Monday, August 30, 2010

The Ghost of Dogs Past, Part 1

For whatever reason - perhaps because we're on the cusp of a new season that whispers of promise -  for me, the pup and my now-old-enough-to-hunt son - but I'm feeling a bit nostalgic for dogs that live on only in my mind.

I suppose that's only natural for someone who's both excited about starting a new dog while still trying to get past the memory of one recently lost. That fact was driven home recently as I was digging around in some old photographs and came across a few snapshots of the earlier dogs I've owned, the ones before Jenny, Tess and Lewey.

As I've mentioned before, there wasn't any kind of bird or duck hunting tradition in my family, so I started hunting with dogs relatively late in my formative years (I didn't get my first retriever until my freshman year of college). As a result there really aren't that many dogs to recall: one lab, one chessie, one pointer and one eight-month experiment gone terribly wrong involving a German wire-haired pointer that was part termite, part monkey, part pit bull and all ugly.

But each one taught me something, even if I didn't realize it at the time, and each one reinforced, in their own way, my basic belief that a dogless life is one not much worth living.

Northern Kansas, circa 1991 or thereabouts, with Brandy, my first real hunting dog. Sort of. She was a lab. She was registered. She came from "champion bloodlines" (don't they all say that?) and her parents were allegedly great duck dogs. Hell, that was good enough for me. I brought her home, taught her to sit, and when I threw my (lone) training bumper for her she'd bring it back to me, most of the time. Thus was the extent of her "training." Mainly because that was the extent of my training knowledge.

But she was a good dog - if a bit lacking in the personality department -  and I shot quite a few ducks over her, a few pheasants, a few quail and I'll be damned if I can find another picture of her anywhere. I learned a lot about duck hunting in my time with her, and in many ways I've always carried around a bit of guilt for not giving Brandy as much credit as I should for stoking my interest in hunting dogs. A year or so after Brandy disappeared from our yard (I've always suspected she was stolen, as no one ever responded to my lost ads and she never showed up at the pound) I discovered chessies and fell wholly under that breed's spell, and I have an admitted tendency to think of my first chessie as my first real duck dog.

But that's not true. Sweet, dull and altogether ordinary Brandy was. She wasn't a fire-breather, she didn't inspire awe or turn any heads. She was just steady. And I guess that's not a bad way to start out.

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