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VICTORY'S SWEET FOR DOGGED CANINE

With the bounding enthusiasm of a puppy, Bailey leaps out of his cage and off the one-ton pickup truck.

Owner Lynn Morrison quickly grabs him in midair to break the long jump.Tail wagging wildly, Bailey - a yellow Labrador that recently became the first of his breed to win the master hunting title in Utah - sometimes forgets that he was nearly killed a year ago in an accident that left his hind legs partially crippled.

In June 1990, Bailey, already the winner of nine straight competitions, was training to win his 10th, which he needed to qualify for the Master Hunting Title. But he wandered onto Redwood Road in south Davis County and was struck by a van.

Adding insult to injury, the driver refused to give him a ride to the veterinary hospital, saying the dog was going to die anyway.

Bailey didn't die, but his injuries - a dislocated backbone and a damaged spinal cord - left his hind legs paralyzed.

Morrison nursed the dog back to health, built a homemade wheelchair and spent countless, painful hours retraining and rehabilitating the spirited 5-year-old retriever. It took more than six months before the dog could run, and even then, he often fell down.

But the hard work has paid off.

Last week, at a field hunting trial sponsored by the Wasatch Hunting Retriever Club, Bailey racked up win No. 10, qualifying him as a master hunting dog - the first yellow Lab in Utah to attain the honor.

"He did one heck of a job," said Morrison. "He left no doubt as to whether he would pass or fail. In fact, he scored several perfect 10s."

Twenty-eight dogs entered the master division at last week's event, but only five finished, Morrison said.

"It's an accomplishment for any of the dogs, much less one that was a paraplegic."

The accomplishment is particularly sweet for the hunting duo in light of the fact that they were rejected by two other field trial clubs, which refused to allow the dog to compete because of the awkward way it walks.

Despite the intensive retraining and rehabilitation, Bailey's gait is not a pretty one. "He's got his own `Bailey walk,' " said Morrison, who bristles when discussing how the trial clubs refused to let Bailey compete.

"They discriminated against him. I can't help but think they didn't want their $25,000 and $50,000 dogs to get beat by a cripple.

"But I gotta give credit to the Wasatch Club because they gave us a chance. They knew he was so good, they couldn't keep him out of the competition."

Though he "walks funny" and can only jump "about as good as Mark Eaton," Bailey's mental concentration has increased, making him more accurate, Morrison said.

"He's done real well, considering what he's been through. We had to work with him for the first two months just to get him to stand on his feet.

"It's taken him a long time. Sometimes it seemed so doggone slow."

Fortunately, Bailey seems to have forgotten the hard times.