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I traveled to Great Britain in the mid-1980s to learn more about that nation's retrieving dogs and how they might be used in American-style hunting, Ultimately, to better understand the possibilities, I imported from the United Kingdom two adult Labradors and three puppies.

That initial toe-dipping resulted, eventually, in an importing and breeding business that spanned three decades before my wife, who primarily ran it, and I sold it five years ago.

During that time, I learned a lot about dogs and a lot about people, but more about dogs and people — especially how dogs are almost uniquely capable of producing great joy in a person's life, be they a queen, a commoner . . . or a president.

Case in point:

In 1997, when Millie, the springer spaniel owned by President H.W. and Barbara Bush died at age 12, the news was carried nationwide, even though President Bush by then had been out of office three years. Millie had been celebrated in the First Lady's 1990 book that earned $1.1 million for the Bushes' Foundation for Family Literacy.

By that time, I had imported a number of springers for U.S. clients. One was Will Farish, a thoroughbred breeder in Kentucky, past president of Churchill Downs and longtime friend of the Bushes. Farish also was a friend of Queen Elizabeth II, who, on horse-buying trips to the Bluegrass State, stayed at his home.

One day Farish called me. "The Bushes need a springer to replace Millie,'' he said.

"Fine,'' I said, and handed off the assignment to Tony Parnell, my English friend who in addition to managing Sandringham House for the queen is a pre-eminent retriever and springer trainer and handler.

A month passed before Parnell called back. "I've found a springer,'' he said.

Informed of this, the Bushes, through their secretary, asked me whether they could pick the dog up while they were in Britain to attend Wimbledon. Further, they wondered whether Parnell could meet them with the dog at the queen's Windsor estate, because they had never visited it before.

I called Parnell. "Is the queen OK with the Bushes meeting you at Windsor?''

He had the answer within hours. "No problem,'' he said.

This was before the Bushes' travel plans became further complicated and it appeared America's newest canine might be confined to the baggage hold of a commercial airliner for the ride across the Atlantic.

To save the dog that indignity, a member of the Saudi royal family who was a friend of President Bush came to the rescue. His plane was big enough — and then some —for the Bushes' new dog to ride with them in comfort, up top and in an assigned seat, if desired.

"Everyone left for America happy,'' Parnell said.