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When We Give Ourselves To Our Gun Dogs

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August 23, 2011

When We Give Ourselves To Our Gun Dogs

By Chad Love

In writing a blog devoted primarily to the training of and hunting with dogs, it's sometimes interesting to change things up a bit--to put aside the practicalities of training tips, gear reviews and other fact-based topics and just tell a story, a personal story (albeit a short one) that, on some level, I think we can all identify with, because eventually we will all be the man in the story to one degree or another. Is it sad? Perhaps, but that's the devil's bargain we make when we give ourselves to our dogs...

There he was, sitting on his customary stool at the gun counter when I walked into the shop, shooting the bull with the other regulars, just like always. Except that it was mid-August, which meant he was supposed to be in Montana with a truck full of dogs. Like many pro trainers, his was the gypsy life: South Texas in the winter, Montana in the summer, interspersed by a few brief interludes back home in the spring and fall.

He pulled a travel trailer behind his dog truck and would spend the summers camped out right on the grounds, training dogs, running a few trials or hunt tests and laughing at all us suckers back home who were sweltering in the heat while he lived the kind of grand, carefree, nomadic lifestyle that only a retired lifelong bachelor, whose nuclear family consisted wholly of labs, can have.

I hadn’t seen him since spring, and when he turned to see who was walking through the door, I noticed immediately how tired he looked, as if some unseen force had left a patina of fatigue on his face--in his voice.

“Well, well, if it isn’t Cheap Chad!” (his nickname for me) he called out as I walked up to the counter: His usual greeting, but now missing the vitality and good-natured bellicosity that had always been his trademark. And it was punctuated with a long, rattling cough.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, grabbing a stool. “I didn’t expect to see you until at least mid-September.”

“I retired,” he replied, coughing into a handkerchief. “Sent all the client dogs home, selling the dog truck, the trailer, everything.”

A pause. Confusion. This was inconceivable to me. This man’s entire life, his whole reason for being, revolved around retrievers; training them, hunting them, talking about training and hunting them, living them. There are those of us who love dogs and then there are those of us who live dogs, and I always figured he’d die - and die happy – while sending one of his labs on a mark in a duck blind or on a training pond somewhere. That i could be so lucky, I'd often think.

“So are you going to just concentrate on running your own dogs?” I asked. Another pause, longer this time. “Nope, I’m done with the dog games. No more traveling for me.” The question of why left unspoken, I replied, “Well, at least you’ll be here for duck season this year.”

“Nope, no more training and no more hunting for me, either. I got sick, and I’m just not physically able to do it any more.”

Silence. I didn’t know what to say, how to reply. I didn’t ask what “sick” meant, and he didn’t elaborate. We just sat there without speaking for a few moments as I thought back to a conversation we’d had back in the fall, right here in this same gun shop, sitting on these same stools. While everyone else around us was busy getting ready for deer season, he was packing up to head for Texas, and he had told me then, “You know, as old as I am and as long as I’ve been doing this, I don’t think I’ve ever been more addicted.”

And now, suddenly, it was gone. All over. The fundamental given of a person’s very existence erased in the space of a few short months. We sat there for a few minutes more, talk drifting to other things even as the pall lingered on the periphery of the conversation. After a while I got up, told him it was time to go pick my kids up from school.

“You know, I’ve got a boat now so maybe a few times this duck season we can go out to the lake with one of your dogs. Maybe your young one? What’s he got, one master pass? He shouldn’t embarrass you too much. I’d do everything and all you’d have to do is sit there and work the dog. Hell, that’s all you ever do anyway, right?” Hiding behind the false bravado of cheap humor when real words fail. It’s as good a definition of manhood as I know.

“We could maybe do that,” he replied. “We’ll see how it goes this fall.”

We’ll see how it goes this fall. The past, present and future of one’s existence distilled into a single, brief sentence. We never realize how full life truly is, until it’s not. How many more falls do I have? How many more dogs? The great pisser of existence is that I have no idea, no clue. None of us do. All we can do is see how it goes this fall.

Comments (12)

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from Moose1980 wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Do what you love to do and do it for as long as possible, every chance you get. You never know when that rug might get pulled out from under you. I hope you get him in the duck blind this fall Chad.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bigeyedfish wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Well written story. Makes you realize that if your existence is defined by something that can be taken from you, life could suddenly be robbed of its joy. I hope you guys can get after those ducks.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bernie wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

That is a sad story, but it aflicts all of us sooner or later, unless we die suddenly. My father, who is 93 and failing, gave up hunting at 86, fishing at 89. When he was my age (62) he was still hunting wild sheep and elk. My own hunting is but a smattering of what it used to be, and I'm not happy about it. But that is life.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesti wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

a good reminder to enjoy what you have while you have it. thanks for the story.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from GregMc wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Well said Chad. This story is worth more than a 1,000 gear reviews.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from nesland wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Not knowing how much time we have is the magic and the mystery of life, not the pisser.

