Written by Rhonda Hovan
He was born into my hands, the only male in a litter of seven, and before he was even dry, my six-year-old son John had named him Thunder. The truth is that I had no intention of keeping a male, but there was just something about this puppy. And then there was John – the bond between them was cemented long before the pups were weaned. So when his sisters left for their new homes, the little boy puppy stayed with us, although I told John that the pup’s new fancy show dog name was going to be Faera’s Future Classic. As a longtime show breeder, I had big plans for this puppy, and for six months I called him Classic. But John also had plans for this puppy, and steadfastly called him Thunder.
Thunder first came to the attention of golden retriever fanciers nationwide when he won Reserve Winners Dog at the National Specialty at the tender age of 7-months, and he captured the admiration and imagination of many in attendance. The charisma we had seen from his earliest days was apparent to judges and spectators alike, and Thunder finished his Championship quickly thereafter. But despite his potential in the show ring, we made the decision not to campaign Thunder because his role in our family took precedence over a show career that would take him away from home.
Although he was not campaigned, Thunder’s sons and daughters soon proved his merits as a sire. He stamped his offspring with soundness that encompassed breed type, movement, temperament, and health clearances, and quickly rose to become the No. 1 Sire in the breed for several years. This consistency and reliability as a sire led to Thunder's record as a producer of more than 110 AKC Champions, with dozens of additional major titles also represented. Predictable health clearances coupled with a desirable working temperament among his offspring also led to his inclusion in the breeding programs of several service dog organizations.
But to those who knew him, Thunder’s sense of humor and compassion were his most endearing and remarkable traits. He knew what would make us laugh, and his eyes would sparkle with delight at being in on the joke. But this majestic lion of a dog also had a gentle soul, and he always knew how to offer comfort to those who needed it most. This was manifested one early spring day when Thunder found and rescued a tiny orphaned raccoon. The unlikely pair became best buddies and their friendship lasted for years. Long after Phoenix returned to the wild, he would descend from the woods to join Thunder for a romp in the yard, and we never tired of watching them.
When Thunder was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1999, obviously we were devastated. At about the same time, the results of a major golden retriever health survey were released, showing that 60 percent of all goldens die from cancer, including one in eight from lymphoma. This came at a time when few breeders talked openly about cancer, so I made the decision to use Thunder’s status as a high-profile dog in the breed to break the silence. After sending Thunder’s blood and tumor samples to Dr. Jaime Modiano, director of the Animal Cancer Care and Research (ACCR) program, to participate in lymphoma research, I went public with a nationwide plea to other breeders to join the cause by donating samples.
We lost Thunder when he was 10.5-years-old, and anyone who has ever loved a dog knows that the hurt never fully heals. But I find some measure of comfort in partnering in the fight against the disease that took him from us. In addition to continuing to aid in sample recruitment, I also founded the Starlight Fund to support research. Named after my Thunder-grandson, Star, this fund has been generously supported by golden owners who have bred to Star or purchased my puppies, as well as by many who simply share a bond of loss. I am honored to be able to play some small role in support of ACCR’s research.
PO Box 1110, Bath, Ohio 44210