It has long been noted that a dog is man’s best friend. Likewise, it has long been observed by teachers, parents, priests and philosophers that the nature of life is pain. Many suffereth long, but the mercy of Christ abounds. Fortunately, for men and women who spend their time afield, a moment of relief is only the scratch behind a bird dog’s ear away. That wag of tail, ticked coat of the highbred, eyes of yearning and, well, compassion… Does the trick every time.
One of the more interesting tales I’ve heard about dogs and compassion and dignity when a man approaches the end of his life occurred right here in Tallahatchie County. Wayne Criswell told me his father had given up his bird dogs, decades before his death, as the final whir of plentiful covey rises had gone the way of the Old Confederacy. As his father lay in bed near death, he directed Criswell to drive down to Phillip to see a man, Mr. Youngblood, who would sell him an Elhew Pointer.
Criswell was incredulous that in his father’s shape he should want a dog at all, much less a big-running, block-headed pointer. His father told him something like, “I’ve lived a good, long life. If there is one thing I want to see before I die it is a bird dog running, once again, around my yard.” So, the son did his father’s bidding and brought back the prettiest pointer he could find. For the next several days, the elderly gentleman would sit up in bed and watch as the dog traipsed forth and back around the yard. Once his father passed, Criswell loaded the dog up and took him back to Mr. Youngblood. He didn’t ask for his money back, but thanked him as it helped to ease his father’s passing.
But for all the stories I hear: Old dogs, new dogs; poor dogs, great dogs; wife’s dogs, son’s dogs… the story no one ever tells is that of the last dog. For it is not bereft of bitter irony. It is those, whose need for and a love of, precious working dogs runs the deepest and spans the longest, who are destined to do a dog its most thorough disservice.
Oh! Indeed, it is among life’s greatest of intolerable paradoxes that we hurt most those we most love. We leave them bereaved, alone, longing. Far too many times when a dog’s last friend leaves this life he leaves him just that: bereaved, alone, longing; and ultimately, at a loss of hope for the master’s return.
I once came by two surprisingly wonderful Brittanies due to a man keeping his kennel a few years too late. I should drive out to Oklahoma, said Texas trainer Dave Jones, “A man named Ed King is trying to sell his kennel and should have some nice dogs.” He said Ed had gotten too old to care for them and they needed to sell the whole kennel.
The day I called his wife answered and said she was actually at the hospital with him. He’d just had a stroke. I quickly excused myself and told her not to worry about calling me back, but two weeks later she did just that. She offered me two dogs, a male and a female. It took me over a week from then to get the crop to a point where I could go. By the time I got there, he had passed away.
While there, I ended up buying three kennels off of her, as well; I dismantled and loaded them before I left. I recall she came out with a jug of iced tea and set up a lawn chair in the shade to talk to me while I worked. She was from Earth, Texas, she said. And had lived between there and southern Oklahoma all her life. I was particularly concerned with her hobbling out across the yard to the kennel because at his funeral a few days before, she had fallen and broken her hip. She was utterly dismayed at what to do with all of those dogs. She could barely walk, and the dogs were starting to show signs of malnutrition.
That part of Oklahoma is not densely populated. I often wonder what happened to Mrs. King and the kennel of at least fifteen of the finest brittannies I’ve ever seen. I worried and prayed and called the other few brittany people I had met, but I knew then as I know now, the end those dogs faced did not approach the dignity of their breeding and lives.
At times I look at my kennel, and though I’m only 44 years old, I think back to the story of the farmer in the Gospel, Luke 12. He has a great crop and plans to destroy his old barns to build bigger barns so he may store up years worth of grain. He has in mind “to take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry.”
And yet, God rebukes him, “Thou fool, this night your soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou has provided?”
Oh bitter, bitter ironies… what shall we do? Upon what path, when the time is nigh, shall we tread: the way of the man who held on too long, only to cause the suffering of his most prized possessions, coupled with the bewilderment and fret of his wife? Or, the way of the man who only wanted to behold, for a few days more, that bit of beauty our Creator bestowed in a bird dog?