September 23, 2010
Occasionally, dogs come along that recognize the perks of puppyhood -- and devote their lives to being a professional youngster.
Experts tell us that, on average, most gun dogs reach mental maturity at about two years, give or take a few months. On one hand, that may be as close to a rule of thumb as we can get. On the other hand, the experts never met Crazy Ace, a pointer with a highly developed Peter Pan attitude of "I won't grow up." Indeed, Ace made a specialty of fine-tuning juvenile behavior and refused to depart puppy joys up to his last breath. In a nutshell, Ace's life was composed not of the usual three phases -- puppy, mature, senior -- but only one. Ace's body aged with time, but in his heart 10 weeks, 10 months and 10 years were all the same.
Immature or not, a canine "kid" to his core, Crazy Ace was a dog whose glass wasn't just half full; his was spilling over. He never had a bad moment, let alone a bad day. Quite the opposite; in his own doggy way Ace had a hell of a lot of fun for 15 years, and so did most of the people who spent time around him.
A friend of mine said, "I don't know how he did it, but I think Ace figured out that life as a puppy was a pretty sweet deal and decided not to risk growing up. And I don't blame him. In fact, I consider Ace the ultimate role model for not only making the best of the daily grind but for turning every minute of it into a Saturday night shindig."
Although Ace was a career puppy disguised as an adult, the "Crazy" part of his name was a misnomer; he wasn't off-the-dial goofy. He was an inherently talented bird finder that consistently made game where other dogs failed -- but only when he had time, when nothing more important was going on, like taking a swim or trying to sneak up on his shadow. As best we could figure out, Crazy Ace saw the world as his Neverland, his playground, and everything in it as existing for his amusement.
Ace even turned rolling in cow pies and old fish into a formalized but oddly humorous ritual. "He makes it seem like a personal coronation," a casual observer once remarked about Crazy Ace's regally high-spirited style of transferring nasty material from the ground to his body. Another admirer added, "It looks better than a massage; I might have to try it."
If Ace could have laughed out loud, I'm confident he would have had a deep guffaw, an honest-to-God belly laugh that occasionally geared down a level or two but never turned off. Ace was the sort of perpetual puppy that made you want to thrash around in the grass with him. And when you were tired of wrestling and rolling on the ground, you'd stand there snorting, laughing, and play-growling in your own fashion; but you wouldn't feel silly because everyone who knew Crazy Ace would understand. Then his eyes would take on a vague look of whispered conspiracy that said, "I'm going to chase grasshoppers," and you'd be a finger snap away from yelling, "Yeah, let's go."
Like my friend who considered Ace a role model, I had a soft spot for this endearing pointer's devil-may-care approach to living. Perhaps because my life, at least to a slight degree, paralleled his. I confess that I did my best to stay a kid until I was into my 30s, and some would say well beyond, before I took the plunge, more or less, into adulthood.
Is this such a bad thing? In people, maybe so -- I'm still not fully convinced of maturity's virtues -- but in dogs a strong case could be made that a lingering aura of puppy is far from the end of the world. Possibly not to lengths that Ace carried it, though even that is arguable given the balancing factor of his considerable bird skills -- when he was available to put them to work, of course. In truth, what's not to love in dogs like Ace, and I don't care how old they are, that radiate an irrepressible sense that life is a great cosmic joke meant to be enjoyed?
The last time I saw Crazy Ace, he was about 13 years old, still going strong, and as puppyish as ever. He had locked up solidly on a small covey of quail -- solidly, that is, until a late-season butterfly flapped slowly by his head. Ace looked at the tantalizing insect, then at the people walking up to his point, as if weighing the relative attractions of quail, butterfly, and hunters. His entire persona changed, and his upper lip curled over his teeth in a marvelous grinning expression that I'm convinced meant, "I know you'll understand that I simply have to chase this butterfly. The birds will wait; the butterfly won't. I'll be back shortly, and we'll take care of these quail."