Doll and I have had a pretty easy thing going lately. My girl turned 10 in July, and while she’s slowed a bit, remains a fine bird dog.
I don’t know about you, but if I ever pull an Aladdin, finding a magic lamp complete with a squatting, wish-granting genie, on the short list for my top three is: “I wish for my dogs to live as long as I.”
Well, spelunking on the Arabian Peninsula isn’t on the agenda, and anyway, literature is filled with cautionary tales warning of the unintended consequences of having one’s wishes fulfilled. So I’ve accepted the reality that Doll only has a few hunting seasons left. I intend to embrace every fall afternoon we spend together as if it’s our last.
Our easy thing was upended last week, however, when I drove to Lewistown to visit the same English setter breeder who produced Doll, and drove away with Jade, an 8-week-old puppy.
Life hasn’t been the same since.
Doll epitomizes the phrase “low maintenance.” These days, if she’s not hunting or eating, she’s on her dog bed in some state of rest. She doesn’t like it when I leave for work, but most days when I return for lunch it doesn’t appear she’s moved much in the intervening hours.
She still runs with me, but not as far as she used to, and not at all when the temperature gets much above 70.
Doll was enjoying her semi-retirement and I was enjoying an almost complete absence of dog-related mishaps. As a puppy, Doll came home from the kennel nearly housebroken, and hasn’t had an “accident” in years. She also hasn’t chewed up anything that wasn’t hers in nearly as long, though Doll can’t resist wood. A quail call a friend made now has a gnarled, well-chewed finish, but still whistles a convincing “bob-white.”
Jade threw that well ordered world into chaos. She chews everything she can fit her adorable puppy jaws around. And though she almost always pees the moment I take her outside and plop her on the lawn, she remains fond of leaving little puppy packages on the welcome mat inside the front door.
As for sleep, I raised twins so I know the havoc human babies unleash. Puppies are every bit as bad, though they grow out of it quickly.
Doll has been especially patient through this. I’m sure she enjoys the little one’s presence, sharing her bed at night the way my old setter, Jack, made room for Doll when she arrived a decade ago. When the pup starts chewing on her tail, however, even an easy-going pooch like Doll can take only so much.
I’ve only heard Doll growl a couple times, ever. All were in the last week.
For now Jade’s bird dog training has consisted almost entirely of getting her comfortable with novel circumstances. There’s a small stream in a park where we walk. I clear it in a short leap. Doll walks up the middle of it, wetting her paws to cool off. Jade ran up and down the bank yapping when she first found herself on the opposite side from Doll and I. Now, she noses up to water’s edge, pauses, steeling herself, then launches across the creek with a splash.
It’s good practice. What’s the point of life if you aren’t getting a little wet from time to time?
The arc of a dog’s life is beautiful, but oh so bittersweet. It wasn’t that long ago that I remember Jack glancing back at the third wheel in our old hunting partnership: Doll yapping at water’s edge as she built up the courage for her own leap of faith.
I’m confident Doll still has a few more leaps in her. There’s plenty she can teach Jade in the coming fall.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.