Sometime in the early 1990s, I ran a dog for the first time in a wild bird championship – the Northern New England Woodcock Championship that was held for many years in Fryeburg, Maine. I thought my setter, Stokely’s Diablo Buddy, did a great job in spite of his handler’s inexperience. Bob Stewart from New York won with a setter named Sportsman’s Gus and took runner-up honors handling his friend Dick Shear’s pointer Elhew Cassie. Honestly I was more impressed with Cassie as she ran a big strong race on a warm September day and was found on point with just the top few inches of her tail sticking up above the ferns. Bob and Dick had been in the cover dog game for a long time. Dick had first won the Grand National Grouse Championship in 1962 with Rich Tuttle handling Elhew Lucy Brown. Then in 1967 he was the handler when Elhew Holly, a dog he co-owned with Bob Wehle won the Grand. Dick, Bob, and Holly came back and won again in 1968. In 1974, Bob and Dick returned to the winner’s circle at the Grand with Elhew Flying Dutchman.
Elhew dogs continued to compete and win in the woods throughout the ensuing years and I saw most of the ones that won following the performance of Elhew Cassie mentioned above. Bob Stewart switched to Elhew dogs and won most notably with Elhew Flicker. David Calcagni had a trio of winners starting with Elhew Gamemaster followed by Autumn Elhew Gold and Elhew Autumn Whisper. Whisper’s wins included the Grand National in 1996 and 1998. Bill McFadden got into the “Elhew Club” with Elhew Hustler who won multiple titles in the woods as well. Bob Stewart and Bill were on a quail lease in Texas with some other guys I knew and invited me to come out and hunt with them. It was there that my deeper involvement with Elhew dogs began.
At the time I was the editor and publisher of Field Trial Magazineand with an introduction from my “Elhew” friends traveled over to Hendersonville, NY to interview Bob Wehle and see the kennel. Bob was a master at marketing his dogs and seized any opportunity to promote his brand. I got the full tour of the kennel, worked some young dogs, saw the current brag dog point a couple pigeons, and even had a cup of tea in the glass fronted living room of his house that almost literally hung off the cliff overlooking Lake Ontario. I became a regular in Texas and when I went out right after Christmas in 2000, Bill McFadden had a young Elhew bitch that Bob Wehle had named Elhew Liebotschaner and Bill called “Lady” that he had lost first at home in New York and twice in Texas. She was by Elhew Fibber McGee out of Elhew Gypsy Rose and looked like the archetypical Elhew bitch. She wasn’t even a year old yet and Bill wasn’t sure what he was going to tell Bob Wehle about Lady.
I got a check cord and spent some time with her. Lady had the typical Elhew temperament – she wanted to please, however, she had not been made to handle had a desire to see some country. As I worked her during that week, she and I started to build a bond and one night over cocktails I offered Bill a solution to his dilemma with Lady. I’d take her and get her straightened out. Bill didn’t go for the idea and I went home and basically forgot about my offer. Near the end of the season I got a call from Bill and the gist of the conversation was Bob Wehle wanted me to have Lady and if I went out to Texas and got her she was mine. I made arrangements with one of the other lease members to travel out to Texas, hunt for a few days with him and a friend, and then fly Lady home with us. We flew Boston to Dallas with his two dogs and rented an SUV. A few days latter we flew home with three dogs as checked baggage.
I worked Lady all that spring and thought I had finally gotten her squared away so I ran her in a puppy stake at a local field trial. Puppy stakes usually last 20 minutes after about an hour she showed up and happily came to me. I obviously had more work to do. I did not give up on Lady. By fall I was hunting her regularly in the woods and could keep her relatively close with the aid of an e-collar. I decided to try her again at the Miss Leslie Anderson Derby Classic in New Brunswick. For 15 minutes she flew around the course looking great and then was gone for about an hour. Still didn’t have her under control. The next spring I ran her again as a derby and got her around with a couple of finds earning her first placement. Bob Wehle died that summer but those of us with dogs from him muddled on.
