The Day my Dog walked behind me…

Cattle At Syon Park, Brentford, London.

There once was a young bull and an old bull atop a hill overlooking a meadow full of lovely young cows….

“Come on, Scout!”  Marty was pleading with his geriatric Golden Retriever again.  A day together usually entailed a fast (for an aging golden retriever) start, totally ignoring Marty, or anyone else for that matter, busting the brush willy nilly.  This stage typically consisted of Marty yelling and scolding like a football coach to persuade Scout to stay within 100 yards of us and the other dogs.  Thankfully, Scout’s stamina was what one would expect for an ancient and overweight dog, so this didn’t last long.  This was followed by a “hanging out” stage, closely followed by the stage where Scout would trudge along behind Marty.  At this point, Marty’s football coach scolding would start to transition to more of a pleading father tone.

I often chuckled at the sight of Scout trudging along behind Marty, tongue hanging out and Marty cajoling Scout to at least act like he might be a bird dog.  At that time, I was chasing pheasants behind Jim’s pair of sleek muscular black labs.  Jim was the coordinator who put all these expeditions together back in the day.  He had two, beautiful, well trained labs.  No quit in those two, and they knew how to ferret out the birds, the question was whether you could keep up with them for a full day!

When Sam, our Springer Spaniel, joined the family, he was a 42 pound ball of energy.  He would cover the fields for 3 or 4 days consecutively as a pup without a day’s rest.   Fast forward to the current day.  Sam is not really overweight, but certainly gone are the days where I could go for a 15 mile run and Sam would trot along beside me.  A full day afield is out of the question, 2 or 3 hours at his age is really all he can handle.  In fact I have contemplated whether I should take him at all, since he doesn’t really know when to stop.

“I ain’t as good as I once was.  But I’m as good once as I ever was.”     (Toby Keith, I believe)

I took Sam out this past week.  It started a little warm, around 50 degrees F, and while it was dry, the air had that heavy, oppressive, humid feel to it.  My faithful little spaniel about took the legs out from under me trying to get out the door once he saw the gear coming out.  He hit the field like a bottle rocket, his mind convinced he was way younger than his body actually is.  Mr. Body won out in the end.

He calmed down a little – tired out may be more like it.  We stopped at a little spring and he sprawled out flat in the cool water.  The temperature was climbing and I figured the best course of action was to just loop around back to the vehicle, for his sake.  We had only been going about 45 minutes, but I could tell he was a lot more tired physically than he believed.  Then, over a short 200 yard stretch, he was as good once as he ever Pheasant Hunt -- Xeon & Arson dancing under a ...was.  He worked and flushed a bird to me out of some heavy cover.  He then got on a scent and followed down to a patch heavy grasses, golden rod, blackberry and thistles in a protected bottom.  I lost sight of him and stopped along the edge.  I could see the weeds and brush moving as he worked through in a big arc.  Finally, a nice flush, a cackle and a bird down.  He continued working and flushed two more roosters past me, then worked his way back over to me with a look like, “well boss, where is it?”  I lined him up, gave him a hand signal and he made a beeline into the cover for a precise retrieve back to hand.  Very nice indeed.

Those of you that have hunted behind him will recall how he was as a youngster.  There was no such thing as sitting down and taking a break.  Not any scratching behind the ears, talking over the morning and surveying the fields.  No, indeed.  You could sit if you wanted, but he certainly wasn’t having any part of it.  But on this particular day, Sam plopped down unceremoniously in front of me, panting hard, tongue out.   Sam drained my water bottle while we were resting, without so much as sitting up.   I rearranged everything and put my vest back on, broke down the over and under and slung it over my shoulder.  Looking back at Sam, I asked, “Well, are you coming old man?”  He looked away for a moment as if considering.  Then looked back at me and heaved himself to his feet as if to say, “Fine, I guess if you are really in a hurry.”

With a full game bag, I set out on the easiest route to the vehicle.  I thought I would just let him work whatever he wanted on the way back, and knowing Sam, I figured he would work right back to the truck…every inch.  To my amusement , he fell into step.  Behind me.  I walked about ten yards and started laughing, thinking of Marty and Scout.

“Well, well, am I going to have to start calling you Scout”, I asked?  I swear he hung his head a little, shuffled a little and didn’t even really look me in the eye.  We walked that way all the way back to the vehicle.  Me in front, Sam two steps behind.  His head was up and he would occasionally lift his nose skyward and test the wind, pause a little, and then resume his position behind me.  Not once wandering off to check a patch of cover.   He knew his days work was done.

We started the day looking out over the mist in the fields, certain we could run down there and get a pheasant.

Ultimately, Sam decided he would just walk down there and get them all…

A tired puppy

Disclaimer:  Any semblance of the Marty in this story to any Marty’s real or imagined is purely incidental.  Really.  I’m sorry Marty.