Before retiring last year, Burton Wice was an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology at Washington University School of Medicine. During his career, he published more than 40 research papers in the fields of obesity, diabetes and colon cancer in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals. His wife, Sharon, is a lawyer in St. Louis with Gunn and Gunn, where she specializes in probate law and estate planning.
But there’s another member of the Wice household with a list of honors that eclipses those of Burton and Sharon: their dog, an American Brittany named Daisee.
Her full registered name is Driving Miss Daisy II and she is an accomplished champion with national credentials. She holds the dual titles of field champion and grand field champion from the American Kennel Club. The American Field Sporting Dog Association lists Daisee as a two-time champion. These designations are significant achievements in the competitive world of field dogs.
Growing up in University City, Burton Wice attended Sunday and Hebrew school at United Hebrew Congregation. After marrying Sharon, the Wices attended Shaare Zedek Synagogue. During those years, Burton had a dog, a family pet without a blue-ribbon résumé and AKC registration. It wasn’t until his daughter Sarah got an American Brittany that he became interested in the unique skills of bird dogs.
Sarah (Wice) Hirsch, who works as a public relations consultant for Graybar Electric, wanted a puppy for her 10th birthday in 1997. Sarah’s new companion, Amee, wasn’t just any puppy. She was bred from nationally recognized American Brittanys owned by William Dierberg, a veterinarian and son of the founder of Dierbergs Markets. Dierberg introduced the Wice family to quail hunting with bird dogs and, later, to the competitive world of field trials.
“In competition out in the country, they turn two dogs loose at a time,” Wice said. “There’s a course with fields and pastures, and they have to find pheasants and quail and other upland game birds. We follow the dogs from horseback and, when a dog finds a bird, it has to stop and freeze. Then they hold that position and point to the bird, sometimes by lifting a leg. The tail goes straight up in the air, and the dog has to stand there motionless. Then we ride to the dog, dismount and flush the bird. The dog has to stand still the whole time and can’t chase the bird when it flies. If she moves, she’s disqualified.”
If the other dog sees the dog on point, it must then also stand perfectly still and point at the lead dog. That is known as “honoring.” Both dogs are then scored on their ability to remain motionless after the bird is flushed and flies away.
In field trials, dogs are judged not only on their ability to find upland game birds, but also on how fast they run, how much ground they cover, their hunting pattern, stamina and style when pointing birds. These criteria are designed to evaluate the dog in a real-life hunting situation, but without actually shooting a bird. After the birds are flushed and fly away, a blank gun is fired and if the dog gets spooked by the gunshot, it is disqualified.
While still 10 years old, Sarah Wice and Amee began winning field competitions. That’s when the Wice family got hooked on the breed and the thrill of the hunt. Later, as Sarah’s interests broadened beyond dogs, her father continued to raise, breed and compete with American Brittanys.
“These dogs are professional athletes,” Burton Wice said. “Daisee has to be in top condition. She’s in training 10 months out of the year. I exercise her for more than an hour every other day. When she’s in a competition, it’s an hourlong field trial, and if a dog isn’t running full speed ahead at the end, it doesn’t rank very high.”
The American Brittany is an AKC sporting dog, the group originally developed to work closely with hunters to locate and, in the case of retrievers, bring back game. The Brittany is uniquely suited to birding because the breed is both compact and agile. Its most significant asset is a great nose that is able to sniff out a bird from a long distance. The Brittany also is affable. It’s not unusual for a Brittany to double as house pet and competitive birder, as Daisee does.
In addition to Daisee, Wice is also raising two female Brittany pups from a Daisee litter. Based on wins in field trials, both of these youngsters are considered to be two of the best juvenile bird dogs in the country. In November, one of Daisee’s pups, a 2-year-old named WW’s Miss Wendy Peffercorn, AKA Wendee, won the 2019 American Brittany Club Quail Classic Championship. There were 52 dogs competing, and Wendee beat them all.
Wice is president of the Greater St. Louis Brittany Club. When he is not training his dogs, he travels around the country with Daisee and his horse, Gentleman Jack, for field competitions. He sees about 150 top competitors on the circuit.
Daisee is considered something of a celebrity and is notable for balancing motherhood and work. Most champions tend to be male.
While Burton thrives on the competition, Sharon Wice said, she enjoys the camaraderie of other Brittany owners they meet at the field trials. Her husband’s role as president of the Brittany Club often means handling the logistics of competitions, she said.
“There is a lot that goes into putting on one of these field trials,” she said. “Burton just held one in early October that lasted for eight days, and over 100 dogs competed. He had to start organizing the event months in advance to handle details like finding certified people to judge the competition.”
Like a soccer parent, Burton Wice frequently can be found running his “kids” to the next competition. To get optimum performance from his dogs, Wice relies on a professional trainer. The training, he said, starts when they’re just a couple of months old.
“You just let them have fun,” he said. “They kind of train themselves. You turn them loose. I used to put birds out, and they would learn to use the wind to smell them. They can only smell the bird if they are downwind of the bird. If they get too close to the bird, it will fly away and the dog is then disqualified. Their instinct is to find the bird, but to be able to stand on point motionless, that takes training to bring that out.
“Also, in competition they’re judged on their hunting technique, which is probably more important than finding birds. If they find one bird and have good technique, that’s more important than finding five birds.”