Pat O'Neall was one of the first female dog handlers.

Hatchechubbee is the center of dog field trials over the weekend

By Denise DuBois 

From Friday to Sunday, the woods in Hatchechubbee were filled with quail and setters as dog field trials continued in the wet weather. More than 20 dogs competed in the trials as they were judged on finding the decoy quail and “pointing” at them as they are trained to do. 

Pat O’Neall, 89, is a dog handler who has been in the dog field trail sport for 40 or 50 years. 

“I was lucky that I had a husband and a father who liked it,” O’Neall said. 

Her husband studied journalism in college and was invited by American Field and Bird Dog magazine to follow the field trials and write about them. He already knew about the sport through his father, so he took the job. 

“When that was done, he went to working with dogs and had numerous champions,” she said. 

She began training her own dogs, too, and was the only female handler for a long time. 

“It’s fun to have a litter of puppies and pick two or three and see if you can train them. You have to teach them to mind and to come when called. You have to teach them to find the bird and point. Some take a couple of months to learn and some take a couple of years. And dogs are just like people. If you have a litter of puppies, three are sensitive and sit in the back, three are medium and three have never met a stranger,” she said. So which do you choose to train? “The one that does the job.”

O’Neall was used to being the only female in a sport when she was younger. 

“I was the only female fisherman and did lots of things females didn’t do,” she said. 

The sport has changed now and more women are involved, though the weekend’s participants agreed that more young people should get involved in dog field trials. 

In Hatchechubbee, field trials are part of the community and another will be held in March. Jerry Simmons said they expected to have more than 40 dogs in the trials last weekend, but with Superbowl Sunday at the same time, they had about 26 dogs compete. Even without participating in the trials, enjoying the sport on horseback in the gallery is a lot of fun. There are trials for young and more experienced dogs. A food truck is also on site for spectators and participants.