RALPH BARTHOLDT: Hunting dogs make emotions run the gamut

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It wasn’t my intention to talk about dogs again, but when Nancy came home after walking The Beast, the topic of our German shorthair’s lack of social graces stuck in my mind like a face plant.

Nancy was resigned at the ugliness of our dog’s behavior in human company.

“Ill-mannered,” she said. “Jumping up on people.”

Add it to the incessant high-tailing, as high as a docked tail will go, during field work and the dog’s inherent sassiness, which was evident when we perused the litter a couple years ago and chose “growly” because of his spunk.

What sealed the deal on the pup was the breeder’s highly valued two cents.

“That’s my favorite one,” the breeder said, so we thought luck was with us, and we gave each other the “Nanu Nanu” sign.

In my mind, we’re lucky still, because during hunts The Beast locks on birds like a radar-guided missile set on seek and destroy.

A lot of dogs don’t.

Despite his lack of manners at baseball games, inside the fence of play parks and during leash walks around the pet-populated neighborhoods where we live, The Beast does exactly what his gene code demands.

He is a bird-seeking machine.

The rest is up to us, I suppose.

And that is why we do not feed him a gallon of buttermilk and a pound of hamburger in one sitting.

We could, mind you, but we know our gentle rearing of this tick-marked tongue-hanger sometimes leads to mishaps that lead to anger and a sort of tribulation only other owners of ill-mannered bird hounds understand. So, we cut out the trifecta of ground beef and buttermilk, and a post-meal doggie nap on the warm kitchen floor by the heat vents.

We have decided this fairly recently.

More specifically we adopted this rule last week, prompted by the story of another shorthair owner who described in detail the time “I almost shot my dog.”

This erudite and well-spoken hidalgo of the field admitted to filling, at times, once he got ticked, his dog’s butt with lead for ranging too far after quail and other upland game subject to gentlemanly pursuits.

But it was his own good intentions that once almost had this squire cross the line where one becomes a Wile E. Coyote or a Yosemite Sam in pursuit of the animated violence of retribution.

His pointer had worked miracles that day in the field, maintaining gracefully long casts and tight points and bringing harvested birds to hand without hesitation. As a reward, the hunter, accompanied by his new bride, stopped at the store on the way home from the hunt to a house recently purchased.

He wanted a gallon of buttermilk and a pound of burger as a treat for the dog.

“But she talked me out of it,” he recalls these years later.

At his new bride’s insistence, he purchased a quart of buttermilk instead with the pile of burger and fed it to the pointer with a smile and watched the dog gorge himself until he looked like the inflated drum of a skin boat.

You could have played Merry Melodies with a spoon on his belly.

The dog hunkered down in the kitchen and soon, fast asleep, dreamed of his exploits while whimpering, sleep-running and passing gas before the inevitable happened.

It happened all over the new floor like Texas crude from a just-tapped oil well, and the dog slept on until the hunter and his bride took notice.

This was a malodorous gusher and there was little recourse.

But, you see, here’s the rub:

Even after (give it a day) such a violent and unintentional intestinal storm, there is fondness.

Even after the bad behavior. The yapping and licking, and digging in the yard. Even after stealing food from people’s plates and the leg-lifting in places where etiquette is required, even then.

It’s forgiven, because.

Sometimes a blessing is standing in a field and watching for an hour or more as a pointer works the air and the ground, back and forth like a scythe or a swift and incongruous fan blade made of muscle and bone, ears and a nose.

A tight point and the patience to wait as the hunter approaches within range is a miracle too.

And not even a crude spill on a newlywed’s fresh kitchen floor will overshadow it.

It is the untamed miracle of the double helix made perfect in a quiet field away from the casual distortions and the white noise of fast-walking humanity that we see in a pointer.

And why we love these dogs so.

• • •

Contact Ralph Bartholdt at rbartholdt@cdapress.com.

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