Father of 396 marks 80th year with a party

“The Dog Father” invites puppies to celebrate

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CASCADE — Sunday’s birthday party begins at 1 p.m., and guest of honor Gordon, also known as “The Dog Father,” says “Woof!”

And there should be plenty more woofs at Sportsman’s Park south of Cascade because all 396 of Gordon’s puppies have been invited. His “girlfriends” are also welcome.

“The more the merrier,” says Gordon’s owner, Joe Strang, who sent out more than 100 invitations and has secured the Blackberry Bushes String Band to provide music.

After all, Gordon’s 80th year in dog years — he was born March 23, 2001 — is something to celebrate.

This will actually be Gordonfest II — six of his girlfriends, 66 puppies and nine grandpuppies showed up last year at the park, with its wide open spaces for chasing sticks and large pond for an afternoon dip.

“He walked around and it was like, ‘That’s mine. I know that one.’ He just strutted all afternoon,” Joe says.

Gordon, a yellow Labrador whom Joe acquired from Ridgeview Kennels in Elkader at 7 weeks old, is one in a long line of dogs Joe has owned.

“My godfather gave me a puppy when I was 3 years old and I’ve always had one,” he says.

He named that small schipperke Smokey, which he pronounced Mokey. When he died, Joe was 13.

“It bothered me. He was my companion.”

Joe’s first Lab, a black one he named Bud, came into his life 34 years ago. Bud was with him 13 years.

“I had him cremated. He’s in a box on my closet shelf waiting for me.”

Joe loved that Lab so much he had other dogs for more than a decade until he tried another of the breed — Gordon. He’s named after G. Gordon Liddy, as Joe says, “The fall guy in Watergate. He’ll take the blame for me.”

Gordon grew up as the perfect companion. He was easy to housebreak, great around people and loved to run on the farm. As a retriever, he’s great at hunting birds but won’t put up with silly games of catch with a stick.

“He’d bring it back a couple of times and look at you like, ‘If you really wanted to keep this, you wouldn’t throw it away.’”

After his hips checked out (a problem with Labs) at age 2, Gordon began breeding. The females would arrive for a few hours or a couple of days, depending on how quickly they’d get together.

“He’s nocturnal when he’s breeding. He doesn’t like people around.”

Joe, who has kept meticulous records, has heard criticism about breeding Gordon so often.

“I just want to put good dogs with good people. I’ve turned down dogs I don’t like and I’ve turned down good dogs owned by people I don’t like.”

The fee is $400 to $500 or the pick of the litter (they’ve ranged in size from three to 14), which is about what a purebred pup would sell for. That’s how Frankie, Gordon’s 2 1/2-year-old daughter and his companion, came into the family.

Through the years Gordon has logged 500,000 miles riding with Joe. They’re always together, even as Joe works as a project manager for Imperial Stone of Dyersville.

Joe knows that Gordon won’t live forever, so he’s begun to help him with a “bucket list.” Checked off is his desire to ride with Batman in the Batmobile — not long ago, they ran into Bob Garion of Maquoketa dressed in cape and hood driving his replica. Joe will know Gordon’s other bucket list desires when he sees them because they’re that close.

“I’ll always have a dog,” Joe says. “I don’t care what kind of a mood I’m in, I feel better when I see my dog.”

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