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Lessons From A Bird Dog

by Rick

Our German shorthaired pointer, Ranger, came to us special delivery when he was about 7 ½ weeks old.  I believe he and his littermates were probably getting on the nerves of the folks that owned his mother.  Ranger and his siblings were sired by our male GSP, Trapper, and we had met him and picked Ranger out when he was just one week old.  On the trip home from where I met the breeder to pick-up Ranger, he let me know what I would be in for as part of our special “bonding.” On that trip home he was in the back seat of my pick-up truck for the 40-minute drive to my home. When I arrived home, I learned that Ranger likes to chew. He had chewed through the wiring harness that was exposed under the seat of my truck. Later as he experienced more and more rides with me, he chewed the seat belts in the rear seat of my truck. He chewed through my wife Nancy’s seatbelts in her car and when I traded trucks, he chewed those seatbelts too. In our home, our dogs live freely as they are family members, he never chewed anything. Even his collection of chew toys, and stuffed animals were in pristine condition for years. He just had a thing about seatbelts.

The first four years of Ranger’s life he resided in our home with his dad, Trapper. I used to joke with Ranger that I was there when he was conceived, as I definitely was. I told Trapper for years that I would get him a girlfriend. One day I did. I brokered a deal with Kyle who owned a female GSP to have Trapper breed with his dog. Kyle delivered Brooks to us for a week. Trapper was excited.  He followed Brooks everywhere.  Finally, I had to call Kyle and say we needed to get Brooks back to him. Oh, how Trapper cried when Brooks left our car and got into Kyle’s vehicle for her ride home. Then when Ranger was old enough to come live with us, the girlfriend I had promised Trapper for years became this nuisance of a pup, Ranger. I am not sure Trapper ever forgave me for swapping out his girlfriend for his son, Ranger.

Over the years Ranger and Trapper developed into good companions, with Trapper being in charge.  Ranger was happy to let that be the case. When playing fetch for the first four years of Ranger’s life, he watched Trapper retrieve. I did not think he liked to retrieve at all, as he deferred that task to Trapper, who loved to retrieve. During that period, I nicknamed Ranger, “The Watcher,” as he would sit and watch Trapper and I play fetch. As time passed along, we reached the spring where Trapper was showing his age.  He was 14 ½ when we had to have him laid to rest. It was Ranger that filled the void of our having lost our first dog. He grew into the role of being my bird dog at that time. It was at this point, after the passing of Trapper, that Ranger showed he really could retrieve, and do it well. He and I would spend October walking through some of the grouse woods around my home, and we had some good times. I firmly believe that he added a solid year to Trapper’s life with us. The dynamics of having two dogs is an interesting one, but I truly believe it added time and quality to Trapper’s life.

Four years ago, my wife and I decided to add another pup to our family and found a breeder that had a litter of pups that had some of Trapper’s ancestors in their lineage. We brought Ranger with us to meet and also to retrieve his new “brother,” Blazer. Ranger allowed Blazer to come to live with us, and Blazer set up destroying all of Ranger’s pristine chew toys in short order. Ranger had quite a collection of stuffed animals, rawhide bones and other doggy toys.  Blaze found those to be irresistible, and he destroyed each and every one. It is no wonder that from time to time they would have words. Blaze grew into quite a large GSP. He stood a good eight inches taller than Ranger, but Ranger was in charge. With a look or a glance, he could put Blaze in his place, and at times I am sure Ranger would tell Blaze in dog language to “chill out and listen to mom and dad.”

A year or so ago, we noticed Ranger limping a bit.  He had some joint pain in one of his front legs, so when he lost a little weight going into the fall it appeared to be a good thing. He was walking better. Ranger’s weight loss continued through the winter, and became a concern.  I made an appointment with our vet who after several visits and tests determined he had liver cancer. His heart and lungs were strong, he was in good spirits, and did not appear to be in any pain. At that time in early May she gave me the diagnosis that he had one week to three months to live. My wife and I said we would keep him going as long as he was happy. Well he had quite a summer. It was as if he had a bucket list of things to do, and he knew his time was limited. 

A day or two after receiving his diagnosis we took a family ride into the woods so I could catch a few trout and the boys could have an outing. That day Ranger, who hated water, was in and out of that trout stream. He crossed it from side to side, swam in some of the deeper pools and stayed right with me throughout that afternoon. I could not believe how his skinny frame could manage to do everything he was doing.  Needless to say, I did not catch too many trout with the dogs both frolicking in the water all around me, but it is my best fishing memory I have. The sight of both of my boys exploring the trout stream and helping me out in their own way is absolutely priceless.

During the rest of the summer, Ranger never missed an opportunity for a ride. He treed countless red squirrels.  He stayed engaged with my wife and I. His weight continued to decrease, and I am still amazed he was able to move as quickly as he could as skinny as his once chubby little body became. He absolutely kept Blaze in line, and remained the leader of the pack. As good as his summer was, as the cold days of autumn set upon us, we could see he was struggling more and more. He needed assistance to get in and out of our vehicles. Occasionally, I would help him to his feet if he needed a hand, and he began to sleep much more than he had been. We reached the point where we had to let him go. On his final morning with us, he allowed me to pat him and love on him until it was time for him to leave with my wife for his final ride. It was as if he was telling me it would be ok. He had finished his lessons for Blaze and me, and he was ready to cross over. 

The day he was laid to rest was unseasonably warm. It was a glorious sunny day. My wife recounted to me that he had a nice walk around the field at the vet’s office. He barked at a couple of other dogs that were intruding on his territory. His tail that had wagged continuously since he was a pup, wagged for the vet and other staff members as they pet him. He passed over comfortable and relaxed with the warm sun shining on him as he lay on a doggy bed my wife had taken for him.

As I sit here still working through the pain of having to let my boy go, and watch Blaze try to figure out where his pack mate has gone off too, I am piecing together the final lessons my boy passed on to me. 

Here they are:

  1. Never miss an opportunity to go for a ride.
  2. Decades are not that long. A good dog lives for a bit longer than a decade. Ranger lived to be 12 ½ years old and outlived his diagnosis by a couple of months. Make the most of that decade.  It goes by way too fast.
  3. The joy of fishing is not about catching, it is about going.
  4. The only regret I have, and that is part of the pain, is I should have spent more time on doggy adventures, and less time staining the deck. The deck will always be there, the dog will not.

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Source: Huntinglife

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