor News that the ultimate conservation tool is a well-trained retriever. Hunting with a trained retriever ensures that a higher percentage of shot birds are recovered. Of course a respect for the environment is foremost in the mind of any outdoor conservationist. I'm actively involved in working to ensure the healthy future of waterfowl and other wildlife in my own corner of the world through my involvement with my hometown's Parks and Recreation Board. With a $5,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Wildlife and the support of various local civic organizations, Oklahoma's newest outdoor environmental classroom will be developed by a task force I'm heading to restore a wetlands area in a local park. The wetlands will serve as a learning tool to encourage area school children to become interested in conservation.
I feel fortunate to have been able to return to my early love of dog training and to share that love with others. I'll never grow tired of watching a Labrador puppy take its first swim. Or a friend's elation when her dog takes a championship ribbon. For me, the Labrador Retriever is not only man's best friend but also this woman's best friend and, hopefully, lifelong companion.
If you have any questions about waterfowling, pheasant hunting, dog training, puppy selection or breeding field retrievers, feel free to email me.
Beth Ann Amico
Update January 17, 2007:
The Heart and Art of a Comeback, just won first place for best inspirational article in this year's Mid-Oklahoma Writers writing competition.
Update June 5, 2006:
Pro-Staffer Beth Ann Amico's award-winning writing is featured in a new book - A Mile in Her Boots: Women Who Work in the Wild. Beth Ann's essay First Watch is a heartwarming tale of a young retriever's first duck hunt and will be featured in the 288-page book published by Traveler's Tales.
The stories in this remarkable collection detail the experiences of women who work in a variety of outdoor professions including smoke jumping, river running, professional falconry, and retriever training. A celebration of women making their way in the wild, the stories in these pages include rescuing sea turtles amidst a swarm of nude bathers, driving cattle across Texas, and tracking a pair of fugitive Montana mountain men. A Mile in Her Boots is a chance for readers to enjoy rough-hewn adventures with a diverse, welcoming group of wild women. The book was edited by Jennifer Bove and is available at Amazon.com for $11.
Update June 2004: Gun dog writer and professional retriever trainer, Beth Ann Amico, was awarded a Maxwell Medallion Award by the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) at their 70th Anniversary Awards Banquet. Traditionally held on the eve of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, the gala celebration honored winners of the DWAA Annual Writing Competition.
Maxwells – the Oscars of the dog world – were named for the late founding father and president of DWAA, Maxwell Riddle. The coveted medallions were awarded in over fifty categories to winning writers, editors, publishers, artists and photographers from across the nation.
Amico’s award-winning article, Picking the Perfect Puppy, was featured as a cover story for the May 2004 issue of the National Rifle Association’s publication Woman’s Outlook.
Amico is co-owner of Deep Fork Retrievers along with her husband, top retriever trainer, John Amico. She is the first woman from Oklahoma to be accepted into the prestigious Professional Retriever Trainer’s Association. Their kennel has produced numerous finished field retrievers for clients across North America and was featured in the PBS broadcast The World of Dogs.
Update March 21, 2003: Beth Ann has been accepted into the Outdoor Writers Association, as well as being elected to the Board of Directors for the Oklahoma Station of Safari Club International (first year they have ever elected a woman here in Oklahoma).
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