Jack’s Last Retrieve

By Beacon Staff

My old bird dog Jack died the other day. It wasn’t a surprise as he had battled health issues for years. The last six months had been especially tough; complications after major surgery in the spring never really healed.

The hardest thing about dogs, of course, is losing them. The time they are with us is too short. The arc of their life marks portions of our own.

Jack came to us when my now college-age daughters were children. For the twins, he was our family dog. He was there through the good times, and later, when my marriage went south, he was with me as I ventured into the life of a single parent. That dog followed me through a lot, including three interstate moves.

There’s much to remember, more than I can fit in a newspaper column. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • There was the evening I first brought him home. He was always carsick as a puppy and was a wretched mess when I dropped him on the doorstep, rang the bell, and stepped back into the shadows so the twins could find him alone in the porch light. Two 8-year-old girls. I’m sure you can imagine the cries of sympathy that greeted my shivering pup.
  • When he grew older and more adventurous, there was the sight of him running off into the woods on his own. To teach him this wasn’t such a great idea, the girls and I would hide and watch him frantically search for his lost pack when he realized he was alone. The twins always felt sorry for him and gave us up.
  • Jack also had an odd habit of walking around as he pooped. Once Bill and I watched him, all hunched over droppin’ a deuce, while he at the same time walked across a cattle guard. He never missed a step.

Of course there were birds. Lots of them. That dog was hell on birds. If I was even a halfway decent shot, the two of us could have ended the war on hunger all by ourselves.

And then there was this. In his final days, as I discussed with my vet arrangements for keeping him comfortable, my mind raced through a list of our favorite hunting spots: Parker Canyon on the Arizona/Mexico border; the Verde Valley near Sedona; the Curlew National Grassland in Idaho; the Sweet Grass Hills.

Then I thought of the hillside across the street from the home in Pocatello where we once lived.

That hillside held coveys of Huns. We discovered those birds at a critical time for Jack. He was just 2 years old and the jury was still out on whether he would become a solid bird dog. But practicing on that hillside, Jack showed me he was a serious bird dog and I learned to trust him.

As I sat there thinking about the places I would next visit without him, I remembered that hillside and those birds, and one other detail. We weren’t together the first time I found Huns there. That evening I’d left Jack back at the house and was on a walk with my now ex wife. A covey of maybe eight or 10 birds erupted out of the sagebrush. After the initial shock I followed the flight of the birds, marking where they landed. I turned to her and requested permission to abandon our walk so I could rush home to get Jack for a little practice on wild birds.

She looked at me and with a laugh said, “When those birds flew off I thought you were gonna go on point. Sure, go get him. We’re almost home anyway.”

There’s been quite a bit of life since that evening on that hillside in Pocatello. We’re at a place now where we may never be able to hold even a politely civil conversation again. But when most of what was good has been obliterated by the intervening years, it’s nice to be reminded there once was a time when we could still be kind to one another.

Thanks old boy. For that, and so much else. I’ll never be able to repay you.

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