by Donna McLean, Staff writer – The Magee Courier.
Al and Jacqueline Gordy didn’t think they needed a project for their retirement. After all, they had adult children, grandchildren, a family business and other property to look after.
But the Magee couple did take on a project when Al retired from a Chicago-based consulting firm several years ago. That project became a passion, and that passion has revamped their entire concept of what their retirement would be.
The project began as a simple desire for a new pet. Their son Kyle Gordy, who lives in Dallas , read an article about designer dogs in Forbes magazine. A “designer dog” is the result of two different pure breeds bred together for their best qualities.
The article extolled the virtues of the new Australian Labradoodle, a cross between a Labrador retriever and a standard poodle. The result is a non-shedding, hypo-allergenic dog with a playful but gentle disposition. Knowing that his parents had enjoyed both poodles and labs over their years of pet ownership, Kyle suggested that they look into the new breed.
Intrigued, the Gordys began to research labradoodles. The contacted a breeder in Australia, where the breed was developed. A year later, they had their first labradoodle, Southern Cross Smooch, or Smooch for short.
In a story they submitted to the Foundation for Pet Provided Therapy, the Gordys reported, “As the puppy Smooch was growing and began displaying his wonderful temperament, we soon realized and appreciated … what a soft and empathetic temperament he had. We realized this wonderful gift was our responsibility to develop.”
Jacqueline found the appropriate trainer, assuming the result of their dog’s training would be just a manageable pet. But Smooch’s trainer actually trained therapy dogs in a facility at Mississippi State Hospital (MSH) at Whitfield. In return for the use of the facility, the dogs worked with patients at the hospital. First, Smooch earned his Canine Good Citizen certification, which is required for all therapy dogs. Then, in a natural progression of his training, he began to work with patients at MSH, where the dog’s great sensitivity to human emotions made him the perfect therapy pet.
“The next thing we knew,” said Al, “Smooch had led us into the wonderful world of pet provided therapy.”
Retirement life was changing already.
Therapy dogs are trained to respond to people with various physical and mental illnesses. They may be guide dogs for the sight- or hearing-impaired or seizure alert dogs. They can be trained to aid those with neurological problems or paralysis, or simply to comfort to a lonely patient.
As Smooch’s “career” took off, the Gordys became more involved. First, as the owners, they had to be trained to help train Smooch.
“The human part of the training is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Jacqueline.
By then she and Al were hooked on labradoodles and began to think of starting their own breeding business. They purchased a female and another male, and the result was Barksdale Labradoodles of Magee.
Barksdale was the name of Jacqueline’s grandparents, who lived in Magee, near where the Gordys’ home is now located. “The ‘Barks’ part worked for what we were doing, and we liked the name,” Al explained.
Barksdale Labradoodles has placed dogs in homes as close as Magee and as far away as Nashville, Denver and Atlanta, where Al says more of the Barksdale dogs have gone than to any other city.
As the business has grown, so has the Gordys’ commitment. In fact, their lives are so involved with the breeding, care and training of the dogs that they are completing a major renovation of their home on Kennedy Drive to accommodate their new lifestyle.
The house is now divided into a family side and a “doodles” side. The glass door to the doodle side – formerly the front entrance to the home — is now etched with the business’s name. It opens into a waiting/conference room. To the right is the former den, now a spacious office where Al and Jacqueline have separate desks for keeping up with the extensive paperwork required for careful dog breeding and sales.
The office opens onto a porch that can be closed off to confine the dogs or opened to allow them into the “doodle yard,” where they can run and play. A large roofed pen allows some dogs to be separated but protected from the elements.
Back inside is the “doodle suite,” an area of several small rooms devoted to the dogs, their equipment, and their individual crates for privacy. It includes a whelping room for the birth and protection of puppies from the adult dogs. A doggy door allows the Doods, as Al calls them, to move between the house and their yard.
The changes to this side of the house have required a renovation on the family side to convert a former playroom to a new family room. Bedrooms are also being redone.
Someone asked Al, “You’re doing this remodeling and making half of your house for the doodles, so won’t that make the house hard to sell?” Al laughs as he recalls the question.
“That will be Kyle and Kami’s problem,” he said, referring to son Kyle and daughter Kami Wert. Obviously, the Gordys don’t plan to move any time soon.
We didn’t intend to do such an extensive remodeling,” he added. “It started out with Jacqueline’s walk-in closet, and we said, ‘while we’re at it.’ But we’ve come to the conclusion that this is our last opportunity to do this. This is our last hurrah.”
What’s more likely is that the Gordys won’t have time to do another renovation. In a change that has become typical of modern retirees, they are busier now in retirement than ever.
Jacqueline helps on the business end of Barksdale Labradoodles and with the care and training of the dogs. In fact, she took Lilly, another of their dogs being trained for therapy work, through her certification process by herself. “That was huge,” Al said.
The work is a partnership. While Jacqueline handles some of the paperwork, Al tries to designate at least one day a week to accompanying Smooch to his therapy dog appointments. Al says he’s the “front man” for Smooch. Now the two are often accompanied by Lilly and Boomer, a male who is also being trained.
Smooch still works at MSH, but his services are in demand elsewhere. He now works primarily with Odyessey Health Care, the second largest hospice provider in America. He also works at a geriatric daycare center in Warren County, at the VA, at Boswell Regional Center in Magee, and in nursing homes. He has also done a program for the Nashville, Tenn. school system.
The Gordys’ latest venture has been their involvement with the Institute for Disability Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi and a partnering organization, Service Animals of Mississippi (SAM). The couple has donated one of their dogs, Barksdales Amazing Grace, to SAM. They are serving as the foster family for Grace while she is being trained as a seizure alert dog.
The business requires work, but the Gordys say it’s worthwhile. This year Smooch was recognized as the first non-human ever to win the Heart of Hospice Award for outstanding volunteer service. He stayed at a pet-friendly New Orleans hotel and attended the annual luncheon, where he received his award, which he shared with Al and Jacqueline.
In actuality, it’s hard to say that the Gordys are retired at all. Last year Jacqueline and her brother, Alfred Pace, sold part of the family business, the Pacesetter stores. Their Pace Oil Company has become an asset management company. They also have P&G, a management company, and other properties. With remaining business details to settle, Jacqueline still goes in to the office every day, “but mostly to hide from all this,” says Al, waving his hand toward the partially remodeled family room of the house.
Al has gotten into other remodeling projects since his retirement from the corporate world. He and brother-in-law Alfred Pace directed the renovation of the former Smith house on Kennedy Drive, and they are completing the renovation of the Barksdale house next door, which belonged to Jacqueline’s grandparents.
The Gordys have been able to do a little of what most retired couples dream of, traveling to destinations like Alaska. They have cruised up the New England coastline.
“The children, the grandchildren, the travel, the doodles and the houses. That’s what we do, and everything else falls within those pieces somewhere,” Al said. “There’s no slowing down. Mine and Jacqueline’s intent is just to continue to enjoy what we have.”
OUR MISSION WITH BARKSDALE LABRADOODLES IS TO SHARE THIS GREAT BREED THROUGH A CONTROLLED BREEDING PROGRAM, SELECTIVELY PLACING THE DOODS, PROVIDING PET THERAPY, PLACING CANINE SERVICE LABRADOODLES, AND ENJOYING OUR SPECIAL FRIENDS!
Allen and Jacqueline Gordy