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Game and Fish

End of Season Leaves Bird Dogs Distressed

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03/01/2010 - By Robin Kepple

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.

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