Pet ownership is bittersweet. The canine species are a source of comfort, protection and sometimes create bonds closer than anything individuals ever experience in a lifetime. Dogs can illustrate what it means to be totally, loyally selfless. But they can also bring a person down to their lowest point. There are highs and there are lows to owning dogs; both facets I was fortunate enough to experience this weekend.
There are Highs...
For all of you who have just joined my venture or need a reminder, I have three dogs. Two who were joined when DU and I got together, the third the product of our union. That sounds bad but yes, Avery came about because we wandered into a humane society and there she was. She suffered from parvo early in her young existence and was taken in by a foster family after her entire litter was abandoned in a cardboard box on the side of a road. Enough to break any cold heart, we couldn't say no and brought her home to Titus and Oscar.
Months later, she seemed ready to start getting the feel of real duck hunting. Just as a penguin knows to waddle back to its birthplace to continue its lineage, Avery's retrieval instincts have been keen. She waded into water at 14 weeks and came back to drop a beanie baby-esque duck at my feet. Now, she prowls the land next to our house for the dead waterfowl trainers I chuck deep into the thick jungle grass.
We loaded up the boat late in the afternoon yesterday after another slept-in morning kept us from the hunt. It was unseasonably warm and a seemingly perfect day to bring the greenhorn retriever out to the river. Avery, already tired from a morning full of extremely loud guns, slept the entire way there. Once at the river, we dismounted and threw our small, black puppy into the boat. We donned our waders and DU drove away as I walked beside the boat. A bewildered creature if I ever saw one, Avery looked like she was the star of a Thanksgiving Day Parade float that had continue to drive, not realizing she was still in the back.
Avery merrily rode in the boat alone and equally enjoyed the boat ride to where we were going to set up. DU's new-to-us mud motor is an angry hornet flying on the water that makes a ton of noise. Had Titus or Oscar been in the boat, they would have been reduced to a puddle of neurotic canine goo in about 10 seconds. Avery couldn't care less while lifting her head high, deeply immersing her olfactory glands in the new scents never experienced.
We were quick to set up once we arrived to the spot, as the sun was setting quickly. Avery seemed interested enough in getting in, of course until we gently allowed her to drop into the freezing liquid. She looked at us like she did something wrong, that or she intensely hated us and wished she possessed the ability to set us on fire with her mind. Either way, she was none to pleased. Refusing to follow DU nor I in setting up the decoy spreads, we threw Avery back in the boat to shiver by herself. Once all was set up, we settled into the blind. Our little companion was still shivering (and I was a neglectful mother by forgetting her towel) so I thew DU's hoodie over her. Soon, she was happily snoring away while our guns rang.
The hunt ended with no ducks to show for it. While cleaning up our spread, I waded 30 yards away from the boat to gather our multiple decoys. In the distance, I heard DU laugh. Turning around, I noticed Avery's big girl form rising out of the boat distinctly growling as squirrels played on the river bank. As if saying, " I got your back, Momma. You might not be next to me but I'm still lookin out for you."
Finally cleaned up, we started back to the dock. Avery leaned against me, giving into the narcoleptic rhythm of the waves. I held her up, not minding to return the favor.
There are lows....
Today was another unseasonably warm day and I shirked off the notion to throw myself in the stand during another hot day where nothing would move. Instead, DU and I decided to take the trio on a family day trip to the land we hunt.
Simply saying the words, "Wanna go on a car ride?" brings the three into a euphoric uproar so infectious that they are barely unable to calm down the entire ride to wherever we are going. I could almost infiltrate their minds as they cataloged all the places we've gone in the car as they attempted to figure out our destination. Delusional Oscar probably figured we were going to a magical cheese land. Titus was possibly a tad scared that we were going to repeat the past by taking another 14 hour car ride back to New York. Avery was skeptically thinking that we were bringing her back to the cold river.
They torpedoed out of the truck once we pulled the doors open upon arrival. Running full speed in every direction, it was hard to discern one dog from another. Oscar and Titus continually ran through the gunky shallow water as a our retriever who is supposed to simply adore water looked on.
Playing "Who Can Run Faster" soon turned into "Everyone Chase Titus" and finally ended with 'Who can drink the most disgusting water?". Although I couldn't tell who won any of these games, it was clear they were having a blast.
I stared walking around the small pond and DU followed. The dogs dipped and dove out of view but always stayed within calling range. That is until something must have caught their eyes. As we rounded the bend, we assumed three dogs would heed our calls; there was only one.
Avery sat and eagerly looked to the place where her brothers should have been. A knot formed in my stomach and tears began forming behind my eyes. Call after call went unanswered. A silent forest mocked us as I questioned the whole day and reprimanded myself for allowing such an occurrence to happen. We searched and called for eons.
DU and I broke apart as I was instructed to take Avery to the car. Screaming various pet names and the peculiar call I created because I can't whistle that Titus is hyper-alert to brought nothing. Keeping Avery 2 inches from me, I silently prayed to God that they would be all right. Nearing the car, I gave in to the tears and broke down. Titus is mine to protect and never allow anything terrible to ever happen to him. Oscar is my step-puppy who gets more excited to see me than DU. Now they were in the woods. Scared? Hurt? Dead? Attacked? I didn't know.
I shakily drove through the land, quietly begging my babies to come find me.
The truck went over a hill and I caught the sight of DU's head. The tears rapidly multiplied as I realized he was looking down and he seemed to be alone.
Putting the car in park, I refused to look up for fear that my eyes would prove what my heart didn't want to believe. Then I saw two heads bounding towards me. Running ahead of DU, the dogs were happy as could be. But completely bloodied.
Falling out of the car, I gathered them to me and cried.
There is a lot of barbed wire fencing on the property we hunt and it seemed like Oscar got the worst of it. We figure that when we all go to the happy hunting ground in the sky, they will be able to tell us what really happened the day they ran from us. Oscar will insist it was the gnarliest thing he ever did and Titus will readily agree. But for now, we figure they chased a squirrel or something into the woods and got caught up on the fence. Titus' marks were less severe but scary none the less.
We drove home extremely thankful that the dogs returned to us and we could leave as a family. But I still felt guilty. I sit now, Avery's small body is reclining across half the couch, using Titus' snoring form as an ottoman and my arm as a pillow. Oscar is two rooms away sleeping off his injuries in our bed, wrapped up in a blanket, watching football. I keep waking him up just to make sure he's okay. He continually rises his head and looks at me through sleepy eyes. His tail wags happily and his signature body wiggle is in full effect. I know he's okay but I'm still not. We are blessed beyond words that everything turned out well but it could have been a much different story.
It's easy to take these canine companions for granted and reprimand them when they piddle on the floor or chew up your favorite pair of slippers. But it is necessary to keep in mind that they are the most loyal and beautiful creatures to ever grace the companionship of man. I feel thankful everyday that I have been blessed with the opportunity to be in the presence of them. They have taught me to give back what I am given. To love unconditionally and learn something new everyday. Most of all, I've learned to love life and never take anything for granted.
It's said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. That may be true, but I believe that one can never be too old to learn from a dog.