OFTEN ALONG ABOUT this time of year I get to thinking about my old hunting dogs.
There was Finn the Irish Wolfhound who liked to chase coyotes.
There was Boone the Basset Hound who liked to chase anything. He even got picked up by the Game Warden for chasing deer. He brought Boone back home because a Basset Hound just isn’t going to chase a deer very far. In fact, Boone wasn’t all that great of an all-around hunting dog anyway. He hated water or even getting his feet wet, and he never retrieved anything he didn’t eat first.
So, if you were planning on a Sunday chicken dinner using a grouse you just shot, you had better get to the bird before Boone did.
Then there was George, a five-dollar terrier-spaniel mutt that was like the Tasmanian Devil on steroids. By the time George retrieved a bird it was tenderized.
So, once again, if you planned on sharing the coveted game bird in a sumptuous repast with family and friends, you had best get to it before George did.
Then there was Bert the Airedale. Bert wasn’t much of a hunting dog, but it didn’t matter.
Whoever thought up the term “heart wrapped in fur” might well have been referring to the Airedale.
Being with Bert in the woods was like having a seeing-eye dog or, more precisely, a smelling-nose dog.
This country is so brushy it’s hard to see anything. And since a human’s nose isn’t near as sharp as a dog’s, they can tell you what they are smelling long before you can get a whiff. Bert could anyway.
You could tell what Bert was smelling by the way he growled.
He had a different growl for cougar or bear. Another growl for deer and elk, and yet another quiet growl if there were other humans about.
With Bert by your side, you could tell what was in the vicinity long before you saw it.
Maybe I don’t have a dog now because it’s just too hard to lose them.
You can sugarcoat it any way you want and figure that humans generally live longer than dogs, so we can have a lot of them in our lives, but that does us no darned good when we lose another one like Maisy.
She was just another chocolate lab in a fish camp when I met her.
I knew something was terribly wrong with her.
Labrador retrievers usually bark at you just as a sort of introduction and as a way to get you to throw them a stick or a ball — not Maisy.
She was curled up on her bed looking at the floor.
Was she sick? Did she eat a spawned-out salmon? That can make some dogs very sick, but no, Maisy had just spoken to her humans, the girls back home, on the telephone.
After the call she collapsed on her pet pillow in a fit of despair.
And why not? Here she was stranded hundreds of miles from home in a fish camp full of humans smelling like fish instead of ducks and geese.
Maisy hated fish and fishing. She wanted to go hunting.
I’ll never forget the look she gave us one afternoon as we were reeling in fish after fish.
Maisy sulked in the back of the boat. A huge flock of geese flew over.
She looked at the geese and looked at us with an expression of pure disgust.
Now she is gone to that great flyway in the sky, and we will all miss her.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected].