It cost me twenty-eight dollars to spring him, but it wasn’t his price that interested me, instead, it was his demeanor. Friendly, though slightly reserved covered it. And he sat in the front seat on the way home and acted like he had always belonged there. From then on, he did.
I could say I needed a new bird dog when I got him, but I already had two aging setters and my wife wasn’t exactly open to a new boarder. Deciding to take the forgiveness route, in that it would be easier to ask forgiveness for bringing home a new dog than to ask permission. I picked him up, brought him home and left a note on the microwave that read: “His name is Jack, please let him out twice before I get home from work.”
Later that same night, I got a call at work and it was my then seven year old daughter, Miranda. “Daddy, is he nice?”
“Yes,” I replied. Then I heard the sound of her footsteps going down to his crate in the basement and then back up.
“Daddy, does he bite?”
“No, Miranda, he doesn’t bite.” Again, the footsteps echoed into the receiver.
“Are we going to keep him?”
“If your mother doesn’t kill me, yes.” Another down and up trip followed.
“His name is Jack?”
“Yes, do you like him?”
“Uh huh, but I’m not sure Mom does.”
A small discussion ensued when I got home from work and Jack officially became a member of the household. The first few weeks were a bit rough. Jack’s answer to any command was to give the middle paw. It was pretty much as if he had said: “You want me to come? Right there buddy!” There were even two mornings where I had to run outside after him, barefoot in the snow, thanks to Kayleigh, the girl next door.
Through a number of training sessions, we did come to an agreement that I was to be listened to. Mind you, this was not before I was talked into going to Illinois and entering him in a field trial by a friend. A not-quite trained dog and a lot of acreage is not a recipe for field trial success. He ran off and I was told to pick my dog up, which I did after I found him. He was happy simply because he got to run. Real bird work would come later.
Jack never tired of hunting. Whether it was planted birds while training at Spring Valley or Rush Run or trips to Michigan, Kentucky or right here in Ohio, he was on his mission from God. Due to my lousy shooting, we were never as successful as we possibly should have been, but a few moments from when he was in the field really shine. The first year I took him to Pheasants Forever youth hunt, he found every bird planted in the field we were working plus 2 more in an adjacent field that we were told had been hunted out. That he beautifully pointed and retrieved a pheasant right in full view of a number of participants and other dog handlers is one of my favorite memories.
He was more than just a bird dog. One of my favorite activities with him was camping. He would just consider the tent to be another room in the house and would settle in like it was just something he was supposed to do. We even winter camped. Thin coated pointers may not like the cold, but they make great sleeping bag warmers, particularly in an army surplus extreme weather bag. I would get in and then bring him inside with me and zip up. Two heads coming out of a sleeping bag are not necessarily better than one, but we made it work and had no problem, even in single digit temperatures. Getting him to face the cold the next morning when we got up was a little more challenging.
Jack had numerous fans. One of my main hunting partners, Don, always said that Jack was his hero when we finished hunting for the day, even when Jack took a bite out of a porcupine on a Michigan hunting trip. Others shared similar sentiments. A number of my other hunting friends have told me that there would always be room for Jack in their kennels. I would just smile, knowing that I had a great dog and that he would always be a house dog.
And then there were the bumblebees. Stung lips, noses, tongues, muzzles, faces and ears didn’t faze him, bees must be snapped at, bitten and dispatched at all costs. This repeated behavior more than once caused me to openly question his sanity. “Crazy dog,” I’d say. He would just look at me with his tongue hanging out, ready to get the next one.
He would play with all and any dogs. To him they were all the same size. Once, at the house of my friends, Chuck and Emily, he was playing with her Maltese. Monte hopped over the couch. Jack followed, almost knocking it over. They went to the back yard after that.
Night time usually had a familiar ritual. Miranda would always tell us good night and the chorus of “Here Jack,” would ensue. Once she got him up on her bed, all was good. He never had to protect her from anything more than nightmares and monsters under the bed, but he had to be with her. There was, however, a particular order in which things had to go. Miranda had to be in the bed and under the covers first. Sometimes, Jack would switch the order of things. It’s very hard to keep from laughing out loud when you here a number of stern commands coming from your young daughter, all the same and saying: “JACK…OFF, JACK…OFF, JACK…OFF, NOW! JACK GET OFF THE BED!” At least she knew that dogs respond best to short one-syllable commands.
Speaking of beds, he wasn’t allowed on all of them. Dee did not want him on our bed. It didn’t keep him from getting up there however. Any time we were out of the house, it was fair game to him. When you would come home and turn the key in the lock, you would always hear a thump from him jumping down. If you didn’t catch him on it, he had never gotten on it. Figure out another explanation for the warm spot, okay?
Until this past fall, I thought him invincible. Run all day, climb hills, get cut up by thorns and get up tomorrow and do it all over again. I could have hunted him for 12 hours straight, put him in the truck, closed the door and then immediately reopened it and his eyes would say: “Again? Can we go again?”
But in November, he was a little off. I thought, that at almost seven, he had become slightly mortal. His house mate Reese put in a stellar performance on the opening day of pheasant season, but Jack was not quite on his game and seemed tired at the end of his first hunt. Was it the heat? Should I have conditioned him better? It was largely the same until around Christmas when he became very sick. Antibiotics didn’t clear things up and we took x-rays. The first vet suspected cancer and I took the route of treating the symptoms and keeping him comfortable. He rallied and was in pretty good shape until a month ago, when he became deathly ill and I was on the verge of having him put to sleep. The vet convinced me to do a tick panel and it came back positive for exposure to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. We started Doxycyclene and again, Jack came back. He put on some weight, and was again chasing bumblebees in the back yard. There was hope, but it didn’t last. Three days ago, he started not being able to keep food down. He lost coordination and could hardly get up and down the two steps to the back yard. His abdomen swelled and while he was still weakly nudging to be petted, it was time.
He is now wrapped in a hunting vest that belonged to my father. There are two shotgun shells in one of the pockets and he lies with three of my other bird dogs. On most days, you can hear the calls of bob white quail in the nearby fields. His body may rest in the earth now, but his spirit and memory still hold firm to my heart. Not bad for a twenty-eight dollar pound dog.