If I should live another 51+ years then, as of now, I am still a "young" man. But if I should loose it all while driving to Alabama this weekend, then as of today I am very old.

I have plans for the fall, deer in Al & Ga and pheasant in ND this Oct. When this economic crisis is over I will get another dog for hunting quail, dove, ducks & pheasant.

God willing....as the old song goes "I feel GOOD!"

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tom-Tom wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

All of my longtime fishing and hunting buddies are now gone, mainly because they were older than I am (66) or else they gave it up and got old. My wife wont eat small game or fowl and every one of the old folks I gave game and fish to is either in the ground or the "living center". That last one is a real oxymoron. Growing older ain't for sissies, especially when your friends and your generation begin dying off.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from dogwood wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

A friend's dad passed away in 2008 two months shy from his 98th birthday. Earlier that year he killed a spring gobbler. He didn't have the get up and go of youth, but what he had, he got up and went.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

My son and I watched a movie on my computer and he commented about how hair was growing in my ears "again." I grumbled about it being that time in life when hair leaves the places we want to keep it and goes to places it is not wanted. He pointed out that he was getting hair in his ears too. "No, Wes, those are sideburns! By golly I'm going to have to teach you to shave this weekend." He was real excited about that. Then his mom put him to bed. He didn't wake up the next morning. Ten months later I kissed his mom and put her on the plane to go visit her sister in Eastern Ontario. Four days later on October 8, 2010, I held her hand at a Toronto hospital as they took her off the machines. She died within a few minutes. The van she was riding in that morning was broadsided by a transport truck. My family was my entire reason for being. For many years I travelled away from home for school and then for work and never really developed any social life here beyond the confines of our home and my kids' school. Talk about an empty life now! My dogs have been my anchor through all this. I even picked up another one a few months ago. They're not much for conversation but they give and take the love I desparately need to share with someone/something.

Chad, keep after your friend. Remind him gently that he is being watched. By many others besides yourself, it seems. Our lives are always an example for friends and family. I do hope he doesn't give in to despair. And I hope you can get him out this fall. Your sensitivity is to be commended.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from shotgunlou wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

To Ontario Honker and Chad

Dear sirs,

I can't begin to express how I feel for what you have told us in this very public place other than to tell you I appreciate your willingness to share with us, on both accounts, the private details of your lives. It seems that the "older" I get (34) the more I find the things you're talking about to be true. When my mother had a heart attack while flying home from Mexico City the flight attendants didnt know how to use the defibrillator and we almost lost her. It hilighted for me like never before that life is short and anyone can be taken from us at any time. She was in great health and ran 3-5 miles 4 times a week but had an electrical problem not clogged arteries. It was totally unexpected.

As for myself I can relate to this gentleman in the story. I have a terminal illness that will kill me someday, but not today. And so I say I will hunt, fish, live and love to the best of my ability until I can no longer. I've got the opening day of bear season in Az marked off on my calendar and a tag for a white tail is stuck to my fridge with a magnet so I can see it every morning. As you say Chad, "we'll see how it goes this fall."

Thank you for sharing with us.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Hang in there, Lou. We are all "terminally ill" from the time we are born. Everyone is merely racing to the end. Slow down, walk, and see what's going on along the way. I am glad you were here with me today. Tomorrow? Well, who knows. Just know I'm glad I read this today. Cheers to you, buddy.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gaujo wrote 2 years 33 weeks ago

Thanks for writing this. My grandfather went blind before he died, and he really coudn't fish anymore. In fact he died from a bacterial infection he got trying to organize his tacklebox. The guy probably made the right choice for himself, but I wonder if he couldn't be coaxed to come along for the ride. My grandfather was bat blind, but one time it was really windy, after I aborted my 2nd attempt to dock at the pier between two pilings, he took the controls and slammed it in there perfectly in about 2 seconds. They can't tie the hooks, but the still now how to catch em...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

