The Brittany is a feisty little pointing dog that portrays itself as a house pet, hunting dog and fantastic companion. They boast a tremendous personality and lovable disposition.
My husband, Ralph, and I compete as amateurs in field trials with our Brittanys up and down the east coast. We own our own business but try to keep our spring and fall weekends open for competition traveling in our motor home and pulling a custom built horse/dog combination trailer behind.
March 25th, 2005, Good Friday, found us departing our Monmouth County New Jersey home heading north toward East Windsor, Connecticut to compete in the Southern New England Brittany Club Trial. We were north bound on the Garden State Parkway approaching a toll plaza when a motorist pulled along side frantically blowing his horn. I opened the RV window and heard the bone chilling cry---YOUR TRAILER IS ON FIRE!!!
Pulling through the booth and onto the shoulder we both ran out. The trailer, loaded with six dogs and three horses, was billowing black smoke. I opened the escape door and the trailer burst into flames. I ran to the other side, opened the other door and managed to grab the two dogs that were closest in the bottom row of dog crates. It was our young pup Pete (Hit's For Pete's Sake) and our five year old female, Tailor (Hit's Tailor Made). A bystander helped me throw them into a motorists SUV. We returned to find my husband Ralph had jumped into the trailer in a desperate attempt to free the remaining dogs. He was able to get our 14 year old female, Bullsi, and our five year old male, Jack (Buck's Hit The Road Jack) out of the 2nd row of crates but our two young dogs, Gypsie and Sioux, were in the top row and were now engulfed in flames. Somehow he freed one but it was burned beyond recognition and would later be euthanized. The other was lost in his crate.
Someone hollered THE HORSES!!
Ralph ran to the rear of the trailer, opened the door and jumped in with 3000 lbs of panicked horse flesh. How he managed to not get trampled I'll never know, but one by one he released the panic snaps that tethered them to the manger and with nowhere to go with them, turned them loose into six lanes of north bound traffic. One of them, Bo, was caught by a parkway employee. The other two, Buster and Rags, took off running in the north bound lanes.
They would wind up five miles away.
With that, Ralph collapsed against the guard rail sobbing and staring at his burned and blistered hands. The realization of our precious losses was setting in and we both cried in despair and anguish. I somehow managed a cell phone call to our friends, Ronnie and Ivan Clark, who were twenty minutes behind us heading for the same destination. They immediately returned home, unloaded their animals and came to our aid. Ronnie took charge of the injured dogs. Ivan went after our northbound equine runaways. The motorists at the toll plaza had created a north bound barricade following slowly behind the horses, surely preventing another tragedy. Eventually the horses were caught and turned over to Ivan who returned them to our home.
The two injured dogs were taken to Red Bank Animal Hospital in Red Bank, New Jersey where they were treated for multiple burns and kept in a special oxygen rich environment to ease their breathing. Bullsi had suffered burns to her nose, eyes and ears while Jack had multiple burns to his nose, eyes, ears, pads, ankle and groin. Both had suffered severe smoke inhalation. Ronnie, along with the gentleman who had taken Tailor and Pete, would stay all day at the vets to check on their condition.
My husband and I were taken to Jersey Shore Medical Center for treatment. I had minor burns but Ralph had suffered serious burn injuries and after being stabilized was medivacked to St. Barnabas Burn Center in Livingston, New Jersey where he would spend the next 3 days on a respirator in critical condition. He had 2nd and 3rd degree burns on both hands, his head and foot, and had suffered severe smoke inhalation. After he was stabilized I returned home to gather my wits, grab some clothes and move in with my mom in Warren, New Jersey in order to be closer to the hospital.
The next few weeks would test the measure of our souls but thanks to support from all our good friends across the country and help from my mom, aunts, nieces, nephews, sisters, brothers, we survived.
Ralph's breathing slowly began to improve and after 48 hours the breathing tubes were removed. He was moved to the step down unit on Tuesday. Thursday afternoon he was released from the hospital and the two dogs were sent home on Monday evening.
