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The Life of a Sporting Dog

Gone all too soon

Dogs’ lives are too short.
Their only fault, really.

–Agnes Turnbull

As I watched her clumsy frolic across the yard, attempting to catch the stuffed bear she had just tossed into the air, it was hard to believe that we had met almost 14 years ago. My dog, Sophie, a particularly comely German shorthair pointer, was just seven weeks old then.
    Our family had been without a dog for some time. Noticing an ad for a litter of German shorthairs in the pet section of the daily paper, my wife and I impulsively took a ride to the Eastern Shore just to look. Of course we did far more than look.
    The breeder, a woman of great knowledge and affection for GSPs, ushered us to her back yard. There, the whole litter of pups, some 10 or so, were engrossed in a wild melee.
    We noticed a small female in the middle of the scrum using her stature to unusual advantage. As her littermates attempted to dominate her, she dodged under and around the outdoor furniture scattered throughout the yard.
    Then, as she threaded through the forest of rough wooden legs and low seats, twisting and turning, she would double back upon an unprotected rear, sending that pup sprawling and rolling across the lawn.
    The breeder and her husband, a fellow bird hunter, tried to interest me in one of Sophie’s stouter littermates. But after meeting and holding the affectionate pup, we were not dissuaded.
    On the ride back to Annapolis, Deb drove while I held the pup. Alert at first, she peered out the car window as we departed her birthplace. Then she looked around us, curled up in my lap, pushed her head against my chest and slept all the way home.
    Our first few months together were an exquisite adventure. On our first trips to the Eastern Shore to exercise in a large, overgrown field, I would purchase a half-dozen or so pen-raised quail to release for her to seek out. She loved the game and became adept at locating the birds, pointing, then chasing after them for a few yards when I flushed them into the air.
    I marveled at how she mastered the sport.
    We were approaching the edge of a grassy field near where I had earlier released a quail when she went on an intense point. Sometimes if a gamebird sits for a time in one location, then moves on, the scent that concentrates in that spot will cause a dog to false point.
    That seemed to be happening because, as I kicked just about every bit of nearby cover, no bird flushed. The edge of that field was bordered by another field of freshly plowed vacant ground.
    I tried to call her off, but Sophie would not move. For every bit of five minutes, she continued to hold her muscle-quivering point.
    It was only when I looked over the abutting expanse of turned and barren earth that a tiny movement caught my eye. The quail was sitting 50 feet away, virtually invisible among the clods of dark brown dirt but in a direct though distant line with Sophie’s quivering nose. I never again doubted her.
    Those memories crossed my mind as I watched her returning across our yard with the stuffed bear held proudly. Then she stumbled and, unable to catch herself, fell. Slowly and with some confusion she regained her footing and resumed her way back to me.
    Sophie was failing and had been for some time. I doubted she would see Christmas this year.
    A dog’s only fault, I’ve read, is their short lifespan and Sophie’s was reaching its end. With a catch in my throat I welcomed her back to me, holding her and telling her what a great girl she was. It was all I could do.