The chase, and then thrill, of victory with competitive hunting Vizslas drives Jennifer Fowler-Hermes.
Executive: Jennifer Fowler-Hermes, a partner at Sarasota-based law firm Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen. She's also a labor and employment law attorney and practice leader for the firm’s labor and employment practice.
Diversion: Fowler-Hermes breeds, trains and shows competitive hunting Vizslas with her husband, Paul Hermes. They have had four American Kennel Club Dual Champion Vizslas. A Vizsla is a type of pointer by breed, according to the American Kennel Club, with the characteristics of pointer and retriever.
Chance to compete: Fowler-Hermes got her first Vizsla in law school as a pet. By the time she met her husband, she had two. The breeder she used gave her what must be a fairly uncommon coupon: half off your next Vizsla. After Fowler-Hermes got married, they cashed in the coupon and got another dog. It was supposed to be another pet, but it led them to an event with the Tampa Bay Vizsla Club, which in turn led them into the world of competition. “We kind of got our toes wet and just started doing it,” she says. “Before we knew it, we had the first male Vizsla Dual Champion in the state.”
Mentor moment: An early mentor encouraged Fowler-Hermes and her husband to get involved with competition and not stand on the sidelines. “We had really good mentors,” she says. “We were able to learn a lot from them, and we did a lot of studying on our own.”
Dogged determination: Fowler-Hermes and her husband train their dogs themselves, but they’ve also gotten help from others. “We didn’t do everything ourselves because we don’t know everything,” she says. With training, every dog is different, but generally, Fowler-Hermes says they need to know how to cover ground, run far and have endurance. They also need to get exercise and stay in shape, like any athlete. “Beyond that, you need to work on some level of obedience. Dogs need to know their bird manners. If they find a bird, they go on point, and they stay there. They need to understand what their job is.” The dogs also learn that before they retrieve a bird, like a quail or pheasant, they have to receive a command. “They can’t retrieve until you tell them to. They have to stay there until you tell them to go get it.”
Way of life: Since starting to compete, she and her husband have gone all-in with Vizslas. They have an extra car to transport dogs, they’re members of a hunting club in Lake Wales and they live on 10 acres. The property has a training area where they can work on the dogs’ manners and retrieving skills.
Show and field: Fowler-Hermes used to handle her dogs in the show ring, including showing at Westminster. “It was a learning experience,” she says. She probably won’t do it again, though, because it’s more enjoyable to watch her dog in the ring. Beyond the show ring, the dogs compete in the field with hunt tests and field trials. Over the years, Fowler-Hermes and her husband have had four Dual Champions — a dog with both a show and field championship. They’re hoping another one of their dogs will be a Dual Champion by March.
Dog duo: One aspect of the hobby she likes is it isn’t a solo activity — her husband enjoys it, too. "It was something we could do together that we both ended up having a passion for,” she says. Now, about 19 years later, it’s still fun for both of them. “It’s definitely something that brings my husband and I together,” she says.
Puppy priorities: The pair has also bred Vizslas. In 2007, their first litter included 11 puppies. People across the country have their puppies, from Wisconsin to Texas to Seattle to Sarasota. One belongs to another Williams Parker attorney. Their most recent litter was in 2018.
Proud photographer: Vizslas led Fowler-Hermes to another hobby, too — photography. She enjoys photographing her husband with the dogs as well as other nature scenes. The photos in her office are all ones she’s taken. An artist in Colorado even turned some of her photographs into paintings. One photo he asked to paint made the cover of the Pointing Dog Journal.
New year: Fowler-Hermes didn’t travel as much for competitions in 2020 because of the pandemic, but she hopes 2021 will be different. “There’s going to be a national gun dog competition in Virginia in March, and we have at least one dog that we’re going to be running,” she says. “I’m looking forward to getting back out there on a regular basis.”
Competition and camaraderie: For Fowler-Hermes, the benefits of Vizsla competition come on several fronts. “It’s the journey, the camaraderie and the relationships, not only with the animals but with all of the people you meet along the way,” she says. “I’ve made some of my closest friends through the dog world.”
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