I had told my husband that at home he and his dog Jack would heal together, and indeed in that time of healing it seemed they developed a very special bond.
With a lot of help from family I was able to doctor Ralph and our dogs at home. He had been warned at the hospital not to pet or handle the dogs because of the risk of infection, but two or three times a day he would ignore the orders and don protective gloves to pet and nurture his dog, Jack.
The first week found the three progressing physically, however mentally they had a long way to go. Jack was a basket case, sheepish and scared and Ralph was unable to shake the grief of our two lost dogs. Week two found Jack coming out of his shell and playing with his old puppy toys. He slowly improved, as did Ralph.
All five of our dogs had pre-qualified to compete in the 2005 American Brittany Club National Shooting Dog Championship to be held in Ionia Michigan the week of May 2nd. Prior to the fire our plans were to enter the three more experienced dogs, Jack, Tailor and Hit Man. After the accident all plans to go were cancelled.
By the 10th of April however, Jack seemed well enough for a light workout and even with multiple burns showed no lameness I could detect a glimmer of hope in my husband's eyes. His dream of competing with Jack in the 2005 National Gun Dog Championship still lived.
As a test, and to appease my husband, we entered Jack in our local Brittany trial on the 23rd of April. Although he surprised us and performed well, in the half hour stake, he managed to open a wound in the center of a burn on his ankle joint. Once more the idea of the nationals faded as we laid him up in a last ditch effort to try and get it to heal. One week later it had partially scabbed over and hope for the nationals flickered once more.
With three days left before the drawing, the look in Jack's eyes and my husband's constant badgering convinced me to overnight the entries, even though our chances of actually going were pretty slim.
We had our annual spring show at work that weekend which meant we could not possibly leave until Sunday evening and we had no horse trailer. What's more, if any of our three dogs drew Monday morning bracing we would have to drive all night and rent horses even to have a chance to compete.
It seemed a virtual impossibility until friends of ours, Joe and Marsha Luisi, stepped forward and offered to hook their trailer to our RV, leave Sunday evening and drive us out. IT sounded good until Tailor drew Monday morning bracing. Joe and Marsha then offered to leave Saturday afternoon without us. He suggested we fly to Grand Rapids Sunday night and meet up. It sounded like a plan, so we gave it a try!!
Our three dogs and rig arrived in Ionia, Michigan Sunday afternoon and after missing our connection in Detroit and taking a 3 hour limo ride, we managed a 1:00 a.m. arrival at the grounds.
At 7:30 a.m. Tailor was placed on the dog wagon and at 10:00 a.m. was released with her bracemate for the hour long competition.
It was not to be!
At the 30 minute mark Tailor was ordered up for failing to honor point. We were disappointed but still had 2 more dogs to go. The next would be our old man, Hit Man. Unfortunately the weather had warmed to 80 degrees, not the best for a young animal and devastating to an old timer. I opted to pick him up 10 minutes into his brace and allow him to slip gracefully and respectfully into retirement.
Now, with only our burned, battered, out of condition Jack dog left, things were not looking promising. He was our last hope of getting around the hour course and at this point just doing that would be considered a big accomplishment and a boost for all our spirits.
Jack however had set his sights on a bar somewhat higher than the rest of us and he had not traveled all the way to Michigan to (just) make it around!! I believe with all my heart that he could sense all the hurt and the devastating emotions that were lurking beneath the masks Ralph and I were both wearing and he was bound and determined to do his best to fix things.
He was going to chase away the gloom and make it our day in the sun.
Jack was to go in the 24th brace on Thursday morning, by then the judges had five dogs posted (a process in which they list the dogs that are in contention). Late bracing is normally not preferable as the judges usually have sore rear ends by then and it takes something really special to get their attention.
I had discussed with Joe the possibility of my handling Jack because of Ralph's burns and gloved hands and the difficulty it would present mounting and dismounting in the field. We mutually agreed however that Ralph needed to handle his own dog to consummate the bond that had strengthened between them and to assure the best possible performance by both.