I had run Lady a few more times as a derby and then the following fall as a first year shooting dog in a few cover dog championships. With Bob Wehle gone, I felt I was pretty much on my own as far as breeding Lady was concerned. That fall there was a young phenom in the woods called Wynot Ace. Ace was by Elhew No Trump (another Fibber progeny) out of a bitch called Wynot Brie that was line bred Guard Rail. Ace proceeded to win the National Amateur Grouse Championship and the International Amateur Woodcock Championship within two weeks while he was still a derby. Of the Elhew related males available at the time he was the most impressive and I bred Lady to him later that fall for January 2004 puppies. That first litter produced seven puppies that all turned out to be good bird dogs. Two of them ended up being exceptional.
I kept a dog I called Wild Apple Jack and his brother Autumn Moon went to Scott Chaffee in Michigan for owner Jack Harang. As a three year old, Jack won the 2007 Grand National Grouse Championship held that year here in New Hampshire and the following year his brother, Autumn Moon, won the Grand in Michigan. Moon ended his career with seven championship titles and Jack had five championships and one runner-up championship all in the woods on native grouse and woodcock. We are currently running a number of dogs that are related to Jack and Moon and continue to be competitive in wild bird trials.
As much as Bob Wehle understood that it was important to keep having success with his dogs in field trials, especially in the woods later in his life, his death in 2002 put an end to that. Bob entrusted many of the dogs and the kennel name to Brian Hayes who kept the dogs at the Addieville East Farm, a shooting preserve in Rhode Island. During his tenure as the guardian of the Elhew tradition Brian bred to his market of preserve hunters and very rarely entered any of the dogs in field trials. I knew Brian and even visited him at Addieville and did a positive article about the future of the Elhew dogs during his tenure. Unfortunately, Brian was stricken with cancer, which he survived once but succumbed to on June 9, 2015 after the cancer had returned. The previous year as Brian’s condition deteriorated he turned to Mel Pfiefle of Hampshire Kennels in New Hampshire.
Mel had worked closely with Bob Wehle as both a breeder and owner and had some success in the woods including winning the Northeast Grouse Championship with Al Ladd handling Elhew Explorer. Ironically, Mel had whelped the Elhew Gypsy Rose litter for Bob that Lady was from. She continued to breed pointers under her own Hampshire Kennel banner as well as many Elhew prefixed dogs in conjunction with Brian. As it became apparent that Brian was not going to be able to do justice to the legacy Bob Wehle had entrusted to him, he turned to Mel for help. In a letter dated July 3, 2014 addressed to the American Field, Brian instructed the Field to “accept Elhew Prefix Permission forms that are signed by Martha S. Hayes or Mel (Mary Ellen) Pfiefle.”
With Brian’s death less than a year later, Martha and Mel became the guardians of the Elhew brand and Mel continued to breed dogs that she felt lived up to Bob’s standards which she is very familiar with. The Elhew Kennel website has this posting:
“Elhew Kennels is proud and happy to announce that we will be working closely with Mel (Mary Ellen) Pfeifle at Hampshire Kennels. Mel is a very good friend and very knowledgeable breeder who also bred dogs for Bob Wehle. We are looking forward to the future here at Elhew Kennels and at Hampshire Kennels. We plan to continue the excellence of breeding Elhew pointers.”
This is where it comes full circle and I become involved again with Elhew Kennels. Mel understands why Bob Wehle was always involved in field trials as that is the only place you can put your dogs up against the best of the best and see how they measure up. The first dog she sent me was Elhew Sea Me Run (Dillie). She had all the style one could ask for but just didn’t have that extra drive one needs to win field trials. She has since whelped some winning pups.
