SYLVIA — Haynes Floyd is an unmistakable son of the South. Conversations often include things like "cain't," "fixin'-to" and "y'all" with a drawl so thick and smooth it could be spread on cornbread.
He'll proudly tell how his family farmed and followed wide-ranging, Dixie-born pointing dogs for bobwhite quail long before that long-ago conflict with the North.
Surely those ancestors would be shocked to learn Floyd now lives near the tiny town of Sylvia in central Kansas and sells retrievers.
"When I first came here I felt like I'd found paradise," Floyd said as he played with Ruth, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever. "This place had everything I needed and wanted for me and my dogs."
Never miss a local story.
His dogs are English Labs with long and pure pedigrees. They're welcome with U.S. sportsmen.
"The temperament of British Labs is usually softer and gentler and they're a lot easier to work with that American dogs. I just love to train a dog that has some sense," said Clay Dossett, a Vicksburg, Miss., client of Floyd. "They're also smaller than most American Labs. Generally between 65 and 50 pounds. Calm dogs that are smaller work well because we keep our Labs inside."
From his small place along U.S. 50, Floyd has placed puppies in 34 states this year and all states except Hawaii since 1999.
Many have gone to serve careers even more nobel than fetching pheasants or being a loyal family pet.
Floyd's road through life has held many forks. After graduating with two degrees in agriculture-related fields from Mississippi State University, he was a door-to-door bull salesman in the American West and was once an insurance salesman of national acclaim.
Much of his adult life was spent raising crops and cattle at his family's property in northern Mississippi.
He came across British Labs at a sportsman's fair while on an English vacation with his fiancee in 1998.
They returned with several dogs and he began his Double TT British Kennels the next year. TT was the brand long associated with his family's cattle.
When the fiancee became his ex-wife, he started looking for some place to start anew. Kansas was high on his list.
"I've always loved the Midwest and was already coming out bird hunting every year anyway," he said. "I figured it was a good central location and I could do more huntin'."
Western Reno County seemed prime because he was within an hour of the Wichita airport for shipping puppies and fine bird hunting was never more than a few minutes away.
John Dick, a Wichita client, helped Floyd in 2005 locate his dream place of a 100-year-old house in great condition on a few acres of land and several outbuildings east of Sylvia.
That it had tall pillars in front, reminiscent of Southern plantations, helped seal the deal, as did the price. He said it cost about one-third as much as it would have in Mississippi.
"I really felt like I'd walked into a dream," Floyd said.
Not long after coming to Kansas he met and married his wife, Colleen. Their lives have since gone to the dogs.
They have about 20 adult Labs on site, many imported directly from England or Scotland. Most of the imported females arrived already impregnated. Floyd regularly travels overseas to see such dogs in person.
The kennels where the dogs live are immaculate and spacious.
Puppies are born in a remodeled farm shed complete with heat and ideal furnishings. It's often cleaned twice a day. Floyd is a stickler for making sure germs and bacteria aren't introduced to the puppies before shots and their natural immune system can protect them.
When weaned at about five weeks, the puppies are taken to another refurbished building. That's when Floyd gets into a favorite part of his job — working with the puppies.
On a late October morning, he let eight 10-week-old puppies soon leaving for homes out for a romp. Floyd petted and talked to them often.
He used a pheasant wing on a string to help develop an interest in birds. The interest was certainly there.
Puppies tugged and pulled and rolled over each other for a better grip on the wing. Floyd smiled as he watched the puppies at play.
"I try to do this with them twice a day. I have to force myself, but I manage," he said jokingly.
That's when he also learns about the personalities of each puppy, something that may help him sell it to a perfect home.
Pups with extra interest in feathers may be sold to an avid hunter. Little Labs that are especially calm may be sold to where their biggest duty will be as a house dog.
Puppies that seem extra intelligent and easily trained may be sold to places where their training will have nothing to do with pheasants or ducks.
Dogs from Floyd's kennel are currently working within the fields of drug and explosive detection in the U.S. and Middle East.
At least two dogs have been trained to be companions for youth with serious diabetic problems.
"They teach those dogs what to do when they sense the child is fixin' to go into diabetic shock. The dogs can smell it coming," Floyd said. "That can give the kid and parents a chance to be ready. It could probably save a life."
Prices for puppies average about $1,200. Yellow females are his most popular pick by clients, black males least popular.
Another shade is called fox-red. "People either really love 'em or can't stand them," he said. "They're all good dogs."
Floyd credits his career with dogs and rural central Kansas with improving his enjoyment of life.
This year he'll sell about 110 puppies, which is far from puppy-mill standards. It allows him plenty of time with each puppy and new owner.
He makes sure he has enough breaks to travel around the country to check on the progress of his puppies.
That many such checks happen where the puppy's owner has access to good bird hunting is not an accident.
But even during his most stressful times, like when multiple litters are due or things such as extreme cold or power outages send him scrambling to care for young and old dogs, he's happy.
He said the laid-back lifestyle of south-central Kansas, working with puppies and well-mannered adult dogs, is more fun and therapy than a real job.
"Doing this, from here, has probably added at least 10 years to my life," Floyd said. "I got no complaints."