The brace broke away on course three at 11:00 a.m. with a large gallery, two handlers, three judges, two scouts, a marshal and the two dogs. Jack broke quickly to the front at 30 seconds in was standing point on a covey of birds. Ralph dismounted, located and flushed the covey as the dog remained steadfast. Joe released the dog for the 2nd time and again he reached for the front. 200 yards ahead his bracemate had established point. The judge would later tell how a white blur came streaking in and skidded to a halt behind the other dog honoring his bracemate's point.
The two dogs were released again as Jack took the lead and at 15 minutes in was found standing another covey. The birds were located and flushed as Jack tracked them with only his eyes. His next find was in an open field with high weeds and unable to locate the birds Ralph repaired to relocate Jack, a move that could prove his undoing (if the birds lifted it would be considered a bump and the game would be over) but as Ralph reached to tap Jack on the head to signal the relocation, the judge's horse bolted and flushed the hidden birds some 30 feet away. Jack remained motionless as the whole covey sailed directly at him and passed within inches of his nose. On another day he might have lunged for one, but not now, not here, not on the 5th of May 2005!
A sigh of relief was heard from the gallery.
With so much bird work Jack had fallen behind his bracemate and they say you can't win from behind, so it was off to the races to catch up.
With 10 minutes left and four perfect finds and a magnificent back under his belt, the marshal rode to Ralph. He advised him of the time remaining and cautioned him not to lose Jack because the judges were watching with great intensity.
No more bird work was needed but Jack would have none of that, as he scored again within 2 minutes. Once more the marshal rode to Ralph and informed him that there was only 5 minutes left. This time Jack must have overheard as he took the right edge of the field and glided into a patch of woods were he found a stream to swim and cool off.
Refreshed, he broke the woods edge, rimming what is known as "Cardiac Hill" and into his final "field of glory" with the brilliant mid-day sun glistening off his wet coat, he took the right side woods edge and carried it going away in a breathtaking burst of energy that rivaled the breakaway an hour before.
Then came the words that it seemed we had been waiting forever to hear. "That's time!!!" The chord rang out across the field.
Ralph immediately dismounted and collapsed to the ground beckoning to Jack, who raced to join the celebration. Jack had done what just an hour before had seemed nearly impossible. He had suffered major burns and severe smoke inhalation in a fire, just five weeks earlier.
He was out of condition and laid up for over a month. Prior to the competition and although he was not 100% physically, he gave 300% of himself and put down a flawless championship performance with 5 stylish finds, a magnificent back, an outstanding forward ground race, and a finish that would take your breath away!
That hour in time will be etched in our memories for eternity, the coveted iron dog will always grace our mantle and Jack will forever own a piece of our hearts.
He accomplished what he came for and he knew he had done it!!
Jack had competed with 51 of the best Brittanys in the country and although there were five more dogs to run after him, they would prove no threat.
AT 4:30 IN THE AFTERNOON ON MAY 5 2005
THE LITTLE DOG WITH THE BIG HEART
BUCKS HIT THE ROAD JACK
WAS NAMED THE 2005 NATIONAL SHOOTING DOG CHAMPION BY THE
THE AMERICAN BRITTANY CLUB
Special thanks to Marsha and Joe Luisi, Pete DeAngelis, Ronnie and Ivan Clark and all our other field trial friends who worked so hard to keep our spirits up during this very trying time.
Our sincere appreciation to the entire staff at the Red Bank Animal Hospital and all the people named and unnamed who gave of themselves during the time of the fire. You will forever be remembered in our hearts and prayers.
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST --- THANKS TO
Bucks Hit The Road Jack
A LITTLE DOG WITH THE BIGGEST HEART IMAGINABLE
YOU GAVE US YOUR ALL WHEN WE NEEDED IT MOST
Our Little Dog With The Big Heart
By Judy Kiracofe