In The Company Of Dogs

In The Company Of Dogs

We're Never Quite Sure Of What We Might See...

A friend told me that one of his dogs had pointed a rattlesnake out West. We don't have rattlesnakes where I live, but I told him that one of my dogs had pointed a blue racer that was big around as my wrist and as long as a broom handle. This conversation got me thinking about what I've seen because of my dogs.

Episode One: A Nose Full
Tank was pointing something, but his tail was flagging, and he looked confused. My dog George, who was Tank's nephew, saw his uncle on point and slammed on his brakes to honor. It was great seeing those two German wirehairs working together like that.

The huge golden orb of the rising sun was directly behind our dogs--a picture-perfect tableau.

All of a sudden Tank reared up and pounced into the tall grass like a cat on a mouse. He came out with a big skunk in his mouth, shaking it like a rag doll. Fountains of spray shot out from the hapless critter.

I don't often find humor in misfortune, but Tank was my friend Mike's dog, not mine, and I could see some humor in this.

Mike didn't. He was shouting a string of colorful expletives.

When Tank decided to let go, it was on the upswing of a shake, which sent the skunk arcing through the sky with a shimmering halo of skunk stink swirling around it. That's when George--not to be upstaged by his uncle--dashed in and caught the skunk like a centerfielder snagging a high fly ball. It was now my turn for expletives. After several vigorous shakes George realized his mistake, dropped the skunk and stumbled blindly down into a nearby drainage ditch to join Tank, who was already down there.

For several minutes they snorted and gurgled, plunging their heads underwater and frantically pawing at their snouts--learning all about skunks. The skunk did not survive the assault.

By day's end Tank and George had lost some of their eye-watering odor, and Mike and I had several roosters in the bag. We drove home with all the truck windows rolled down. The chill late October air was bracing.

Though I bathed George in tomato juice, anti-skunk enzyme and even douche powder, it was a couple weeks before he smelled more like a dog and less like a skunk.

I never got the smell out of my leather boots.

Episode Two: Foxy Lady
Ginger was George's mom. We were hunting pheasants. Just her and me, on one of those rare mornings when you don't have to think about anyone or anything, except watching your dog, or maybe a red tailed hawk gliding overhead, or a startled deer bounding out of the tall grass right in front of you.

We came to a little rise in the ground, the rim of a shallow sand pit a farmer had dug out and abandoned years before. It was about a dozen yards across, overgrown with grass and rank with weeds.

On the other side of the pit was a tiny seasonal creek that was lined with heavy cover. It sometimes held pheasants, sometimes not. That's where we were headed.

Ginger was right next to me, almost at heel. Just as we topped the embankment at the edge of the pit a big red fox stepped out onto the rim on the other side. The three of us stood there just a few yards apart, frozen in place.

It seemed like we stood there for a long time, staring at each other in surprise, but it was likely only a second or two.

As Georgie bounded through the grass, showers of ice flew up around her.

The fox moved first. He sprang straight up off all fours, spun around in mid-air and leapt out of sight back over the rim--all in one motion. He was gone before Ginger and I could react. It was one of the quickest, slickest evasive maneuvers I'd ever seen. An F-16 can't turn that quick.

Ginger took after him like a rocket. She didn't catch him, of course, but in the heat of the chase she busted a big rooster pheasant from the creek bank. It cackled derisively as it got airborne from the tangle. It was too far out for a shot, or maybe I was still thinking about the fox.

I just stood there, aware that I'd just had a remarkable encounter with a stealthy predator rarely seen in the daytime, and hardly ever so close...and almost never eyeball-to-eyeball.

Episode Three: Crystal Palace
It rained most of November and December last year. The deluge was almost biblical--like Noah's ark biblical.

Global warming began looking less like political science. Or maybe this was global wetting.

I felt waterlogged. I'ˆhad cabin fever, and so did Georgie. She whined to be put out of the house. When I put her outside she stood on the porch staring morosely at the rain and the dingy sky, and whined to be let back in. She whined as she chewed her favorite toys. I whined too, my wife said.

By early January I was praying for snow, longing to hear the rattle of my snowthrower's exhaust, the groaning of my anti-lock brakes on slick roads.

Enter the big ice storm of 2007--freezing rain for 24 hours straight. By dawn of the second day the clouds were gone and the temperature had plummeted to the single digits. The sun was rising into a sky of deep, wintry blue. Ice had encapsulated the world, and it sparkled.

The author with Joe, one of his wirehairs.

Georgie yelped with excitement, spinning around in frantic circles as I laced up my boots. She yelped as she ran out to the truck, and yelped for the first few miles on the way to the field trial grounds.

I felt like yelping too. We'd been cooped up for 10 days while rain turned to freezing rain, and freezing rain to ice. I had almost forgotten what sun looked like. I knew the field trial grounds as well as my own back yard. I'd trained and competed with my dogs there for 15 years.

As Georgie bounded exhuberantly through the tall grass, tinkling showers of

shattered ice flew up around her. When the sun was directly behind her, it looked like star shells exploding on the Fourth of July.

The ice storm had transformed the rolling landscape into nature's Crystal Palace. When we go afield with our pointers, our setters, our retrievers and our spaniels, we see things we might otherwise never see. Because of our dogs, we are made privy to a natural world that otherwise stays hidden from our view.

That, I thought, was one of the many privileges we enjoy...we who live in the company of dogs.

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