Pepper is a field bred English Springer Spaniel owned by my friend, Cindy. Pepper was born in 2001, if memory serves correctly. Her father went on to be a field trial champ in Canada. His genetics were passed on to Pepper, who lives to hunt all manner of critter.
Pepper is alive, active, and healthy at 13 years old. But, as is the case with all flesh, there comes a time in a dog’s life when most of the hunting stories are behind us. Those stories are told and retold and maybe embellished some. Stories of limits of birds, unlikely flushes and impossible retrieves.
Pepper’s first hunt was a disaster. We all thought that we knew more about finding birds than the dog. We kept redirecting her into fields that had been hunted, into fields already shown to be void of game.
Pepper’s second hunt was the hunt where we saw what a gem she is. This is the hunt where we all shut up and let her do her job. She worked the cover like a vacuum cleaner. We limited out that day. It was a long day and we were all exhausted at the end. As we trudged across the parking lot, a couple of other hunters were heading to their car with birds in hand. Pepper saw those birds and limped up to the hunters and gently took a bird and brought it to Cindy.
I could tell stories of Pepper for hours. Stories of retrieves that covered miles. Stories of limits of birds. Stories of rabbits caught in the yard and munched in the bed. Stories of titles she earned. Most of the stories are in the past now. Time has taken its toll on Pepper. Her speed is not as fast; her nose not as keen. We all get older, Pepper is no different, but that which has not faded is her heart.
Heart is a quality which is difficult to explain. It is an attitude of never-give-up. All the stories that we tell of Pepper, the theme of all of them is heart. I still see her heart in the joy in which the she takes to the field. I still see her heart when I look over a tall grass field and suddenly see Pepper spring above the cover to get better scent. I still see her heart in every retrieve.
When I come face to face with that heart, that sincerity of purpose, it leaves me changed. This is why the bond between working dog and human is unique. Powerful. Unparalleled and unlike any other relationship I have ever encountered. Many lives have changed simply because of the drive of this black and white bird dog. My life has changed. Now I train dogs. Now I write. Things I had not planned, but things in place nevertheless, all because of a unique heart.
The pieces still come together for Pepper in the field. The pace quickens. The tail quickens. Words are not needed anymore. We’ve seen Pepper work a thousand birds. And, like a thousand times before, we are moved. We cannot take our eyes from her. The bird comes up, with a fury of gaudy bronze and red and white. It is followed by the slash of teeth as Pepper’s heart defies her age. The shotgun reports and the bird falls. Pepper knows her job and gently(ever so gently) scoops up the bird and returns it to Cindy. We sing her praises and remind her of what she already knows: Good girl!
I lost a dog a few years ago, and many of the condolences told me that my dog had been lucky to have me. This is laughable to me as I think on Pepper. She is not lucky to have had us. We are lucky to have had her. Pepper has a job in the field..to find and retrieve birds. But now, we are the ones with the job. We must shoot straight…for Pepper. We must kill cleanly…for Pepper. She has done so much. She doesn’t owe us anything, but we owe it all to her.
Dogs don’t understand how they shape us. They don’t choose to mold us, except to get more belly rubs and bacon. Pepper did not choose to change who I am. But she has changed me and all who know her. And we love her for it. Good girl! Lets go hunting!
I found this poem some time ago. It is written by Charles L. Rose, proprietor of WildRose German Shorthair Pointers. This poem (reprinted here with permission), is the absolute best tribute to an old dog that I have ever read.
I waken from fitful sleep, legs jerking, low growls deep within my chest;
Tired eyes look down on a wrinkled graying muzzle;
With effort I roll, Looking at gnarled scarred feet and legs bearing a million old cactus spines buried within;
Reminding me of all those prickly pear and jumping cactus.
Slowly I lift my weary head and gaze upon a graying, cloud filled November sky;
Deeply I breathe in,,,ahhhh ,,, finally,,, fall is here!!!
Longingly I gaze into the heavens above.
Lord, please grant my master the strength to make one more season;
twelve years have passed since our first hunt together,,,
I have led him through cactus and mesquite, Tall grass, rocks hills and creeks.
We have seen together ten thousand covey rises, a thousand cackling roosters and a million ducks taking flight.
But now, as I look in the window,,, I see my loving master has tired,,, his pace has slowed and his once commanding voice raspy and faded.
Lord,,, three lifetimes now have I pointed his quail, flushed his roosters, marked his ducks,,, and brought them all to hand,, well most anyhow, and the few I ate,,,well he didn’t really want them anyhow.
But time has caught us both,,, now he is slow to rise from his rocker as am I from my pad,,, his weathered face and my clouded eyes ,,,, neither the same as before,,, but still the lines in his face are maps I follow in my dreams,,, when clearer eyes led the way through green briar and snow,,, sandstorms and blinding rain.
Oh lord grant us one more season so that as we each pass from this life we may pass on to our sons and daughters the life, the love, the joy and the sorrows of a thousand hunts we’ve shared.
And Lord, finally when the season is done would you grant him a soft chair, and me a fine rug,,,
By the hearth in your heavenly lodge…..
Please Lord, Please, Just one More Season…….
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