Ever since my first bird hunt, at age 4, I wanted a bird dog.
My wedding present from my minister was the pick of a litter of pups he was expecting to be born latter in the summer. No discount on the price, just first pick. I jumped at it. I had hunted behind his dog and I wanted one of those pups. I understood, albeit vaguely that I was getting a good blood line. Years latter I bought a book on the GWP in America and then I understood how good. I had, by total accident, bought into the best pedigree available in the US. By the time I understood that fact, it didn't matter, at least not much.
After the pups were born, I was a regular visitor bedside. I had first pick. I was learning everything there was to know about picking "the best dog". In the end I should have skipped it all. Because I didn't pick her, she picked me. By the time 3 weeks passed I was regularly testing the pups with stick and wing, playing "fetch" or at least throwing stuff for the little pack to chase, I can't claim I ever got anything returned at this stage. By 4 weeks one bitch wouldn't leave me alone. If I sat in the grass all the pups would come to climb on me. She would get in my lap and bite, scratch and claw her brothers and sisters off in an effort to keep me to herself. But there was another bitch in the litter. This one had a very stylish coat. I could see the dollar signs if I bred her and got similar pups. I passed because she wasn't strong on point, that and I knew my buddy really wanted her.
One dog was strong on point, and she tried several times to follow me home from my visits. At 5 weeks of age, I said "hup" and she ran to my truck to get in. So we got in and went home. I named her Abby and registered her as The Baroness Von Hoover. Hoover, of course being the vacuum cleaner company. No speck of people food, no matter how small, could fall from my table and escape her.
I had a little experience working with leader dogs for the blind so I used some of those tactics to socialize her. It seemed to work well. I started to teach her to be a bird dog. Foolish effort on my part. She was ALL BIRD DOG, there was nothing for me to teach, other than trying to control her and guide the hunting. Abby was one birdy dog.
Have you ever made love to a women and brought her to the point she passed out from the pleasure of the experience? That moment right before the ecstasy overtakers her and her whole body is a quiver with emotion and sensation, is the way Abby got every time she was on a bird. She would lock point and tremble with anticipation. After the flush, the shot, the fall, and being told "fetch" she would retrieve softly to hand, and then look up as if to say, "that was great for me, do you have a cigarette"?
That was because of how grand a dog she was. I was a miserable master. I thought you could make a good dog into a great dog by applying liberal amounts of discipline. She, uncharacteristically of the breed, accepted my blows and figured out how to turn me into a master worthy of her love.
I don't know which hunting stories do her justice. At 6 or 7 months of age she made a fantastic stalk, point and flush (on command) on a pheasant. The retrieve was amazing. The bird was only wounded and managed to land in the middle of a mostly frozen river on an ice flow. Abby dove superman style off the bank into what she had to have thought was solid snow. She went under and so did the bird. She came out on the other side of the river and immediately looked back and scouted for the now submerged hen. She sniffed the air, pointed the ice flow and jumped back in the freezing water. Scouting around in the water she submerged herself and swam under a large hunk of ice. When she came out the other side she was holding the bird in her mouth. She promptly brought it to hand, shook herself off and trotted back to the bank she just crawled out of and pointed a stand of cattails. I gave the release command and she flushed a rooster. I shot it and it made the far side of the river before it fell. Abby went and got that bird too.
There was a man who saw her hunt from the farm yard. He offered me $1,000 for Abby. I shook my head no. Then he offered $5,000. I don't know if it was pride or vanity or just plain appreciation of what kind of dog I had, but I said, "not for ten times that". He thought about it and said, "a man gets a dog like that, maybe once in his life, I wouldn't respect you if you would sell."
Abby has successfully hunted every kind of bird I ever sent her after, even when she didn't know what we were hunting. We hunted and limited out one year with a tornado touching down just 5 or 6 miles up the road from us. She has protected me from rattle snakes that remained silent. She has drove thousands of miles with me in the truck. We would fish, hike the mountains and camp out together. Abby would steal the covers every time she got to sleep in a hotel bed. In the tent she would burrow her way into my sleeping bag until she was comfy and I was out of the bag. She was a very clean dog always going as far away as possible to do her business. If she saw me get a shotgun out she would get so excited that she wouldn't sleep. She would just pace at the backdoor to make sure I didn't go hunting without her. She would let kids and puppies maul her without complaint. 12 years with her was entirely too short, I wish it could have been longer.
About two years ago she got cancer. I had it removed. They said they got it all. She still went down hill. It was hard for her to walk she had arthritis. She would growl mostly because she hurt and wanted to be left alone, except if I was around, then she would come running with her tail wagging to nuzzel her master. Pain meds seemed to help, but not much. I didn't let her hunt last fall. I was planning one last hunt for this year. A trip to South Dakota was in the works. I wanted one last good weekend and then a peaceful retirement for her in a warm bed.
Sunday night I came home from work and let the dogs out of the kennel. I wanted to give them a quick run before I got ready for church. Sunday night is a bit of a rush at our house with me working till 5. I was getting changed as the wife and kids were headed to the car. Res Jr. tried to pet Abby and she bit him hard on his hand. I went outside and for the first time in 12 years Abby refused my orders.
I knew what I should do. I knew what I had to do. I sure looked for anyway around doing it. I went back in the house leaving the dog in the garage. I questioned the wife and the boy. Was there anyway that this wasn't her fault. Please God let the boy have hit her in the eye or something, anything. But there was nothing.
I went back out to the truck and dropped the tailgate. She came. Its been over a year since she could hop in by herself, so I lifted her up. I didn't speak or pet her. I just closed the tailgate and drove. We drove down the interstate for about an hour when Mrs Ipsa called. She wanted me to go to the vet. I told her no and hung up. A man does his own killing. Half an hour or so latter we pulled off the interstate and onto a gravel road. Gravel roads have always meant something good to Abby. She stood up in back and waged her tail. She was happy.
I drove up the long curvy road into the forest. I had a vague idea about a place on a ridge overlooking a valley with ridges and a mountain visible on the other side. We hunted grouse not far from here a time or two. I pulled up the two track and found a spot to stop. I dropped the tailgate and grabbed the shovel. Abby jumped down. Her hips and legs didn't seem to be hurting her. She started hunting. I let her. "Please God let her run off and get lost", I pray. I know I don't want that for her. Night will come, it will get cold, and there are lions and coyotes to contend with. I don't want it to end like that. I let her hunt and sniff. The sun is setting behind the mountain. She hasn't come to me on her own and I don't have the hart to order her.
She walks down a game trail below me on the ridge. Like so many times before she is testing the air for scent. She is facing away. I draw and shoot. Abby falls dead instantly. The report from my gun echos around the ridges.
Just last week Abby, the boy and I went up to the mountains. "Fun day, daddy" he said. Thursday we went back to the same place that we had gone before to "climb rocks" and look for animals. "Where is Abby?" he wants to know. "She doesn't live with us anymore", I say. The boy has asked me that question all week.
He doesn't know his daddy is Judas.