Flashbacks in the field

Hunting buddies donít always pan out, but when they do, itís for life. Losing a hunting buddy can be hard, but also brings back all the memories of good times had afield.

I thank all of you for the outpour of emotion after losing my dog this past week. He was special to many of you and even to those who never had a chance to meet him. It shows how strong a bond we have with our animals and how that bond draws us all together when someone loses their companion. Many of you asked me to share some stories about him or asked about my favorite memory. Itís hard to fit in one column just a few of our memories and would easily fill a book if thatís what I had chosen to do. There was so much taken in over the 8 years we shared and Iím sitting here blank as to what I should write, with such a tornado of memories whirling around in my head. I guess I will start at the beginning and see how far I get. I also got a surprise this week that made me so excited and should solve some issues I was worried about.

Chester was the pick of the litter in my mind although in the world of show dogs, he was a reject. Our Chocolate Lab, Cocoa, gave birth to him in our dining room just over eight years ago. He was one of the last born and when she chewed his cord it was a bit close to his body. About the same time she had another female, which was stillborn. I tried my best to get her breathing but wasnít having any success. My sister then yelled to me that Chester was bleeding pretty badly, so I had to give up on the little girl to save him. Iím sitting here in tears now, not over my dog, but over a pup that never made it years ago and one of the hardest decisions I had ever made. I managed to get the bleeding slowed down and sealed the wound with liquid stitches. As I was doing this, I noticed the pup had a white patch on his chin and my first comment about him was, ďoh great, this one is worthless.Ē People donít tend to want a purebred with any abnormal markings, so I was worried we would get stuck with him.

As time went by, he started showing all the signs that he would be my pick. I didnít breed my dog for money, but to get my choice of the best hunting dog possible. Selling the other pups would just be a side benefit to getting the work dog I had always dreamed about. It wasnít long before my mind was made up and he was my choice. He was always the first to me when I greeted them in the morning and last to leave. He was super lovable and just wanted to lick your face off. He didnít startle easy, cared little about fighting with the other pups and took immediately to play toys. He sealed the deal by learning to sit and stay before the other pups were even gone. I knew this was the best pup I had ever seen and was so excited to get to work on him.

The last one sold at just over 10 weeks old, so it was just him and me from that point on. You may be asking yourself what about mamma dog? She had to be separated from him not long after the last pup went, out of fear for his safety. She didnít want anything more to do with him to the point that he crawled up on her and she bit him in the face, ripping half of his bottom eyelid off. We were lucky that it was able to be repaired, but decided not to risk it happening again and permanently separated them. Thinking that was the worst of it, we went on with training. The truth is I was absolutely not prepared for what would happen next.

It was now deer season and he was growing fast. He had mastered almost every routine and was well on his way to being one of the most social and intelligent dogs that I have ever worked with. As a pup he shined in comparison to all my other work dogs and made me look good more often than not. Thatís when it all fell apart and I thought he may not live to reach his full potential.

Well, thatís all I could fit for this column, so I will be writing part two for next week. I couldnít leave you all totally hanging, so I will at least announce the good news. Less than a week after my last column was printed, I was contacted by a total stranger. He said a friend had read my column and saw that I wanted to train a dog for someone in return for being able to use and it make a new hunting buddy this season. He has three year old lab that has some obedience training already and likes to retrieve. I am so happy about this opportunity and appreciate his generosity so much. Again, too much information, you will have to wait a few weeks to see my plan and meet the two newest members to our hunting crew.

Good wishes and donít forget to share the memories.

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