Veteran dog handler Dave Rorem says winning the 2008 National Retriever Championship in November was indescribable.
But he went on to describe it: “It’s like winning the Super Bowl. It’s a dream come true. It’s the best feeling there is in the world.”
Rorem won top honors at the championship Nov. 9-15 in Montgomery, Texas, handling “Two Rivers Lucky Willie,” owned by Brady Oman of Austin, Texas.
Rorem had seven of the dogs he professionally handles qualify for the event, and three other dogs besides Willie became finalists.
Only twice before in the history of the sport has a handler had four dogs qualify as finalists.
“I feel fortunate to have accomplished that,” said Rorem Tuesday as he traveled back to Texas, where he and his wife Paulette, and daughter Ty, live and train dogs half of the year.
“We spend six months here, and six months down there,” he said noting they returned to Texas early this year to allow he and Ty to take part in the championships.
For years, Rorem passed up competing in the National Retriever Championship because it occurred during November, when time off from his former job as a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer wasn’t allowed because of Minnesota’s firearms deer hunting season.
“This has been the passion of my life for a long time,” Rorem said. “It’s fun to do it when you don’t have interference with another job.”
Another passion — deer hunting — was also put off because of his job as a CO. Rorem retired from the job after 27 years in 2004 and this year, not only won the championship, but returned to Borderland as a deer hunter.
“I passed up everything I saw,” he said. “I was looking for a big one, and saw a few, but not one big enough for me. I’m not mad at them, I just enjoy the hunt.”
This isn’t the first national title Rorem has won as a handler. He took top honors at the Canadian National Field Trial Championship four times, and three of his clients, handling their own dogs, have won the Canadian amateur championship.
When talking to The Journal about the win, Rorem pointed to the Working Retriever Central Web site, which is a division of Retriever Field Trial News. The Web features interviews and video of the championship offered by Vickie Lamb. Only by attending the event would one get a better sense of what happened there. The Web site includes information about Rorem’s beginning interest in dogs, and about Willie and his owner.
Rorem told The Journal that Willie surprised him a bit in the final event of the championship.
“When he does surprise me, I have enough faith, and he’s good at doing things his way and still coming back and salvaging what appears to be a breakdown in performance. I trust him and feel good about him doing it his way. He won it his way.”
Oman has called the relationship between Rorem and Willie magical.
Rorem agreed. “There’s something about that dog and I,” he told The Journal. “We’re on the same wave length.”
“And that makes my job real easy. He’s a great athlete, very coachable, and loves to work for me. I know what he’s going to do and he knows what I’m going to do before we do it.”
Ty Rorem, a 1997 Falls High graduate, also took part in the championship by handling what’s known as a “test dog.” The dog and handler don’t actually compete, but participate in all the trials to give the dog and handler experience at such an event, as well as allow the handler to consider how the dog would perform at future events.
The proud father said in a Web interview that his daughter was ahead of him at one point in the competition and he was thrilled about it.
“Ty has a tremendous gift with dogs. She has a passion for the sport, and I’m real happy to have her on our team,” he told The Journal. “She’ll carry on the torch for me, after I decide to retire, which isn’t soon.”
Video of the event reveals a screaming Paulette when her husband and partner’s name was announced as the winner.
“It’s hard work and I’m glad it paid off,” she told the Web site. “We’ve done this for a lot of years and Dave’s spent a lot of time on it. This is well deserved.”
Ty Rorem was nearly speechless.
Lamb’s interview with Rorem after the win reveals that Dave Rorem’s interest in dogs began at a young age.
“....as a young lad of six or seven, Dave’s father drove him from western Minnesota toward Minneapolis to pick up a precocious Labrador puppy promised by Dr. Harold A. Mork. Turns out this doctor owned NFC Cork of Oakwood Lane (the 1955 National Retriever Champion). While young Dave gazed in awe at the puppies before him, trainer Tony Berger showed Cork to the lad and bent down to look him in the eye...and he said: ‘Cork and I have won the National Championship — Maybe someday you can do this, too!’”
And Willie’s appearance at the event was remarkable, in light of a recent injury.
Lamb writes: “...luck and misfortune struck nearly in tandem. Willie qualified early for the National, but suffered a shoulder injury in March/April. It was a nagging problem; Willie was laid up, then brought back out, laid up again, and so it went. The aggravations would seem to improve and then get worse.”
Lamb quotes Oman about Willie and Rorem: “They are quite a team and that is what makes winning special. And, I think Willie’s shown us all he has heart and fortitude...as big as the state of Texas.”
How do you top winning the national championship?
“By repeating,” Rorem quickly responded to The Journal’s question. “Everybody that wins one is delighted to win one, but the goal is always to repeat. That’s our intention — to work as hard as we can and try to do it one more time and keep doing it.”
Rorem uses “we” often when he discusses his accomplishments.
“A victory like this is a team effort,” he said. “Paulette and Ty are a great team and there are many others that have helped.”