Then came Elhew Unsinkable a really nice young bitch that we won with as a puppy and derby and showed promise in her first shooting dog year but unfortunately complications during her first pregnancy required a c-section and hysterectomy. There was little point to campaigning a spayed bitch so she is now hunting quail in South Carolina. The third dog I got to work for Mel shows great potential and is a testament to her dedication to bringing back the Elhew line to glory.
Mel and Martha Hayes had access to Elhew Snakefoot frozen semen and Mel decided to use it in hopes of recapturing the glory that Snakefoot had brought to the kennel. Among Snakefoot’s accomplishments were winning the National Shooting Dog Championship and getting elected to the Field Trial Hall of Fame. He also produced a litany of dogs that appear in many Elhew pedigrees – Discovery, Distinction, Fibber McGee, and Jefferson among them. Mel bred Elhew Hampshire’s Maddie with the Snakefoot frozen semen. Maddie went back to Snakefoot a number of times through his sons Discovery and Jefferson and had already proven herself an excellent producer.
The odds on Mel’s gamble to use the Snakefoot semen seemed to increase exponentially at every turn. The semen quality was so low and that the vet involved didn’t expect any pups. When an ultrasound was done well into the pregnancy it turned out there was just one. Mel was pretty sure her luck had run out and it would be a lemon-colored female. Then a c-section was required to deliver the one pup and Mel felt like she’d won the lottery when the vet came out and told her they had whelped a liver male. A whole basket full of pups would have been the best outcome but an evenly marked liver Snakefoot son gave everyone hope for the future. Charlie, as he’s called, was soon the crown prince of the kennel with tons of attention from everyone who met him.
At the time, my only question was when was I going to get my hands on him. Charlie was whelped in September and was delivered to me the following summer. As soon as I got him I was optimistic. He has a long, thick tail that is poker straight when he points, he runs with his head up, and goes through the cover like a freight train. From his first pigeon, he slams into his birds with great intensity and reminds me of many of the great Elhew dogs I had seen in the woods in the past.
That August, I ran Charlie in his first field trial as a puppy. I don’t put a lot of importance in puppy placements – although I’d rather win them than not. Charlie ran in the first brace and showed terrific eye appeal and good application. The fact that he had two woodcock finds was just icing on the cake when they awarded him the blue ribbon. To date he also has derby and shooting dog placements and has some impressive goes in cover dog championships on the Northeast circuit in New England and New Brunswick.
With all this in mind I was surprised to hear the first rumblings that Martha Hayes was thinking about closing down the Elhew Kennel brand. It seemed to me that things were going in a good and positive direction. I have two of Charlie’s puppies from different litters and worked two others last summer and all four of them show promise. Charlie has not won anything big yet but at just three he has definitely shown that he has the potential for future glory. There was also a very positive vibe around the dogs from those who have them and/or seen them go. And in this day of instant communication on social media, Charlie and his progeny have already garnered a following.
When a letter signed by Martha Hayes and Gatra Wehle appeared in the American Field many were stunned. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, the letter opens with, “ . . . we announce our decision to close Elhew Kennels and retire the Elhew ‘brand.’ The Elhew prefix will no longer be available for registration. . .” The letter further states: “In the wake of Brian’s untimely death in 2015, it has become increasingly difficult to do justice to the Elhew legacy.” It seemed like a slap in the face to the efforts that had been put forth in the last few years. And many who were involved pushed for a fight legal or otherwise to keep things going forward.
In the final analysis, the reasonable course seemed to be to accept Martha Hayes and Gatra Wehle’s letter as the end of the Elhew name. A handful of Charlie’s puppies have been registered with the Elhew prefix in the time leading up to closing of this chapter of the Elhew legacy. Dogs like my puppy Elhew Snakewood, will be the last to ever carry the Elhew prefix in their names. From what I know of Bob Wehle and what I have seen of his Elhew dogs over the years, I’m pretty sure he would approve of where we have arrived. And many of us will continue to breed pointers that, although not Elhew in name, will be Elhew in spirit.