There are three pictures on a book shelf across from my desk. Two are black & white and one is color and the color one is of my mother kneeling beside my Springer Spaniel, Gretel. I’d just had Gretel to the groomer and I stopped at my mother’s home for our daily visit and coffee, and to let her see Gretel all groomed and cleaned up. It was the last time my mother saw Gretel alive because two days later a drunk driver hit and killed my dog. The shock of having my dog die in my arms is something I have never recovered from. Don’t misunderstand me, I’ve seen my share of death and some of it has been in pretty large doses, but having that wonderful, loving, spirited dog die in my arms while my wife was driving madly to the vet’s office has never left me and that’s probably why the two black and white photos are on my shelf. One is of Gretel when she was only a few weeks old, hiding behind a pine tree and playing “catch me.” The other is of me leaning over to pet her. I’ve got a shotgun in my hand and we’re standing in water. The look on Gretel’s face tells it all—she’s having a great time.
That’s not the only picture of Gretel in my office. There is one that was taken on a partridge hunt and another of me kneeling beside her, taken the same day that the one of her and my mother was taken. Those last pictures are treasures and every year when I make it back to Colorado I take some time to visit my friend, Al, and while there I go outside to spend a few minutes at the graves of my pets.
Between Gretel and now Cookie I had a third dog—Jenny. She too was a Springer and like all of my dogs was a wonderful part of my world and when I close my eyes I can relive and laugh about her antics. She made the cover of a couple of magazines and was a constant companion, whether fishing, hunting or just being. Jenny was fantastic at finding birds and doing what she was supposed to do—flush them into flight. After we moved to North Dakota Jenny got sick and when nothing helped I finally had to have her put down, but I didn’t have the heart to bury her here in North Dakota so I had her cremated and her ashes are on another shelf. Sometimes I pick up the urn and hold it and read her ID tag. I haven’t had the heart to scatter or bury her ashes, although Al said I could bury her ashes with the other dogs.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t pet and love all of my dogs (I now have three, plus M’s Jack Russell, Rylie and he gets his share of my attention). Each one of them is an important part of my life and that includes my rotten Jack Russell, Rosie. She spends most of every day getting into trouble for one thing or another—although she is sound asleep in my lap as I write this. (Cookie is on my feet and Buster sleeping next to my chair. Rylie is in the house with M, probably curled up next to her in bed.) I try to balance my attention between the dogs because I know there will come a day when all I’ll have of them will be the pictures on the book shelves and the memories of them. It won’t be enough, but it’ll be better than life without having had them in my life.
I’ve always thought that dogs give our world a magical value that pound for pound has a greater worth than all of the precious metals and gemstones humanity has ever mined. Those of us who hunt with our dogs, whether they are so-so hunters or smarter than we are, get the added pleasure of stocking up on memories that give our lives a depth of meaning the non-hunter can never share.
Dogs in our lives sort of make everything else bearable, don’t you think?
6 months ago