Game and Fish
End of Season Leaves Bird Dogs Distressed
03/01/2010 - By Robin Kepple
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I look at the clock next to the bed: 3:23 a.m. I lay there a moment,
wondering why I'm awake at such a ridiculous hour. And then I know.
Aspen, the 4-year-old Brittany, is howling and fussing in
her crate, heralding another day of pheasant hunting.
Frustrated, I climb out of bed and find my way out to her crate. I'm
angry because I know I'm going to have trouble getting back to sleep.
I walk over to the crate to let her outside and I notice she is
trembling. I instantly feel sorry for her because she doesn't know that
pheasant season closed two days ago.
I open the door to her crate and she bolts to the back door fussing and
whining in her special way that my friend Greg refers to as her "monkey
imitation." I open the door and she races out onto the deck, pausing
a moment at the top of the steps to inspect the backyard for any signs
of life. She'll have to settle for chasing rabbits out of the yard
because there won't be any pheasants to hunt today.
How can a pheasant hunter make his high-strung bird dog understand that
the season is over? Aspen spent the majority of the days during pheasant
season getting up in the early morning hours to go hunting. Why should
today be any different? To her, life revolves around hunting.
Greg has two Brittanies. Daisy is a couple years older than Aspen and
both dogs are determined hunting partners who share his passion for
pheasants. Like any good bird dog, Daisy gets excited when it*s time
to go hunting. She'll bark and spin in circles and then whine the
entire drive to the hunting site.
Aspen is an excitable dog on an average day but during pheasant season
she is nearly uncontainable. She trembles. She cries. She yodels. She
cannot stay still for a millisecond. It doesn't take much to get her
going: pick up a hiking boot or take a shotgun out of the closet and she
explodes into a whirlwind of anticipation. She'll race you to the door
and back. She'll tangle herself up in your legs as you try to load the
cooler and water jugs in the truck. She'll beg, plead and implore you
to take her hunting. I wish I could greet my job with as much gusto. But
when she finally understands that a hunting trip is not on the day's
agenda, her frustration is palpable.
As I watch her race through the backyard with her nose to the ground, I
wonder if dogs mourn the end of the hunting season as much as humans do.
Greg said he and the dogs cried all the way home on the last day of the
season. Maybe he was anthropomorphizing a bit, but I can sense Aspen's
despair as I let her back into the house and lead her to her crate so I
can go back to bed. Realizing she is not going hunting, she plops
herself down on her bed, rests her head on her front paws and lets out a
mournful sigh. She looks brokenhearted. And I ache for her.
A dog's life is short and consists of roughly a dozen good hunting
seasons. Aspen is nearly halfway there; Daisy is even further along. It
won't be long before they won't be able to handle the long days
afield, before the injuries of past hunting seasons begin to catch up
with them, before the pain in their joints becomes too much to bear and
they have to move aside for a younger dog.
As dogs, they probably aren't aware of any of this. But then again,
maybe they are. It would explain the despondent look Daisy gets on her
face when Greg walks out the door with his briefcase instead of his
shotgun. And it would certainly explain Aspen's sheer joy, exuberance
and elation as she attempts to squeeze every last drop out of every
single day of hunting season.