My son and I watched a movie on my computer and he commented about how hair was growing in my ears "again." I grumbled about it being that time in life when hair leaves the places we want to keep it and goes to places it is not wanted. He pointed out that he was getting hair in his ears too. "No, Wes, those are sideburns! By golly I'm going to have to teach you to shave this weekend." He was real excited about that. Then his mom put him to bed. He didn't wake up the next morning. Ten months later I kissed his mom and put her on the plane to go visit her sister in Eastern Ontario. Four days later on October 8, 2010, I held her hand at a Toronto hospital as they took her off the machines. She died within a few minutes. The van she was riding in that morning was broadsided by a transport truck. My family was my entire reason for being. For many years I travelled away from home for school and then for work and never really developed any social life here beyond the confines of our home and my kids' school. Talk about an empty life now! My dogs have been my anchor through all this. I even picked up another one a few months ago. They're not much for conversation but they give and take the love I desparately need to share with someone/something.

Chad, keep after your friend. Remind him gently that he is being watched. By many others besides yourself, it seems. Our lives are always an example for friends and family. I do hope he doesn't give in to despair. And I hope you can get him out this fall. Your sensitivity is to be commended.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tom-Tom wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

All of my longtime fishing and hunting buddies are now gone, mainly because they were older than I am (66) or else they gave it up and got old. My wife wont eat small game or fowl and every one of the old folks I gave game and fish to is either in the ground or the "living center". That last one is a real oxymoron. Growing older ain't for sissies, especially when your friends and your generation begin dying off.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gaujo wrote 2 years 33 weeks ago

Thanks for writing this. My grandfather went blind before he died, and he really coudn't fish anymore. In fact he died from a bacterial infection he got trying to organize his tacklebox. The guy probably made the right choice for himself, but I wonder if he couldn't be coaxed to come along for the ride. My grandfather was bat blind, but one time it was really windy, after I aborted my 2nd attempt to dock at the pier between two pilings, he took the controls and slammed it in there perfectly in about 2 seconds. They can't tie the hooks, but the still now how to catch em...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Moose1980 wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Do what you love to do and do it for as long as possible, every chance you get. You never know when that rug might get pulled out from under you. I hope you get him in the duck blind this fall Chad.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bigeyedfish wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Well written story. Makes you realize that if your existence is defined by something that can be taken from you, life could suddenly be robbed of its joy. I hope you guys can get after those ducks.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bernie wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

That is a sad story, but it aflicts all of us sooner or later, unless we die suddenly. My father, who is 93 and failing, gave up hunting at 86, fishing at 89. When he was my age (62) he was still hunting wild sheep and elk. My own hunting is but a smattering of what it used to be, and I'm not happy about it. But that is life.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesti wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

a good reminder to enjoy what you have while you have it. thanks for the story.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from GregMc wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Well said Chad. This story is worth more than a 1,000 gear reviews.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from nesland wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Not knowing how much time we have is the magic and the mystery of life, not the pisser.

If I should live another 51+ years then, as of now, I am still a "young" man. But if I should loose it all while driving to Alabama this weekend, then as of today I am very old.

I have plans for the fall, deer in Al & Ga and pheasant in ND this Oct. When this economic crisis is over I will get another dog for hunting quail, dove, ducks & pheasant.

God willing....as the old song goes "I feel GOOD!"

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from dogwood wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

A friend's dad passed away in 2008 two months shy from his 98th birthday. Earlier that year he killed a spring gobbler. He didn't have the get up and go of youth, but what he had, he got up and went.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shotgunlou wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

To Ontario Honker and Chad

Dear sirs,

I can't begin to express how I feel for what you have told us in this very public place other than to tell you I appreciate your willingness to share with us, on both accounts, the private details of your lives. It seems that the "older" I get (34) the more I find the things you're talking about to be true. When my mother had a heart attack while flying home from Mexico City the flight attendants didnt know how to use the defibrillator and we almost lost her. It hilighted for me like never before that life is short and anyone can be taken from us at any time. She was in great health and ran 3-5 miles 4 times a week but had an electrical problem not clogged arteries. It was totally unexpected.

As for myself I can relate to this gentleman in the story. I have a terminal illness that will kill me someday, but not today. And so I say I will hunt, fish, live and love to the best of my ability until I can no longer. I've got the opening day of bear season in Az marked off on my calendar and a tag for a white tail is stuck to my fridge with a magnet so I can see it every morning. As you say Chad, "we'll see how it goes this fall."

Thank you for sharing with us.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago

Hang in there, Lou. We are all "terminally ill" from the time we are born. Everyone is merely racing to the end. Slow down, walk, and see what's going on along the way. I am glad you were here with me today. Tomorrow? Well, who knows. Just know I'm glad I read this today. Cheers to you, buddy.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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