Love Dog

Tales of Vashon

“Love dog” is the command my brother uses to try to stop our two terriers from fighting each other.  Sometimes it works.  These two dogs are half brothers, as they were sired by the same father from South Africa, but had different mothers.  One is a rough coat, short coupled and goes by the name of Duffy, the same name as his South African father.  Duffy’s half brother Bentley has a smooth coat and is long coupled.   It’s probably the tone of Mike’s voice that makes the dogs stop fighting.

I’ve had many dogs over my lifetime, and Duffy is the best of all.  Terriers are not affectionate like the retrievers I grew up with or the Labrador that I sold the pups of to raise money for tuition to Seattle Prep.  I got $35 for the females and $75 for the male puppies.

And then there was “Old Boots,” a Springer spaniel that would greet anyone coming down our driveway at Cove with a stick or leaf or even a scrap of paper in her mouth, to let you know that she was a retriever and that she was bearing a gift.  She wouldn’t  give it to you when you offered to take it.  It didn’t matter if you were a friend or complete stranger.  Of course, she would wag her little stump of a tail to indicate how glad she was to see you!

Dad called Boots a “knot head” because she didn’t always obey him such as the time we were hunting pheasant in the fields south of Beall’s greenhouses.  Dad had missed a couple of shots in a row and that made Boots mad since she had worked hard to raise the pheasant  so they were in range and Dad blew it!  Boots took off on her own and all the wind on Vashon, thru Dad’s police whistle, wouldn’t bring her back.  For an hour we waited, when I saw the tall grass parting in front of us and here comes “Old Boots” with a wounded pheasant in her mouth, as proud as the devil himself.  Retrievers are known for having soft mouths so as to not bite down on the bird and make it uneatable in Mom’s kitchen.  Since Boot’s bird had been wounded by somebody else and had started to smell, Mom wouldn’t use it anyway and Dad disposed of the bird when Boots was safely hid in the trunk of our 1949 Oldsmobile.  That was so he wouldn’t hurt Boot’s feelings.  All our dogs rode in the trunk, with one of their retrieving dummies stuck in the crack between the trunk lid and the car body so the dogs had plenty of air.  A dog’s pride and loyalty had to be maintained.

“Dad, why is Boots always sniffing the outside air vent, “I asked?  Occasionally Boots was allowed to sit up front as we cruised the back roads of Vashon looking for a place to hunt.   “She’s just reading her newspaper,” Dad replied.  I later learned that a dog’s ability to smell is 10,000 to 100,000 more acute than ours.  That is why Boots could put her nose to the ground and follow the trail of a pheasant that could be hours or days old.  We could tell if the trail was hot or not by how excited Boots became.  Unlike Boots the spaniel, the Labradors cast back and forth across the field, with their noses in the air.  Pan and Mike could cover a field faster than Boots, but not as efficiently as the Spaniel who kept her nose to the ground.

I was in the 8th grade when I borrowed Mom’s 20 gauge pump and headed to the beach with an excited Labrador in front of me.  As we got close to the beach, Pan hunkered down as we could hear the chatter of Widgeon in the creek.  The brush was thick as I crawled to get close for a good shot when they spotted us and jumped off the water flying almost straight up to avoid the danger.  I fired two shots from the 20 gauge and six ducks dropped out of the flock and Pan went to work retrieving the ducks one at a time, until there were just two cripples left and Pan swam hard as the ducks raced ahead of her trying to get away.   The west passage of Vashon is almost a mile wide here at Cove and I began to be afraid that Pan wasn’t going to make it.  I could barely see her at a half mile when she caught up with one of the ducks, the other duck got away as Pan swam back with the Widgeon in her mouth.  She was slowing considerably as she approached the shore; the waves were washing over her as she climbed the bank, dropping the duck to shake herself off and then presenting her prize to me.

Five days later, Mom asked me what the five ducks were doing in the bottom of the freezer.  “They haven’t been cleaned or plucked,” was her irritated query.     I had no answer, just Pan’s heroic retrieval.