I thought I would share a story for those Friday night fellows taking it easy. I am sure many of you dog owners can relate to this story. I am a bad writer so I am sorry for the bad wording ahead of time.
The life of my bird dog Abby Tekoa Smith.
12 years ago in Washington Michigan, in the back of a dusty barn my father and I found a box full of English setters, a bred line known as Tekoa Sunrise setters. I was 13 years old, fresh out of hunters safety and the thought of a furry hunting companion was as exciting as getting my first shotgun (Remington youth 870 20 gauge). We picked the only chestnut colored pup in the bunch; she was also the only one crying obnoxiously the whole time I held her (typical women thing!) “Thank you Larry” my dad said and we drove her home to Troy. My mother being a huge anti-hunter thought Abby was created by the devil himself and did not want to have anything to do with her. Which was fine with us! My little sister somehow won the battle of naming her Abby, which turned out okay.
A couple weeks later after school, I rode my bike to the underpass of I-75 interstate, trying to catch a G*damn pigeon…and yes pigeons are way too fast to try and catch by hand. Luckily they forget they live under a busy bridge and when I flushed them they flew into oncoming traffic. Worked out nice I’d say (not for the peoples cars though). I filled my pockets with a couple of mangled birds and headed home. I threw one in the grass and let Abby after it. With her little wobbly legs she stopped in her tracks, head down, tail up and LOCKED. It is still to this day one of the coolest acts of nature I have ever seen.
The first few days we noticed she had a bad limp, which is a big concern for a bird dog owner. We had to make a decision to keep her and hope it was not genetic, or trade her in for another. We thought hard and my father said “she just seems like the right one for us”. We decided to gamble.
About a week later we all headed to my grandmother’s house, which is an all day trip. We left Abby in the fenced in area outside. When we returned the meter reader dude had come to check our meter and left the gate open. Abby was gone and I was crushed. 3 weeks went by and we had one report of her being sighted 3 miles away at a busy intersection. My dreams of having a bird dog vanished. But, this isn’t the end of her life. Don’t worry! 4 weeks after she has been missing, I heard scratching at the garage door. I peeked out the window, saw nothing and went back to shooting chipmunks with my bb gun from the backdoor. Again I heard scratching, I opened the door this time and there was little Abby, muddy with burs in her fur, cuts and scars but she was still wagging her tail. How did she make it back home? I do not know. Her limp was also gone!
Fall had arrived and after a summer of hard training on car crushed pigeons, pen raised quail and chukar, we took her out to the nearest public hunting area called Mount Holly. Not even a year old, her electronic color looked ridiculous on her skinny neck. Off she went into the woods, as we lost sight of her. My dad blew the whistle “cheerp cheerp”. Nothing. “Cheerp Cheerp” Nothing again. “Abby come”, “Abby come” we yelled. Still Nothing. My dad hit her electronic collar on high. Nothing. My dad left me at that spot as he ventured into the woods. 7 hours had passed and I see a police car arrive dropping off my dad. “We found her” he said. I remember thinking; we are never taking this dog hunting again. We already lost her twice. By this time she has become a friend, an escape from my anti-hunting mother. She was more than just a dog.
Well… we all know you can’t have a hunting dog and not hunt it right? They love it, it was what they were born for. It is who they are.
So, after a year we took her up north, where the woodcock and grouse roam the ash and poplar forests. The smell of pines and fresh leaves filled the air. We let her go. She stayed close working into the wind on angles. It was picture perfect. 15 minutes into our hunt she disappeared once again. She was following our commands so well all summer. I was again devastated. How could we lose her again? My father called and yelled, and hit the collar again on high. Nothing, we walked toward where we last saw her, and just above the tall ferns we saw a little white tail sticking up. “point” I yelled to my father. So we walked up to her, she still stood strong, even after we yelled and zapped her a few times (rookie mistakes). She never moved. I took a step forward and a grouse flushed into thick poplar trees. I threw my barrel up and shot twice. Abby broke point and ran off into the thick. “Did you get it” my father mumbled. “Uh, not to sure” I replied. We were never going to find this bird in this thick stuff I thought. “Dead Bird” we yelled off into the trees. Soon after hearing her little bell jingling, Abby came running back, mouth full of feathers and she jumped up on my chest, dropped the bird in my hand and licked me in the neck with her bird breath.
