If Casey himself is an enigma to the old guard of the field trial set, his dog Cougar is even more so. In 1962, for example, Cougar was the eighth-ranking derby dog among 2,387 in the country and the top derby in California. He did not enter his first All-Age trial until last March, but by May he had an A.F.T.C. before his name. Only 30 dogs in the entire country earned these letters last year. By June, Cougar had qualified for and run in the 1963 National Amateur, by August he had qualified for the National Championship as well as for next year's National Amateur, and by September he had added F.T.C. to his Amateur title. Only 25 dogs were awarded this privilege last year.
As if this were not enough, Cougar showed up this week at the 1963 National (where seven points and one first place are required to qualify) with a total of 22 points and three firsts in registered trials this season. A few outstanding dogs have earned even more points than this in a single year, but what makes Casey's Cougar unique is that he did it while under 3 years old. In the retriever world this is comparable to winning a Fulbright Scholarship in kindergarten.
At the National Amateur last June the average age of the 58 dogs that ran was 6 years and 2 months. Cougar was all of 2 years and 4 months at the time. Such precocity is so frustrating to so many trainers that one "well-meaning" member of the clique recently advised Casey to take Cougar out of competition for about a year. "You don't want to overwork that dog at his age," he explained in his kindly way.
"Now isn't that a funny kind of advice?" Casey says, scratching his head. "Why that Cougar is a born ham. If we could afford it, we'd make every trial."
As it is, Casey and Cougar manage to make plenty of them. Crammed into a beat-up 1956 Buick along with an awe-inspiring collection of books, clothing, pots, pans, dog food, shotgun shells, old waders and assorted bottles of liniment, hair tonic, bourbon, rubbing alcohol and soft drinks, the pair would look utterly out of place among the shining new station wagons at most Nationals. But this year's National is different, and Casey and Company, if anything, are part of the trend it represents. For the West has moved in on field trialing and remade the sport in that image. More and more professional handlers are finding themselves competing at western trials against rank amateurs, and what is more, having a hard time of it. The legendary big names of the East and Midwest are finding their hottest (and most expensive) hopefuls soundly trounced by pet gun-dogs that in many cases have never even seen a professional trainer. And as western competition gets tougher, members of the old guard are beginning to sit up a little straighter on their shooting sticks to take a second look at some of the unknowns they would normally brush aside. What they are seeing at the National is Casey and his Cougar.