By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
SALTILLO – When Don and Amanda Morphis’ champion Clumber Spaniel, Bailey, became a successful show dog, they never imagined it would end like it did.
Today, the Saltillo couple’s beloved pet is dead and the puppies he sired bear little or no resemblance to the apple of their eye.
“He was our boy,” sighed Don, his eyes damp with emotion.
Three-year-old Bailey also was a potential big money-maker as a champion breeder for the Morphises.
The stocky dog with his fluffy white coat, which looked like it was sprinkled lightly with cinnamon, was valued at about $75,000 and could have fetched $2,500 per breeding.
Bailey was the No. 1 Clumber Spaniel in the United States and such a formidable specimen of a rare breed that, in national competition, it took three months for his two closest competitors to catch the then-deceased dog’s scores.
Clumbers originated in England, where they were bred to go into heavy brush after birds during English hunts. They’re classified as working-breed dogs.
Today, the Morphises still grieve their loss and remember Bailey every time they step out their front door to see his grave in the tree-shaded front yard.
It’s been just more than a year since Bailey died, apparently of heat stroke, in the custody of his professional handlers in South Carolina.
Two weeks before he died, they saw him in a Nashville show where he won best of breed and best of winners.
“We don’t know what happened,” said Amanda. “We’ve been really struggling with it.”
• • •
They’re struggling with what they know and much that they want to know.
After Bailey collapsed, he was taken to a veterinarian. When he died, his body was put into the cooler.
As Don battled his shock, Amanda’s friend suggested they have his sperm harvested to artificially inseminate the Morphises’ younger Clumber, Sara.
Don talked to the sperm bank doctor, who said they could do it, but Bailey’s body temperature could not drop below 38 degrees.
After many frantic calls, the South Carolina veterinarian was found and headed back to his office.
When he pulled Bailey’s body from the cooler, it registered 39 degrees.
The sperm retrieval was achieved, and their two breeding doses were shipped to Mississippi State University’s Animal Health Center, where Sara would be bred.
In the midst of all their shock and sorrow, the ultimate prize came their way – the coveted invitation to the iconic Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the veritable Super Bowl of the dog-show world, in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
They were not going. They had no champion dog, and soon enough, they would have no more of him, either.
They waited for Sara to come into season. Months passed.
She’d never been bred, and the Morphises were anxious for results.
“We decided to go for broke,” Don said, explaining why they agreed to use both doses.
The breeding worked and nothing unusual marked her pregnancy, except she was “huge,” they said.
Ultimately, when her labor just stopped, they agreed to C-section delivery.
“We could hear when each one of them was born,” Amanda said with some joy in her voice.
Success, their Tupelo vet reported: six puppies, two girls and four boys.
When the vet brought out the puppies, he asked them if Clumbers usually arrive in colors other than white.
“I liked to have fainted,” Amanda recalled. “That was all we had left of Bailey.”
• • •
DNA tests verified their visuals – the puppies were not Clumbers.
“Y’all have Labs,” they remembered their vet saying.
They’re convinced that somehow, somewhere, a Labrador retriever’s semen was used to impregnate Sara.
“I don’t know any other kind of dog that can throw puppies that are black, brown and tan,” Don said. He also insists they are confident no male dog wandered into their yard for a secret rendezvous.
The only tan puppy, 5-month-old Benjamin – adopted by their son – remains with them as a rowdy, but sad, reminder of the tragedy.
He’s stocky with Clumber ears, legs and feet, but a coat and face like a Lab.
The others found good homes from Washington state to Connecticut.
“Our vet calls them Lumbers,” Don tried to joke. “Or maybe they’re Clabradors.”
They’re good dogs, the couple admit, saying they’re confident their father was a quality canine. They’ve asked the American Kennel Club, which keeps a DNA registry, to help them determine the paternity, but so far, they’ve been turned down.
“It’s kind of like Canine-CSI,” Don observed. “We don’t know where the mistake was made.”
Whether they’ll take legal action against anybody isn’t clear yet, they say, although they’ve retained a family friend as their attorney.
What’s holding them together emotionally, they say, is knowing that Sara will be ready to conceive more puppies between now and November.
And her offspring may bring them Bailey Jr. because the owner of his own sire, Canoli, has given them four vials of his semen.
“She said, ‘I want you to be able to have your puppies,’” Don said with a smile.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.