Clarkridge girl, dog earn title at Hunter Retriever Club event
Having been born and raised in the flat, wetlands of Jonesboro, Jim Mead grew up with an appreciation of the retrieving dog breeds whose skills were sought after by area bird hunters.
He started breeding beagles at age eight, and by the time he was 16, he became a duck hunter in his own right.
His passion for dogs is something that rubbed off of his wife of 10 years, Alexis, and eventually his two daughters, especially his youngest, seven-year-old Hunter.
After years of breeding and training retrievers in his spare time, Jim started Mead’s Retrievers in 2017 as a full-time business out of the family home in Clarkridge,
Hunter, a student at Nelson-Wilks-Herron Elementary, started at age six training the family’s three-year-old registered Labrador Retriever “Just Because Jolene” on the finer points of obedience and hunting training.
“I did it because my parents own retrievers,” Hunter said. “I run dogs all summer and train them and help my Dad.”
The young lady became so good at working with Jolene, the family decided to sign the pair up to compete at a Hunter Retriever Club (HRC) event in Gun Creek, Ill. The second trials for the Started Hunting Retriever (SHR) title was recently held in Gentry, where Hunter and Jolene earned a perfect 4 out of 4 score combined for both events.
Jim was told by the judges of the HRC that Hunter may be the youngest titleholder.
Despite entering a competitive world consisting of adults, mostly men, Hunter holds her own and exudes confidence when handling Jolene. Her competition isn’t so much other handlers and hunters, but rather the test itself. The obedience test is based on a “pass or fail” system and competitors have to hit certain marks.
“And the dog has to bring the duck back,” Jim laughed. “That’s the most important thing.”
“She’s the baby,” he adds. “She’s surrounded by all grown men and professionals, but they’ve been great. But, just because she’s young, it doesn’t mean the judges are going to give her a break.”
Each title earns Hunter and Jolene a certain number of points that they take into the next HRC title event, which will be the Hunter Retriever title. Jim said the cost of travel will be a factor in when the pair will go again, but he is hopeful they will return to Gun Creek, Ill., and Gentry before too long.
“It felt scary the first time I got up there,” Hunter explained. “But, when it was time to run my dog, I was chill. I didn’t think about it.”
Jim explains that while Hunter may get the certificates and ribbons associated with the SHR title, Jolene will have the letters SHR added before her registered name and they will be attached to any puppies she whelps. This will increase the selling price of her future pups.
Alexis said that Jolene recently went into heat and is now “expecting” her second litter with a local stud named “Dude” from Breeze Hill Kennels out of Gassville. Jim said Dude has been through all of the HRC training that Hunter eventually hopes to go through with Jolene.
As Hunter has helped Jim with training over the years, going down to the lake to swim with the dogs to “show them how it’s done”, he in turn has helped Hunter with her title training.
“I take her out and throw bumpers (dummy birds that replicate a downed bird) for her,” he said.
Jim said Jolene goes into heat and is bred once a year and he will probably stop breeding her when she turns seven, though she can continue to compete with Hunter.
Once the pair have worked their way through all of the HRC titles, Jim said they can move over the American Kennel Club (AKC) competitions where Hunter will actually go head-to-head with other dog handlers.
When not working, Hunter and Jolene are adorable together, and the love between the two is obvious.
“She sleeps with me and sometimes at night she kicks me in the face,” Hunter said.
As for the business, Jim breeds the “field bred” variety of Labrador Retrievers, standard poodles — which he says most people don’t realize are excellent retrievers — as well as the popular mix, labradoodles.
He said the field bred variety of lab is a smaller, finer-boned dog that is better suited for hunting in our warmer, Southern climates. The dogs are described as more agile and have a higher drive than the more common English and American varieties of labs, which most people are more familiar.
Mead’s Retrievers offers basic puppy obedience training, along with the more advanced puppy hunting courses.
Jim said he now averages about 30 puppies a year for training, and that he’s “trained dogs for people all over the country.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m just along for the ride,” said mom Alexis of delivering pups. “But, the traveling is my favorite part.”
With various bird hunting seasons currently in effect, and more starting in November, Jim said he’s in a slow time of the year as most hunters have their dogs all trained up.
To keep up with Hunter and Jolene’s progress, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/meadsretrievers
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