Outdoor folk are often prone to live in a world of mythological fantasy. The magical rod and reel combo, the immortal rifle and shotgun, or the most protective and powerful apparel become the subjects of their own hunting and fishing tales. Nowhere is this truth more evident than in the mystical lore of hunting dogs.
In our fledgling years of guiding hunts, I had imagined not one but two dogs. A legendary brace of pointing and retrieving machines whose glowing ghostly white hue would be seen holding staunch from a mile off. Not only would these mythical beasts perform epic feats in the field, but they would also fulfill the role of family pets as they lounged on the front porch casting their eyes into the bucolic landscape and awaiting their master à-la Odysseus’s faithful Argos.
Oh, what folly…
We started with a single pointer named Patch that belonged to my partner, Colonel. It was a wide running bitch that would burn the wind, but it soon became apparent that if we were to keep guiding hunts, a brace of dogs that would range a bit closer was needed. So, when the opportunity came to take in a couple of dogs from owners who knew their pets needed to be in a place where their dogs would be happy doing what was bred into them to do…I jumped at it.
The first came from a friend of a friend who lived in town; a Hungarian Vizsla named Amos that looked more like a Redbone Coon Hound than a bird dog and whose name my four-year-old daughter botched with the moniker “Anus.” The second from a man who would become a dear friend and mentor to me; a solid liver colored German Shorthaired Pointer named Cat.
That’s right… a dog… named “Cat.”
Both were tremendous in the field: pointing, backing, and retrieving. But they were not the dogs of my dreams. Their red and liver color made them hard to see in the field. As for family pets they were more like a creepy uncle and neurotic aunt. When having a beer with clients after a hunt it was customary for Amos to bury his muzzle into a hunter’s crotch and then growl in protest as I took him by the collar to separate him from the poor fella’s nethers. Cat would push against a person’s leg looking for a pet and then snap at the hand that pet her.
I let them both run loose thinking that at some point they would understand their place in our family dynamic. It was a vision marred by hubris and soon took a turn.
Not only were we in the middle of building a livelihood in the middle of nowhere but also a house. Coming home one evening after teaching a late afternoon class at the community college, I noticed random tools and worksite fodder like blocks of 2 x 4’s strewn about the would-be front yard of our new house that was in mid-construction. A shovel here, a five-gallon bucket there, and several half full Gatorade bottles seemed to spring up in a path from the house site to the shop building where my little family had been living.
The crew had gone home for the day and only our builder remained. He was leaning against his truck waiting for me like an old school principal who needed to “speak” with the class clown.
“Hey, Mr. Jerry,” I said. “Looks like they got pretty far on the house today.”
“They probably could have finished it had they not had to dip and dodge all day running back and forth from the house to the water spigot at the corner of your shop,” he said.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
It was then that Mr. Jerry informed me that the crew had been “hunted” during their toils. Cat would point an unsuspecting carpenter who would become frozen with fear in the bird dog’s laser beam stare while Amos crept around to the opposite side of the hypnotized prey to launch a blindside attack. The only thing keeping the canines at bay was whatever could be thrown at them. By the abundance of flotsam pitched about the ground the onslaught must have been relentless.
“Hell, when I drove up to turn the crew loose that damn liver dog locked up on Raymundo over by the mortar mixer and your Redbone was just about to get him had he not chucked a trowel at it,” Mr. Jerry said as he nodded over at the two dogs triumphantly laying and panting atop a stack of plywood. “Things would go a might quicker if you’d pen those two up, Josh.”
“Ain’t no problem,” he said as he squeezed my shoulder in his giant hand. Then he got in his truck and drove home.
The next day I locked Amos and Cat up in the pen beside the shop.
Several years have passed since then. The house got built, and our stables are full of good hunting dogs. As matriarch, Cat roams free and hunts when she wants to and she always wants to, unless a nap on the porch seems more appealing. New clients remark at how sweet she is as they stroke her back after a hunt. They are shocked when hunters who have been with us since the beginning implore them to “keep an eye on that dog” and then in the next breath say, “Amos was the one to look out for.”
Amos developed cancer in one of his hind legs a couple of years after we moved into the new house. I’d like to think that he’s up in the Happy Hunting grounds pointing the fool out of massive coveys of quail with Patches. But I know better…
Most likely Amos is on Olympus snarling up Zeus’s toga or nipping at the heel of Achilles.