Eastern Long Island’s Missing Breed…The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Written By: Daniel Reebel

Eastern Long Island’s Missing Breed…The Chesapeake Bay Retriever My Chesapeake Bay Retrievers expect to ride with me whenever I fire up the Chevy pickup. Kayla always rides shotgun and Mia’s in the extended cab with her paws on the console between the seats. That’s how we roll. These girls watch my every move. They aren’t shy about letting me know what they want. Chessies make remarkable eye contact with their “favorite” people. Known for their love of water, retrieving ability and intelligence, they’re rock steady companions. Kayla, she’s my big girl a muscular lean long legged Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Five years ago I found her in Lexington, Virginia’s animal shelter. You can’t miss the striking white blaze on her deep chest and white spots on her powerful webbed paws. She’s courageous, compassionate and intensely loyal. Mia’s my little girl, an incredible athlete and relentless competitor. She’s a super sensitive CBR. She’s all business all the time whether she’s in the water, fields, my truck or at home. Her aerial prowess shagging Frisbees puts Border Collies to shame. Mia hails from a renowned Florida Panhandle breeder. If she weren’t missing half of her left ear flap she would’ve been spoken for. Eastern Long Island is without a doubt Chesapeake Bay Retriever heaven. My laid back thoughtful companions are energized by the North and South Fork’s four distinct seasons, water, woods and fields. Chessies travel well and expect to accompany you on your daily endeavors. Whether walking at your side or resting at your feet their quiet confidence and strength piques people’s interest and initiates interesting conversations. Chesapeakes are natural hunters with tremendous stamina, physical strength and intelligence. These loyal family oriented working dogs could add a new chapter to the East End’s maritime heritage. Spending the last twenty one years along the shores of Virginia’s brackish lower Potomac River, I’ve learned a lot about the ways of the region’s watermen. The lower Potomac, also known as the tidal Potomac, with its sweeping bluffs often reminds me of Great Peconic Bay. Whether they’re crabbing, pulling seine nets, potting eels, catching rockfish {stripers}, or duck hunting the men that work the river remind me of the bay men that I knew, worked with and admired growing up on the North Fork. The Virginia duck season starts just after Thanksgiving and runs through the middle of January. As opening day approaches the excitement and anticipation builds to a crescendo comparable to that special day on the East End, the first Monday in November – Peconic Bay Scallop Season opening day. You’ll see and hear a lot of activity at sunrise on the Potomac and its tributaries during these cold winter months. In many ways the Virginia watermen are like their North Fork bay men brethren. The only real differences are the configuration of their boats, twelve gauge shotguns and strings of decoys in lieu of scallop dredges and bushel baskets and the waterman’s hardworking partner his Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The Virginia waterfowl season is a big deal, most watermen are guides. A lot of the successful ones rely upon a special kind of retriever that excels in harsh conditions and challenging surroundings. Their rugged retrievers are as comfortable in the water as they are on land. Ice, precipitation, subzero temperatures won’t stop these serious brown retrievers. Their thick water resistant double coat keeps them dry, warm and ready. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers’ determination, commitment and dedication is legendary. The unyielding bonds they forge and the way they work with their “people” is impressive and inspiring. I’d never seen a Chesapeake Bay Retriever before I moved to the Old Dominion. Like most people I just assumed the impressive muscular brown dogs in the watermen’s trucks were Chocolate Labs with thick wavy coats. When you really look closer it becomes obvious that these brown retrievers aren’t Chocolate Labs. You’ll notice the CBR’s powerfully built hindquarters that are slightly higher than their shoulders. You can’t overlook a Chessies muscular sturdy legs and large webbed paws. They’re powerful swimmers that aren’t deterred by any type of water, swamps or marshes. Their substantial tail looks and acts like a rudder. One of the striking features that you won’t forget are their radiant eyes. A Chessies’ eye color always matches their coat they are crystal clear and expressive. They’re known to communicate silently and express their personality through their eyes. You’ll always know what a Chesapeake thinks about you based upon how they look at you. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are not related to Goldens or Labradors. They’re a 100% American creation, a one of a kind retriever breed with a fascinating history. In 1807 an English Brig went down off the Maryland coast, the crew rescued the ship’s two Newfoundlands. Local waterman bred the Newfoundlands with an assortment of capable local dogs. Water spaniels, hounds, setters and other dogs displaying the best hunting traits were crossbred with the Newfoundlands. Their efforts produced a remarkably tough working dog that’s loyal, intelligent and a dedicated companion. In 1918 the AKC recognized this one-of-a-kind American breed, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Chessies are strong dogs. Whether they’re retrieving, diving into ice cold water, breaking ice with their muscular chests and powerful paws or resting by your feet next to the woodstove they have an insatiable joie de vivre. Their natural hunting instincts, intelligence and sensitivity are remarkable. You don’t have to hunt with them to fully realize their profound physical and mental capabilities. Assertive and confident, Chesapeakes adapt effortlessly to their surroundings. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever cognoscenti will tell you that you’re “owned” by a Chessie when they make the decision to accept and bond with you. Once “ownership” is established you can teach them practically anything. Chesapeakes thrive on companionship; wherever you are they’ll be there. They’re determined working dogs that’ll always be there for you and finish any task they start. It’s been nearly a quarter century since I’ve lived on the North Fork. Rarely does a day go by when I don’t think of this pastoral paradise. Eastern Long Islands authentic, refreshingly real and rustic. I cherish the wide open spaces, water and way of life. Southold’s enticing siren song is luring me back. Now I can be the breed’s ambassador bringing two personable Chessies to the North Fork. My girls enhance my life, every days an adventure and they’ll make you smile guaranteed. It’s time to write a new chapter in the East End’s rich history introducing Eastern Long Island to their missing dog breed, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The East End’s bucolic scene will invigorate Kayla and Mia if I can keep them away from the Canada Geese and out of the water long enough to savor it.