For most of our married life, we have shared our home with a bird dog. Over the years, there were two black Labradors and a golden retriever. Each had a unique personality and fit our style of life very well.
Soon after moving to Rhinelander, a 6-week-old male black Labrador joined our family. We named that dog Deacon and the children, who were quite young at the time, spent hours playing with him. Deacon grew fast and would retrieve anything someone would throw for him, including some things that were not intended to be retrieved.
We trained Deacon according to a book written by well- known dog trainer Dave Duffy. He seemed to know the things that a well-trained dog needed to exhibit, especially for hunting. Deacon was a good flusher and an outstanding retriever. During the years we hunted over him, we lost very few crippled birds.
One incident that comes to mind while thinking about hunting with Deacon took place on Thunder Lake. Two of us were sitting in a duck blind along with Deacon and decided that it was lunchtime, so we got out our coffee jug and a couple sandwiches. Just as I was pouring coffee, some ducks flew over, giving our decoys a second look. We ducked our heads and prepared to shoot. The ducks flared and Gary’s sandwich was gone. There was a bit of bread hanging out of Deacon’s mouth. If he had been able to smile, he would have as he licked up the rest of Gary’s sandwich.
As Deacon was approaching his 11th hunting season, it was apparent that he was slowing down. His sense of smell was still excellent; however, his legs were getting stiff after several hours in the field. About this same time, our neighbor’s golden retriever had a litter of pups. Our children would come home from playing with puppies in their arms with a request. “Dad, can we please have one of these little puppies?” Eventually, we gave in (how can a parent resist?) and a 7-week-old female golden retriever pup joined our family. Our children named her Brandy.
We were concerned about how Deacon would accept the little dog into his territory. That wasn’t really a problem. The old dog would lie down and as time progressed, would allow the pup to pull on his ears and they would roll on the floor or lawn. Deacon probably did as much to train Brandy as we did. He seemed to get new energy as the two dogs shared our home. When Deacon passed away, Brandy seemed lost for a few months.
One day, Brandy and I were grouse hunting along the edge of some tags. It was wet in the tags and Brandy flushed a grouse along the edge. My little 20 gauge barked and the grouse fell in the water. Brandy picked up the grouse and promptly lay down with it in her mouth. I walked over to her and could see that she was having an epileptic seizure. She had been experiencing seizures occasionally and eventually needed medication to control them for the rest of her long life. Brandy lived to celebrate her 12th birthday. She was not as powerful a hunter as Deacon, but she was excellent with our children and a great dog to have around the house.
Following the death of Brandy, we went about five months without a dog. One day, our son-in-law Shane called to report that he knew of a six-month-old male black Labrador that was housebroken and available. Oh yes, he needed hip surgery. We drove to Green Bay after having a chance to meet the little Lab to pick him up. His name was Bert and he was a quick learner. He quickly wiggled his way into our hearts.
Bert lived with us for just over 12 years. During his life, he and our friend, the Twesmes Lab, Elmo got into all kinds of trouble when they were together. Many stories have been told about their antics. One day, they ate an entire chocolate cake without leaving a crumb on the floor. Another day, they ate an entire package of red-and-white striped candies, leaving only the plastic wrappings on the floor. Those dogs were like a couple of mischievous kids when they were together.
Bert’s life ended just before he turned 13, which was about three years ago. We have been without a dog since then. We really miss having a dog and I really miss a bird dog during the months of September and October.
Two weeks ago, we were at the home of our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters. They had a very busy week ahead of them, so we offered to bring their chocolate Labrador, Cocoa, back to Rhinelander for a week. We were quickly reminded about living with a dog again, such as shutting the door if you don’t want to have to coax the dog back in.
We were sure that we had seen as many pranks as a Lab could pull and they all seem to be able to easily get into trouble. Not true! One morning, Judy had put two slices of bread in the toaster on the counter and turned her back. As she turned around, Cocoa had just snitched one piece of bread right out of the toaster.
There is always something new to be learned with a dog in the house.
Longtime Northwoods outdoors personality Roger Sabota writes a bi-monthly column for the Star Journal.