If you missed last week’s column, it was about the first few months of my dog’s life. It’s hard to believe he is gone and all I’m left with is these stories and memories.
I stopped writing last week when I reached Chester’s life threatening event. It was one of the scariest and saddest things I have ever been part of. We can get past the unpleasantness this week and move on to happy stories and memories. There are so many to share I will do my best again to get in all I can. A work dog is so much more than just a pet and provides a duty that’s hard for any human to accomplish. I have been in complete awe over his abilities so many times, I just wish I had taken a camera along more often to record him working. You know what they say about hindsight. I’m just more prepared for my next pup because of it.
After having his eyelid almost ripped off by his mother, I didn’t think things could get much worse for baby Chetter (as we called him). Little did I know how bad and scary things would become. It was now deer season and things were about to happen. I harvested a deer during bow season and as usual had to replace my broadhead blades. I went into the kitchen for some light and started getting new blades ready. I removed the old blades and set them on the table. I turned around to the counter and grabbed the first blade. As I was inserting it into the grooves, I heard my pup’s feet hit the floor. He had never jumped up and taken anything from the table, but I instantly knew what had happened. He took off for the living room and I followed as fast as possible. I swiped his mouth and was only able to retrieve one blade. This means he had swallowed two razorblades. I immediately went into full panic mode. We rushed him into the vet for an emergency surgery, but he only found one blade. Upon x-ray the other one was still in there. We then rushed him to Ithaca to have the other one surgically removed. Long story short, he made it and only cost me about $4000.
Needless to say Chester missed his first duck and goose season because he was still recovering, but I was so happy I didn’t lose him. Honestly I think he would have done just fine, but the extra year training before hunting had him totally ready for his first season. I decided to start boat training early with him because I like to float and hunt the river. He did great never jumping out or even worrying me that he would. The first day of duck season was fast approaching and I was helping him with the last few routines. He passed every test and was given the green light. We loaded into the boat before daylight and slowly made our way to my spot. As the sun started to show, ducks were seen flying by in the rear darkness. I watched the time, eagerly anticipating legal shooting hours. The time finally came and I slammed the chamber closed on my semi-auto shotgun. He looked up at me with such joy knowing the fun was about to start. Not minutes into the hunt here come a flock of mergansers. I shot twice downing a bird. He didn’t see it fall, so I threw a rock at the bird to make a splash. He instantly spotted it and went right in after it. What a perfect first retrieve. He heeled to my side and dropped the bird at my feet, proving that he was a finished dog.
We ended up getting three birds that day and he was off to a great start. Not long after, he started to show how good his nose was. He repeatedly made retrieves in tall grass and brush, just using his nose to locate downed game. On one super memorable hunt we headed out for afternoon goose. There were shells in the field and lots of feathers indicating the field was likely hunted already. The geese never came near me and not one shot was taken. Only half of the field had been cut and as we headed out he signaled he wanted to go in the corn. I said no at first but he was really begging me to go. I decided to follow him in and to my surprise here he comes back with a goose. It was still fresh and was obviously shot that morning. That was the first bird I have ever seen recovered without a shot taken.
On another memorable hunt, I came up one short on a goose limit. On the way out of the field he started acting birdy, which means he smells hot scent. I sent him into the grass and out he comes with my limit-filling bird. In the confusion of the hunt, I must have hit that one, and then it flew off a short distance and finally fell out. This is what the dog is for. Without them we would lose birds and have injured ones escape to suffer. I feel like the incomplete bird hunter without a dog and will always do my best to have one while hunting.
Again, too many stories to tell, but you get the point. He was a very special dog and will likely be extremely hard to replace. All I can hope is that my next dog will be at least half as good as he was, and that would be plenty enough to get the job done.
Good wishes and let the good memories wash away the pain of your loss.