In today’s society, we forget how to live in the moment. Life goes by every day and we get in our routine, time passes by and we tend to care about the wrong things. For that moment in my life, I can honestly say… as I held the bird up, looking at all the beautiful marking on its feathers, that I was living in the moment. I was high, high on life-living in the current moment. This is why I care about hunting so much. It’s not about the killing, but the intangible moments of a hunt. I got the bird mounted on my wall still to this day.
The next year, Abby turned two. One cool late summer night, she scratched on my door and I opened it. She started running down the stairs, but came back to make sure I was following. She took me down the stairs and to the garage. The smell of gasoline fumes infested my head. My father, sitting in the front seat of his 1989 Chevy Suburban had a lighter in his hand. I opened up the passenger side and looked at my father as Abby climbed in my lap. He was crying. Gasoline was poured all over the vehicle and on the seats. My mother at this point stood at the door way yelling something, we didn’t care about. I looked my father in the eye, grabbed Abby and said, if “you’re going to take your life dad, you’re taking us with you”. I never stopped to wonder why all the sudden my father was depressed. It hit me blind side and again, I found myself living in the moment, this time it wasn’t a good one. I closed my eyes and held Abby’s shaking body, tuned my mother out and thought about the great hunting season we had together. When I opened them, my father was inside getting into it with my mother. Abby became my escape, she understood the bad situation that had erupted in my life. 2 weeks later, my father told me he was going to the market…before he left I said, “I can’t wait to hunt opening weekend with you and Abby dad”…”yes” he said, “it will be a great time”. That was the last time I ever saw my father.
After my father’s passing, right before opening day of bird season, I grabbed my truck and Abby, packed all my clothes, took my money I saved from cutting lawns in the summer, and headed up north. Living out of my truck with Abby in the woods for that fall I learned a lot about myself. A companionship with an unhuman existence, hunting grouse and woodcock taught me trust, love, honesty, commitment and much more. I remember our last day that season, dropping out of high school I knew I was headed down the wrong road. I sat among a hill overlooking the yellow, red and orange colors of the autumn forest. It was the last hour before dark, when the suns shine turns a deep golden orange. The time of day when the wind dies down, the leaves stop falling and the woods become silent. I call it the golden hour. The time when the deer start to move, the turkeys roost and time itself seems to stands still. Abby sat next to me watching the forest as I did. I knew I had to get my shi* together and suck it up. I smiled as darkness crawled in, packed my truck and headed back to home. Picking it up in school, I graduated high school early that spring. I enrolled in aviation school in Florida and took Abby with me. From here we would fly above the long beaches of eastern Florida. I took her everywhere I went. We hunted quail in the muggy heat of Georgia, the hills of Tennessee, grouse in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She walked the streets of time square in New York and the long sunsets of California. With her, I found myself. She understood what words could not express. She grew old next to my side.
Heading back to Michigan to finishing my college degree in Engineering, I took her on her last hunt 2 years ago. She had a hard time hearing me or the whistle, but she was an old pro. She had a hard time seeing, but her nose guided her through the same thick forests I grew up hunting with her. She remembered these woods like it was yesterday. She pointed her last bird, I knocked it down. She could not jump on my chest anymore to hand me the bird and I knew that it upset her. She curved up and laid down on the pine covered ground, out of breath. I gave her a pat on the head and said “it’s okay girl, you still got the hunt inside you”.
It’s funny how something so, so unhuman has so much character, so much personality and is so full of life. I am lucky god gave me such an amazing companion. Last December, as the sun began to set, in the golden hour of the corn fields surrounding my house Abby limped across the yard to my truck. I spent the last hour of her life going for a drive down our old dirt road-remembering the smell of the northern pines, the feeling of a good shot on a grouse and the taste of feathers. It was a lifetime of hunting, adventures and nights by the fire. She rests her head on my leg as life began to drift. I knew she was the only thing left in this world who truly knows my story. She was the last thing I had left of my father. I had been scared of this day since first day I held her as a screaming little pup. I carried her out of my truck and in my arms her heart beat one last time. There is never a good time to leave this world...but there was someone on the other side waiting to see her. There probably aren’t enough birds in heaven to satisfy her hunting instinct. I buried her next in the woods where we once hunted, the same woods I threw my father’s ashes. How do you say goodbye to something once so full of personality and life? The answer is simple…you don’t. That was the last time I ever lost her. Thanks for reading this long story! Good night!