Sporting dogs provide action that rivals any animal-blooper television show.
We've got three all field-style English setters. They live indoors; romp outdoors. Sometimes we find trouble, or it finds us, I'm not sure which.
A spring storm had moths clinging to our log home's windows, seeking
shelter, moving toward dimly-lighted lamps inside our house.
The older girls, Jenny and Midge, ignored them. Radar, the pup, did not.
Action is where he finds it, be it a field-edge grouse or a small moth
moving beyond glass.
He's a kid full of life.
Lights out. We'd gone to bed early, as I'd just returned from a road
trip hunting spring turkeys twilight, a backdrop for the flittering windowpane bugs. Wind rocked the pines.
Then the explosion of glass registered in my drowsy head.
In combat mode, I shot up, hit the hall light, and saw the shattered
window. Confused, I found Radar pacing the floor. Shuffling down the
stairs, I saw blood. He'd punched out the window. A flap of skin and fur
hung from a foreleg.
Downstairs I found my dogs' first-aid kit, and my wife who'd also jumped up frantically and we patched him up. The dressing soon bled darkly.
The emergency room would follow.
He'd cut himself badly; clipped an artery. Registering no reflection of pain in his face at all, this all took place for the love of the hunt
(of a moth!).
Over a month later now, he's on the mend.
Earlier this spring he'd found different action.
We were tromping through the greened-up fields when I saw a big lump at
a distance. A cat stalking? Wild turkey feeding?
Nope. A fat, prickly porcupine. Off Radar charged. Been there gun dog
Granted he's in the learning stage (aren't we all), and coming along
nicely. Obedient to many commands, the sight of this crawling pincushion
was too much to resist. Like a kid marveling at exotics caged in some
city zoo, Radar had to have a closer look.
Bingo. Over a dozen quills sprouted from his muzzle. Some strange
body-piercing manifestation, for sure.
As the porky waddled toward the near woods, I hovered over my little
buddy, straddling him to gain brief control while removing the lengthy
stickpins from his muzzle.
A tough one, he accepted my swift work his eyes still on the prize. No sooner had I finished, did he bolt in that direction again. Ugh. (Yeah I had a leash.)
I found Radar below the porky's chosen white pine, standing on his hind
legs like some coon hound; baying like one too: awoooooooooooo.
Yeah, you purist dog-handlers are wincing at me right now, muttering
advice to my mugshot about what you would have done, nearly spilling
your morning coffee. (Don't feel sorry for me; it's your turn next.)
Anyhow, I had all three dogs out earlier this month what a beautiful sight. The lineup:
Jenny Cream Ale, b. Buxton, ME, May 12, 1996 a Kellie Fogg product casts about at close range; eyes me constantly, not wanting to drift out of sight. As much catlike than canine, she'll stalk bird life and squeaky toys. A lap dog and outdoor lover, she's happy to be anywhere we are.
Midge March Madness, b. Portsmouth, NH, Jan. 23, 1997 from a Frank Sacks litter is pure hunter. She casts widely in serious athletic loops, watching my location, while also self-hunting her share of time. Her route is circuitous and complete. Gamebirds in a half-mile circle? She'll find 'em. Likely flush 'em.
Radar, b. Barnstead, NH, June 23, 2002 one of a bunch of lovely setters woodcock man Ed Tasker sold off last summer will make you laugh with his comic-serious face. He greets the day with a handsome black-masked mug like those in the antiquated ads of 1940s magazines when gun dogs were routinely pictured with fine whiskey or reliable tires.
All doze in this home office as I write this column.
When running three, I always conduct a constant, neurotic inventory. At
one point, I heard a dog in full cry. Radar.
I called him. He came like a good boy; his hyena-back pose indicating
he'd seen something strange. Hair raised between his shoulders, he
looked at me, then back toward the woods. Porcupine? Oddly-shaped stump? Raccoon? Bigfoot?
In the meantime, Midge arrived, and conferred with Radar as only canines can (a quick dog-meets-dog look was all it took). In a flash, both slipped back beyond a wall of leafed-out understory and summer-green canopy.
Action Jackson howled again. "Radar, come, Midgey, come," I growled.
Older girl Jenny paced nearby with her questioning stare.
Stepping into the woods, I had no answer.
Barking came, loud and boisterous from Radar, sharper and snappier from
Midge then a pained yip from one of them. Both returned and we
That morning I found a small puncture wound on Midge. I daubed on
antiseptic ointment. In days, the rear leg infection swelled to the size of a tennis ball. Beneath silky white fur, my wife found a matching hole. Bite? No doubt. From what? Who knew.
Rimadyl. Cephalexin. You know the deal.
Veterinarians, their dutiful employees, and I spend enough time together to qualify as extended family. Our reunions are regular; our
relationship polite, direct and courteous.
Their usual greeting: "Which dog is it this time?"
Steve Hickoff writes on the outdoors for a variety of national
magazines. Contact him at email@example.com.