It was the Christmas of 1997 when my wife Nancy and I received a paper scroll from my godchild Karen Walker and her former husband Kevin. I removed the gold ribbon from the scroll and it read, “ This entitles Cliff and Nancy Venticinque to pick of the litter out of Walker’s Duncan Duck Darling and Fredricks’ Molly By Golly?" Our intention was to pick one of the two chocolate females from the litter. Then, in January of 1998 a feisty, little black, female, runt of the litter caught my eye. Nancy held the puppy in her arms and asked her if she wanted to go home with us, that little runt looked up at her and as if to say yes, “squeaked”, as only a puppy can and our choice was made.
I knew nothing about training retrievers and most of Abbey’s early training was done on our trips to Holland, Michigan, training with Kevin, Karen and their son Brian who had a male puppy Brodie from the same litter. We would take our assignments home and work on them until the next trip. Kevin recommended we join the St. Clair Flats Hunting Retriever Club that was located in our area and was holding their Spring Hunt Test at Timberwolfe Campgrounds. It was snowing that April day when Nancy, 2 month old Abbey and I arrived at Timberwolfe where I met the President of SCFHRC Don Williams. He invited us to their May meeting and we joined the club.
We were fortunate that Don had a female lab “Smoke” the same age as Abbey and he invited us to train with him. We trained almost every day and whatever Abbey and I have accomplished is due in great part to Don. I think Don always knew that Abbey would be a champion and only doubted if I could become the trainer and handler capable of getting her there. Abbey was 2 years old when she earned her HRCH in Arkansas at Hurricane Lake HRC. I think Don was almost as proud as Nancy and I.
Our next accomplishment was extra special when my training and Hunt Test traveling friend Steve Pittiglio and his dog UH HRCH Patton, Abbey’s half brother, earned entry into HRC’s 500 point Club together. Extra special because Abbey’s 500th point came at Great Lakes HRC, Duncan & Molly’s home club, with Steve as handler.
There are so many HRC clubs and individuals that have played an important part in our success. I would like to thank all of you and hope Abbey and I have been and will continue to be a credit to the Hunting Retriever Club for many more years.