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My mother was a saint of a woman who seldom had a negative word to say about anyone or anything. Through five sons and over 40 years of teaching school, she somehow resisted what was surely a strong temptation toward violence. As a parent, she remained steadfast even in the face of bad grades, bad attitudes and bad hygiene.
Yet, this same woman would turn purple at the very mention of the words “bird dog.”
When my father would tell us stories about some of the many pointers and setters he had owned years earlier, Mama’s brow would furrow. Her veins would bulge. And, this dear woman who gave me life would take on the countenance of a professional wrestler at ringside.
She would then tell her own stories of dog-induced horror and woe that would make hellfire and damnation seem pleasant by comparison. She blamed Daddy’s bird dogs for everything from stolen laundry and chewed-up tennis shoes to the common cold and worse.
It was when I got my first bird dog, Sophie, that I started to understand why.
For openers, I’d like to say that I thoroughly researched breeds and breeders and carefully selected Sophie from among a number of top German shorthaired litters. I’d like to say that, but it would be a bald-faced lie. The truth is that I attended a Ducks Unlimited auction where beer was served, stories were told and a couple of brand-new puppies were up for bid.
To make a long story short, I woke up the next morning with a headache, an empty wallet and a speckled puppy in my bed. Thus, I began my adventures as a bird dog owner.
It’s important to understand that, until then, most of my dog experience was with the two collies my family had while I was growing up. As it turns out, German shorthaired pointers are a lot like collies – in the sense that they are both carbon-based life forms. But, there the similarities end.
Collies are affectionate, loyal and eager to please. And, Sophie can be all of these things too – when you’re hunting. Put her in the back yard, however, and she turns into “Hound-ini.” Her favorite place to be is always somewhere else, preferably somewhere in a different zip code.
I learned that lesson the hard way, over and over. By her first birthday, Sophie had turned our back yard into a moonscape of holes and elaborate escape tunnels that would make Colonel Hogan proud. She caused untold damage to our neighbors’ beautifully landscaped lawns. And she beat my every attempt to keep her on our property.
To this day, there is an invisible fence company in Tallahassee that advertises a 99.8 percent success rate. The other point two percent is in the kennel at my house. I remember the very first words the installer said when we met: “I will contain your dog.”
His last words? “Here’s your money back.”
Sophie has been and remains a challenge. But, as the weather cools down and the leaves start falling, her time to shine is drawing near. Soon, she’ll be bounding through the bushes at full speed with her cold brown nose in overdrive. Then she’ll slam on brakes and lock up into a gorgeous point that makes me forget all about the trouble she’s caused me through the years.
The truth is, I love my bird dog. But, I think I understand now why my mother hated them the way she did. Best I can tell, it’s because Mama didn’t hunt.
I wrote the article above for LandViews magazine and it is reprinted with permission of Farm Credit of Northwest Florida. My best/worst dog ever, Sophie, has now passed away, but she was a wonderful hunter and I still miss her.