By Bill Monroe
It’s Labor Day.
This is my week to pass along thoughts, suggestions, interesting news and whatever how-when-where tos Buzz Ramsey happens to miss (yeah, right!).
I intended to explain how astoundingly tough decisions are forced upon Oregon and Washington fish managers when they have to shut down salmon season on the Columbia River at the peak of the run.
Then I would have shared more information about 18-year-old Maxine McCormick of Portland, “Queen Maxine,” as she’s known across Scandanavia, where she’s swept World Championship fly-casting competitions she’s entered since the age of 12. She’s a phenom in an adult sport.
But then I woke up and went outside to feed my two hunting partners, Kazuri, a 10-year-old chocolate Lab, and Spring, a 14-year-old small Munsterlander.
Kazuri dove into her breakfast with the Lab trademark abandon of a child dipping into a Halloween haul.
Spring wasn’t in sight, though, and didn’t come to either a call or a whistle that probably woke the neighbors.
I found her next the fountain, lying on her side, convulsing spasmodically. Skipping the grim details, I carried her to her bed, where she took her last breath four hours later with my wife and I at her side.
Spring has been an important and popular fixture with readers since we brought her home as a 7-month-old in early 2009. Not just hunters, but everyone seemed to bond with this gorgeous, focused huntress.
She was important and popular with us from the moment she eagerly jumped into the back seat of our pickup in Echo, where we met up with her Idaho breeder.
Today, while I sympathize with those beleaguered biologists…and am equally awestruck by Maxine’s feats, Spring is far more on my mind.
The death of a pet is bittersweet payback for falling in love in the first place. We all assume responsibility for seeing our dogs (yeah, yeah, and cats) through life to its end; but it doesn’t make the conclusion any easier.
Spring was probably the best hunting dog I’ve been fortunate to partner with; and there have been many…all good, some really good and this one exceptional.
Her breeder socialized her in the house, not the field, and never took her hunting but did let her exercise her instincts by chasing the cat (a life’s passion she never lost despite our cats’ sharp claws). Small Munsterlanders are a German breed specifically bred to hunt. They’re also loving pets, eager to please, but cunningly imbued with Saxon stubborness and quest for perfection.
I quickly took her to a rural farm field to ease her into potentially frightening shotgun blasts.
I loaded up with low-base shells and a pocketful of treats and let her wander off about 200 yards or so before touching off a round.
Spring wheeled sharply from whatever she was sniffing and ran to me as fast as she could to see what was going on.
And just like that, we bonded.
She hunted pheasants, quail, ducks and geese with equal intensity. No small mammal was safe in our fenced backyard (you’re welcome, all you barked-at pedestrians-anywhere-in-sight), including squirrels (right up there with cats on her to-do list), rats, possums, rabbits (sorry) and even the occasional unlucky songbird, all proudly deposited at our back door.
Spring never wavered from her commitment to hunt, and while she did point pheasants and quail (usually…had to chase her a few times on running roosters), as versatile hunting dogs are bred to do, she was the best at waterfowl.
…Didn’t love the water all that much, but tolerated it from the get-go, realizing it was a necessity to bring home the bird.
I welcomed her quirks, as I have with all my dogs’ various personalities. I’ve never formally trained them other than some lessons for Kazuri to focus her on retrieving before eating. She swims for the fun of it because, well, she’s a Lab. Dogs and I kind of train each other in a live setting.
Which does get pretty interesting as I witness the adjustments every dozen years or so.
For example, our first dog, Kokanee, was an equally focused hunter and retriever who ultimately worked out an unusual compromise – I would shoot the duck and she would go get it and either bring it to me or take it to the nearest point of dry land…which wasn’t always on the same side of the river.
Spring and Kazuri (perfectly playing the fall guy) were partners. Kazuri was the stronger swimmer, but didn’t always see where the duck dropped, just dove crazily into the water when I yelled “Get the bird!” She frequently had the duck at my feet while Spring was still out there swimming around to make sure nothing had been missed.
Conversely, Spring easily outran Kazuri in the field and relied on her ears to hear approaching geese well before I did, her eyes to pick up distant ducks, geese with cupped wings settling into the decoys (made her teeth chatter with excitement), and her nose to find cripples.
Our granddaughter’s first goose, a small cackler, was hit, dropped close to the ground, but recovered and flew off. I thought it was gone, but Spring was off like a shot and disappeared over a distant ridge…Darned dog! What did she think she was doing?
A minute or so later, she reappeared, proudly carrying the goose.
More than once, Spring chased and retrieved large western Canada geese bigger than her in form and not very happy about being dragged.
She was at her best in the snow, which she seemed to love. She would lay in it on her stomach as if just cooling off.
When we went to our usual and accustomed hunting grounds, she quickly memorized the various locations of the blinds we used and if I lost sight of her on the walk out, she would always (yes, always) be waiting there for me to arrive and set up the blind. Even after several non-hunting months.
There is so much more, as other dog owners/lovers can imagine.
But, as a way-back predecessor at The Oregonian, Ben Hur Lampman, so eloquently put it:
“Bury a dog in your heart.”
Good job, Spring…Now FIND THE BIRD!