The dog comes trotting up to the car as soon as I pull into the parking area, a rangy-looking orange belton setter that looks like he hasn’t eaten in a few days. He’s dirty, his coat is full of cockleburs, his paws are full of sandburs, his ribs stick out from his side and he isn’t wearing a collar. That’s telling. No one hunts their dog without a collar and tags. This setter wasn’t lost, some sonofa**** had abandoned him, left him to die. Dumped him out in the middle of nowhere with no food, no water and no chance.
He looks tired, hungry, scared and lonely. It’s mid-week during the last half of the Kansas pheasant season, I’m 30 miles from the nearest town and I haven’t seen another hunter all day.
Who knows how long he’s been out here, hiding from coyotes and waiting for someone, anyone, to come along. He stands off a few feet and eyes me, but when I kneel and give him a soft whistle he walks up, gives my hand a raspy lick and then presents his head for scratching, tail beating a staccato rhythm against the car. I pour him a bowl of water and give him some of my dog’s food. Both disappear almost instantly. When I let my dog out of the car he bounces around like a pup, playing and chasing. But when I grab my gun and try to whistle him up to go hunting he just sits his haunches by the car and looks at me as I walk off. “Sorry nice man,” the look says, “but I’ve had my fill of this place. I just wanna get the hell outta here.”
I go back, open the car’s hatchback, open my dog’s crate and before I can even say the word “kennel” he jumps in and lies down. So I leave him like that, with the windows cracked and the hatchback open in the shade of a tree.
I take my dog and hunt for a while, but when I come back I’m faced with what to do about my guest: I’m 150 miles from home, I’m on the first day of a three-day hunt and since I’m hunting out of my wife’s old car, it’s literally packed to the roof with gear. I only have one crate, and it’s only big enough for one dog. I simply have nowhere to put him. To complicate things, I’m meeting two other hunters that evening and I’m not at all sure they’d appreciate me showing up and asking if they have any room in their dog box for some stray I picked up out in the country.
What would you do?