|Final Six in the Blind|
Recently, I judged a NSTRA Trial (National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial). It was one of the more important trials, a Regional Championship. It was in a nice, warm location, which was great, because March is such a bipolar month with thunderstorms in the South, Nor'easter's in Yankee-land, blizzards in the West, and heat in the Southwest. So, I was quite content to ride my ATV in the warm sun and watch excellent dog work.
After lunch (after 6 braces), the judges jumped back on the ATV's and another pair (or "brace") of bird dogs left the line. I was following a Brittany, who I thought was long retired. He'd been shaved down to better tolerate the heat, and the muscles still flexed along his sides, and his motor (the hamstrings) was as strong as ever. He took off like a shot, but unlike most dogs that begin quartering immediately, this old campaigner only varied his track enough to get downwind of likely bird cover. Not only that, but at 11 years old, he still had some "go" in the tank! I watched him closely as he varied his track to take in the palmetto clumps, grass, and trees. About a quarter-mile off the line, he struck gold. Head high, tail high, he stood downwind of a tall clump of Palmettos. I raised my arm, yelled "point", and stood to check the location of the handler. It would be a few minutes before he could get close, so I sat back down and pondered my friend on point. He was staunch, but I noticed a tremor in his hind end. It reminded me of an athlete so totally worn out, his legs were shaking. But the old Brit stood there- locked down, doing his duty. The handler finally arrived, flushed the bird, shot it, and the Brit scooped it up for a retrieve to hand. Over the course of the 30 minute brace, he did the same for 3 more birds. The score card showed 4 finds/4 retrieves. This old dog "made the cut" to the next day. Only half the dogs did make "the cut". I was wondering if, after 11 years of championships, the Brit had it in him for one more win.
What makes these athletes compete? His human counterparts generally retire the gauntlet before they are 70 or so, yet here he is, pushing himself one more time. I remember how an old friend of mine, we used to run triathlons and marathons, would tell me "There's no way I can do that anymore. I'm afraid I'll break something!" Then, I remembered how God gives everyone a gift. He also "did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and self-discipline." (2Timothy1:7) Then it hit me. I'm seeing that right in front of me. Cooper's gift was finding birds. Young, old, wet, dry, it made no difference to him. He was using his gift right here, today. Wobbly legs and all else, the old guy was giving 100% to Sam. He wasn't asking for mercy, or a pat on the head, or air conditioned comfort. What he wanted more than anything that day was for Sam to shoot straight and be there to take the bird. God's gifts are given to us all. The key is to learn what the gift is- then use it. And, use it until they put you in the ground. Like Cooper said to Sam at the start line, "Get out of my way, Boss! I got this! This is what I was bred to do." Old dogs teach me new things all the time.