Thursday, May 19, 2016

How do you relate to your dogs?

What my dog means to me.

bird dogs and bird hunting
Ruby, Cap, Ace and me
I never considered I would be stumped by a question about how I felt about my bird dogs!  I pondered a bit, then considered some, and slid easily into some contemplation, but I couldn’t get a handle on “what my dog means to me”!

Finally, I approached the answer in a logical way.  Would I die for my dogs, like I would for my wife? Would I offer myself up in my dog’s stead, to keep him alive?  No, I wouldn’t do that.  However, would I put myself at risk for my dog?  Absolutely, I would!  If my dog was going through the ice, would I jump in to save him? Without one iota of doubt would I break ice all the way and swim if I had to.  Would I get between him and an angry bull?  Of course, I would. I’ve done it.

   Once, I was hunting Woodcock in local swamp.  We must have startled the sleeping deer hunter, high up in a tree.  He woke up and started yelling at the top of his lungs, cussing like a sailor, until, finally, he said, “I ought to shoot your dog right now!”  My calm demeanor changed in a flash, and I suggested he reconsider that action as ill-advised.  I’m still shocked at my instant, and unsettling, response to a threat to my dog!  So, it looks like my wife and kids come out a little ahead of my bird dogs in the “die to protect” category, which, I’m sure, is comforting to the home folks.  

bird dogs and bird hunting
Bo and me winning the 2001 Quail Unlimited National Championship Trial

I look back over the many years and realize what my dogs have given me.  Through personal problems and financial setbacks, professional trials and tribulations, my bird dogs gave me unconditional love and gratitude.  They kept me on the straight course, just by virtue of the fact that I needed to care for them and they needed me.  I took a friend to my kennels, one time, and we played with the dogs for a bit.  We sat down near the kennels and talked and laughed.  Finally, she said, “Why are your dogs all staring at you?  They haven’t moved or taken their eyes off you since we got here!”  The answer was a simple one.  I am the pack leader, the doler-out of food and favor. They crave my affection and attention.  They love me.  You can’t help but return that unconditional love.  The Greek of the Bible has three separate meanings for the word “love”:  Eros- erotic love, philia- brotherly love, and agape- the total unconditional love of God for us.  My dogs show me agape love. That is, and can only be, a settling, stabilizing influence.

Bird dogs and bird hunting
Cap and me Chukar hunting Idaho

My main dog, for many years, was Ace.  A big, male Brittany, Ace was fast, strong, intelligent and a brag dog.  And, he loved me.  I was the center of his universe.  He would bounce around the truck, with his tracking collar on, looking at me and woofing me gently telling me “Let’s go, Boss!”  As soon as I took a few steps in one direction, he’d be off, looking for whatever game bird we happened to be hunting.  Having him in front of me meant frosty mornings, blues skies, cold runny noses and walking down rows of cut corn busting Roosters.  Or, hot, dry days in September, walking coulees and cut wheat looking for Sharptails and Huns in Montana, dodging cactus and drop-offs. Or, cool mornings and warm afternoons chasing Mister Ruff along trails, in Wisconsin, with trees so bright it was almost blinding.  Or, humping grassy hills within view of Mexico, shooting covey after covey of the beautiful Mearns, or climbing over fields of Idaho lava rock cussing Chukar, or dodging pump jacks and oil wells in New Mexico tracking monster coveys of Blues and Gambels. Or, maybe, merely a field trial, not far from the house.  Ace meant everything in the moment to me.  

bird dogs and bird hunting
Ruby and me Mearns Quail hunting New Mexico

My friend said I taught him about the “Zen of bird hunting”.  He said I taught him to focus on the immediate, the dog, the location, the track, the plan- but mainly the dog.  If my life is a bullseye, when I'm hunting, the 10 Ring is me and my dog.  Everything else is less.  Ace and me.  Agape love.

bird dogs and bird hunting
Ace with two Roosters