once in a lifetime dog comes along... well, once in a lifetime. For professional trainer Ray Cacchio of New York, this dog was NFC/FC Pondviews Left In The Light - or "Lefty" to his friends.
Ray was training and running dogs for Don Cande back in the early 1980s. Typically, Don preferred to breed to dogs that had won the national. "I judged the year that Streak won (in 1982). It was really close. We went back and forth deciding on placements... It was close," After much debate, Cacchio and co-judge, David G. Lorenz, Sr. finally came to a decision. Ray reports, "Second place went to Tommy Meyers’ Shadow."
Since Mark Schinderle’s Streak - NFC/FC/AFC Wind Riding Streak - was a female, this presented an obvious dilemma for Cande. When the time came that he was ready to breed FC/AFC Dungarvan’s Right On, Cacchio recommended that he consider the dog who earned second place awards at both nationals and was named amateur high point dog in 1982 - then later did it again in 1983: FC/AFC Bluff Creeks Shadow.
Don took his advice - and when the puppies were seven weeks old, Ray brought home the pick of the litter.
Cacchio ran Lefty in one puppy stake, liked what he saw and they kept training. Running in the open, Lefty won his first field trial, then he consistently earned placements in each of the next seven events.
"Lefty was a tremendous marker and bird finder. He had a beautiful mouth and was easy to train. Lefty never got excited. At field trials, I’d go to the truck to get him - and he’d be asleep." Ray fondly adds with great respect, "In the field, I could make him turn right or left - just by the way I held my shoulders. He was the best dog I ever had."
"Ray had the same connection with Lefty that Janet Christiansen had with Scud. They were a team. I don't think you would call it handling, it was team work each doing their part - always cognizant of the other and seemingly always knowing what their partner was going to do before they did it," comments owner of the Raintree kennel at Elkhorn, Wisconsin, field trialer and Ray’s close friend, Dean Reinke.
"A couple of things stood out about Lefty. The first was the way he would pound the ground as he ran - fearing nothing and hoping the briars and cover would beat on him. No matter what the cover or temperature, Lefty had two speeds: stop and full bore. The second thing would be retrieving," observes Reinke. "Dave Lorenz Sr. had the opportunity to train Lefty for a summer and he told me that there was no retrieve that was too hard for Lefty."
In 1987, the National Open Championship (NOC) was held at Deer Creek, Ohio with judges Tom Meyer of Wisconsin and Dr. Jeff Miller from Washington State. "It was dense, thick tough cover," Miller recalls of his first national judging assignment. "The only people who really saw the Nationals were the judges, guns and shaggers. It was intimidating."
Co-judge Meyer concurs. "It was one of the tougher trials I’ve seen in cover and conditions." Prior to the national, he had heard about Lefty - but this was his first opportunity to judge him. "He was an awesome animal. Lefty maintained his pattern no matter what got in his way. The tougher it got - the tougher he got."
"They were really a team. It was quite a display of companionship," Tom explains. "It seemed that everything Jerry asked, Lefty did - sometimes without even asking. We just followed along and watched what it is that a spaniel should do."
"We just followed along and watched what it is that a spaniel should do."
- Tom Meyer, 1987 NOC Judge
"I was running under (Judge) Jeff Miller and Dr Chris Christensen was the left gun," Ray describes one of the highlights from the national. "I remember Lefty smelled a bird in a clump. He charged in. The cover was so thick he couldn’t get through. Lefty had no fear of cover. He charged in again and the bird flushed. I remember it was a long retrieve. Jeff had me send Lefty, then turned to me and said that it would be a tough one." The pride was evident in his voice as he added, "About then, Lefty was coming back... with the bird."
The adjective "powerful" comes up often in conversations when describing this dog - and for good reason. "I remember thinking, when I saw Lefty, "He’s a freight train!" Other dogs were having a hard time, but he parted a three-foot path." Miller reminisces enthusiastically about his first impression of Lefty. "He was powerful - in a class by himself. He blew me away! Because of his hunting drive, he commanded respect - even when he was just on a lead. He was a powerhouse."
"When they got to the water, there was ice on the pond. They broke it open, but Lefty crashed through the ice making his own path." Ray chuckles.
"Brud Prock ran AFC Storm who had great retrieving and a real strong trial, too - but we kept coming back to Lefty." Judge Miller adds with a sense of reverence and awe, "He was unbelievable." Storm and his owners - handler, Dr. Francis (Brud) and Kaye Prock, were recipients of the second placement along with the "best dog handled by an amateur" award. They went on to take second in the National Amateur Championship that same year.
