I’ve had three bird dogs in my life. Each has had a profound impact on me. Perhaps the most lasting lesson they have taught me is that few things lasts forever and that starting over is hard but possible.
The dog was Brittany spaniel pup given to me by the late trainer and author Douglas Deats (I published his book of short stories, Smoke On The Wind). Her name was Katy Did It Of Lake Anna on the AKC papers, but we called her Kate.
Kate didn’t have a fancy bloodline and she wasn’t much to look at, but we loved her, and she pointed and found me and my then young son, many birds from Virginia to Maine during our adventures. She was not so fond of retrieving.
She lived to nearly 11 until she developed a brain lesion that made her randomly lock up in an L-shape. I found her in the yard one day seized up and foaming at the mouth. She barely made it through that night and a day later it was time to add her to our pet cemetery after a !nal trip to the vet.
The second bird dog came from Tom Petree here in Virginia. We named her Wild Rhododendron of Lake Anna or Rhodie. Once she made it through puppyhood, she was a long-legged, elegant Brittany that pranced like a show dog and hunted with reckless abandon. I always said she’d hurt herself hunting one day.
She was a good retriever and I guided over her a number of times at a local shooting preserve. She was also a crack woodcock sniffer and pointed me many from the briar-!lled tangles of Louisa to the aspen and alder-studded slopes of Canaan Valley.
She always had oddly weak claws that kept breaking and began having exercise induced seizures at year two. She also developed Horner’s Syndrome where one eye drooped a bit. The veterinary ophthalmologist we took her to said not to worry, as it was untreatable and would probably go away.
It didn’t, and the seizures started getting more frequent and worse. Eventually she began dragging a front leg. We could tell something more serious was wrong. She began to show signs of pain, so we took her to our vet. He said it was time for a specialist and an MRI.
What we found out on a sad night at the emergency veterinary hospital was that she had a mass in her brain and something on her spine. That vet said there was nothing we could do other than try to make her comfortable.
It was heartbreaking to see this once vibrant, young dog shake with pain when the meds began to wear off. When she couldn’t get up anymore two days later, we had our vet euthanize her at home. I cradled her in my lap, covered her eyes and felt her last heartbeat as I fought back tears.
Those would come later that day when my daughter and I buried Rhodie alongside 35 years of faithful companions. I put much of that memory into a room, closed the door and don’t go in there often. This is the first I’ve written about it.
Against my better judgement my wife decided we needed another bird dog, so she found a breeder in North Carolina and drove down there one day to pick up a pup. She returned with a rambunctious, ice blue-eyed puppy we named Lady Bird of Lake Anna or Birdie, and we began again.
Birdie is almost six months old now and she’s been on a dove shoot and to that local shooting preserve for training with quail. She’s a small Brittany with a short muzzle, but she has the best nose of all the dogs we’ve had and is a strong retriever. She follows me around a lot and nudges and nibbles at me when she wants attention. She loves morning coffee on my lap and a belly rub. She digs in the garden too much and pulls out our plants.
Birdie loves our time training in the surrounding yard and woods here with a bumper and last year’s woodcock wings rubber-banded to it. She’s not completely “!nished” but she’s coming along. We head to Canaan Valley after election day for a week and I’m looking forward to hunting the same coverts I first explored with Katie and then Rhodie.
Deats told me a long time ago, bird dogs can be kennel animals and they can be working, family pets but not both. He advised to decide early and stick to the plan. Ours have always been the latter. While they don’t sleep in my bed, they do have a special place on the den couch and have comfy dog beds near the !re. I think they deserve it.
For the record, I was not too enthused about starting over after less than three years investing my time and money with Rhodie – a dog I thought was going to be my best. But, I’ll admit Birdie has grown on me, and the current tinge of fall in the leaves has me eager to see what we can do together. It was tough to begin again, but we’re on the way.
If you are at a point in your life where you are looking at starting over with anything, I want you to know the pain may not ever go away of your loss/heartbreak, but in time it will lessen, and if you take the first steps, you will be able to have a new beginning – puppy kisses or not!
I look forward to sharing Birdie and I’s coming with you
Until next time remember to cherish, protect, and conserve the outdoors, while sharing it with others.