Sniffin’ out the thrill

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2003

This is a story about love.

And bird dogs.

Horses, too.

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And a one-eyed, one-hipped, Labrador retriever named Cody.

It’s also a story about field-trials &045;&045; competitions that measure the ability of bird dogs to sniff the scent of game and &uot;point&uot; out their location to handlers &045;&045; and about a Marion couple who are enamored with the competition.

Ruthann and Lester Littell III own about 35 English pointers &045;&045; wiry, muscular, energetically throbbing dogs who trap scents human beings couldn’t being to detect.

The couple moved to Selma in 2000. She oversees the daily maintenance of their menagerie and Marion-area acreage; he practices orthopedic surgery at the Vaughan Regional Medical Center.

The Littells are the latest in a long line of family field-trial enthusiasts. Ruthann’s father, for instance, is an internationally known and respected bird-dog trainer, Lester says.

The rest of the family, it seems, has followed suit.

And Selma’s the place to compete, the two contend.

The competition is fierce, but friendly, they say. The Littells are no strangers to field trial success, but the chances of raising dogs with the nose, running ability and aggression to become champions is rare, they admit.

Dogs are judged on style, class, race, performance and bird contacts,

meaning their ability to flush out game &045;&045; usually quail, in the Black Belt region. The goal? To qualify dogs for the National Bird Dog Championships, held each year in Grand Junction, Tenn. Field trials in this area run from November through March.

For typical animal lovers, though, bird dogs present an irony of sorts. The best ones &045;&045; those that are the most independent and adventurous &045;&045; are not necessarily the most loving, Ruthann says. Their thrill &045;&045; like that of their owners &045;&045; is in the chase. It’s not uncommon for undisciplined bird dogs to pursue a scent and never be heard from again. Dogs like that will never be champions, Ruthann says.

And then there’s Cody.

The 10-year-old Labrador retriever hobbles around the Littell grounds, tail swishing, tongue lolling. He has one eye, one hip and a smile. He shows little concern for the barking English pointers jumping like pogo sticks inside their kennels.

A bird dog he’ll never be …