David Jones, owner of Strong Gundogs near Victoria, Texas, was one of the few who had the opportunity to breed to Lefty. "He was a nice, level-headed dog," Jones recalls. "I’d also seen other dogs from this line. His sire, Bluff Creek’s Shadow, produced a whole lot of dogs that picked up on the run. I liked that and the temperament. Lefty was a strong dog."
"Shadow picked up his birds on the fly - grabbing them wherever - then he would position them on the fly. He was a strong marker. He went out and came back on retrieves like Lefty did." explains Meyer. Shadow had achieved both his amateur and open titles by the time he was twenty-five months old. He made it through the second series in his first field trial, then won back to back for his first title under judges Steve Studnicki and David Lorenz Sr.
Lefty was never bred much - yet, he sired five with notable field trial achievements: Dan Lussen's FC/AFC Bar-Dan’s Drift, Kevin Battistoni's FC/AFC Crosswinds King Kong, Hadley Ford's AFC Crosswinds Play It Again Sam, Dean Reinke's FC/AFC Raintree’s Sassy Lady and Steve Abatte's FC/AFC Strong’s Reflection of Light. Lefty’s legacy continues on to numerous offspring with successful field trial records. Among these distinguished descendants are 1997 CNFC/AFC Blackriver’s Keno and GRHRCH/UH Springville’s Remington MH - the first English springer spaniel ever to achieve top honors in the Hunting Retriever Club’s program.
NFC/FC Pondviews Left In The Light was indeed an influential sire - passing on many of his hallmark traits to his progeny. His presence through these genes is still evident - even today.
Reinke, owner of FC/AFC Raintree‘s Sassy Lady, agrees. "Sassy had the same ground pounding run and the same style of wanting the cover to beat on her. She was also an excellent retriever. It is much easier to count the retrieves she failed than to count all that she made."
Crosswind Kennel’s Kevin Battistoni of Millbrook, New York, knew Lefty from gunning for Ray during training sessions. His impressions of Lefty? "A good looking, well proportioned dog - very biddable and amenable. He worked for Jerry Cacchio like no other dog - a great bird finder with unlimited energy and a superb nose."
"Because of his hunting drive, he commanded respect - even when he was just on a lead. He was a powerhouse."
- Dr. Jeff Miller, 1987 NOC Judge
"Kongo was a Lefty pup, and my first trial dog," says Battistoni who bred his female, R-Quests Pecos Pete (yes... a girl named "Pete"), to Lefty three times. "My first springer was a nicely bred, field trial washout, black and white female I purchased from Tom Meyer." The first two litters produced some fine gun dogs. But as they say, "three time’s the charm" - and from that third litter came Hadley Ford’s AFC Crosswind’s Play It Again Sam and FC/AFC Crosswind‘s King Kong.
"He was an opinionated devil, and perhaps one of the best bird finders and retrievers I have ever owned. Unpredictable... but exciting to run." Kevin elaborates, "Kong was a bird finder in the Lefty tradition. Kong had his flaws - he could be hard headed and stubborn - but he never left a bird on the course. Like Lefty, you could run him on the second go around a course, and he would dig out the birds that the first round of dogs had passed over. Both dogs were infallible markers. If they had a vector on where a bird came down, they would make the retrieve."
"Lefty was more biddable, more disciplined than Kong. But the raw talent was evident in both dogs."
FC/AFC Crosswind’s King Kong ran for two and half years, tore a ligament, became arthritic - and was retired from field trials by the age of five. He just passed away in February of this year.
Lefty left a lasting impression on Dr. Jeff Miller. So much so, that when he had the opportunity for a pup from a breeding of Lefty’s daughter, "Fleck" - FC/AFC Strong’s Reflection of Light, to his 1992 and 1994 Canadian National winner, CNFC/FC/AFC Pel Tan Roly, he selected Blackriver’s Keno. Following in his sire’s and grandsire Lefty’s footsteps, Keno went on to achieve his AFC title and became the 1997 Canadian National Field Trial Champion. "He has the same mental drive and attitude as Lefty." Miller explains.
Seldom does a dog like Lefty come along. Few were fortunate to have known him - yet his influence on the breed can benefit all. As the memories came rushing back, Ray expressed his admiration for his once in a lifetime dog, "He was awesome... one of the special ones."