Mike Mapes and Murphy, the Irish setter, greeted supporters during a March 2023 fundraiser for Second Chance Bird Dogs held at Haymarsh Hunt Club in Morley, MI. (Tailfeather Communications, LLC, photo)

Every few minutes, from his metal crate sitting on the concrete floor of the clubhouse at Haymarsh Hunt Club, Murphy, the 18-month-old Irish setter, plaintively whined to get Mike Mapes’ attention. His confinement, it seemed, was part of the process of training him to be an effective — and patient — bird dog.

Mapes runs Second Chance Bird Dogs (SCBD), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit from his home in Lakeview, Michigan, and Murphy was a recent acquisition. The operation does exactly what its name implies: Mapes rescues dogs ill-suited for their current homes, trains them, and places them with families that will give them that second chance at becoming excellent upland bird hunters.

And each dog is different in terms of what exactly he needs to learn in order to be a good pet and a good hunting dog.

For example, Murphy came from a home that didn’t train him to hunt. Another dog Mapes had on hand, Parker, a German wire-haired pointer, needed to work on socialization skills. While each dog takes a different road to success, Mapes employs a three-step process to bring out the best in them. First, the dogs simply get acclimated to him. Then he exposes them to birds every other day. Finally, he gets them on birds, shoots over them, and works on their retrieving instincts.

“Normally, I like to sit down with the previous owner and find out where they’ve been with a dog and what they’ve done,” he said. “Then I start with my own program from there.”

Actually, Murphy is an outlier in this situation. Most of the dogs Mapes takes in are German shorthairs and wirehairs, breeds that are “overbred,” especially by “mom and pop breeders who don’t care about bloodlines.” He feels their natural instinct to hunt gets blunted by such breedings. Then, the next problem is, “They go to homes they shouldn’t.”

The main reasons a home is wrong are the people don’t really know the breed they’ve acquired, and they are not active enough to meet the dog’s needs.

“They expect the dogs to be couch potatoes. Kept inside 12 hours a day. The dogs don’t get the activity they need. The majority of dogs I get are from those homes. There are a lot of ‘subtitles’ beneath those, but those are the main problems.”

For people looking to adopt a dog from SCBD, Mapes conducts a “long vetting process” including standardized questions, several phone calls and social media searches. The basic training and adoption fee is $1,200 for what he offers as “started” dogs.

“That is what pays for the rescue and how we are able to buy dog food and pay vet bills and any other expenses. If I can rehome two dogs a month that makes it all self sustainable. In the beginning I was paying for everything until it became what it is today.”

Mapes, Murphy, Parker and Nitro a Deutsch Kurzhaar — “He started all this” — were set up for the first time at Haymarsh in Morley, Michigan, in mid-March 2023. A part-time guide there, Mapes was given use of the clubhouse as the central location for a fundraiser for SCBD. From there, teams of hunters embarked on morning hunts; came back for a nice, hot lunch; and then, if so inclined, headed back out for the afternoon. Each day, 60 hunters hit the fields. And over 175 more people stopped in over the weekend just to donate. Many more donated online.

The goal of the event was to raise $5,000 that Mapes would match in order to nearly double his operation from seven kennels to 13. The expansion, he hoped, will allow him to quit his job as a tool and die maker and go into the training full time.

“To be able to do this eight hours a day — that would be a key to success. To go big or go home, that’s what I have to do.”

Mapes seemed amazed by the support he has received, mostly as a result of word of mouth or people “stumbling over me” in social media.

“The followers are amazing,” he said. “We’ve had guys come in from Gwinn in the U.P. down to Indiana, just to support our cause. Another guy sends me $500 a month. And another from Florida donates, and he doesn’t even own bird dogs.”

The day after the event, he gushed on Facebook.

“To be honest,” in December 2021 when he conceived of SCBD, “if you told me that what just happened the last two days was going to happen, I would have laughed.”

He then engaged in an extended metaphor.

“If you told me that Pyke Gear, Collar Clinic and Field Armor (three Michigan-based producers of bird hunting gear) would sponsor the kennel and stand behind something so new, I would have got dressed.

“If you told me that almost 8,000 people would follow me on this journey and help whenever called. If you told me that people would donate money whenever needed. I would brush my teeth and say, ‘What’s next?’

“If you told me that on one single weekend. A group of people who barely know me. People who trust in me and follow me. People from all walks of life. People who don’t hunt and people who that’s all they do.

“If you told me those people. My army. My rock. Those people would raise over $6,200 on one single weekend. Well, it happened. I’m putting my boots on and I’m getting to work.

Thanks to all of his donors, the first thing Mapes gets to work on is that kennel expansion.

To learn more about SCBD, just Google “second chance bird dogs.” Results will include Mapes’ Facebook page, Instagram account and YouTube channel. There is no website for SCBD.

SCBD Sponsors: Pyke Gear, Norton Shores, MI — pykegear.com; Collar Clinic, Traverse City, MI — collarclinic.com; Field Armor, Sterling Heights, MI — fieldarmorusa.com