Something’s wrong. Inexcusably wrong. A full-page newspaper ad celebrating a boy and his dog sitting side by side looking out on a lake, the waves gently rippling the water’s surface. But, wait, something’s amiss. Big time.
The dog is not real. He’s a mechanical creature, a robot, a zombie monster who never barks out of turn, or pees on the rug, or tries to sneak up onto the couch. No furry ears to ruffle or soft brown eyes to gaze into.
It’s a sacrilege is what it is. Profaning the image of a boy and his dog. I’d like to get my hands around the neck of that ad writer and squeeze until he howled for mercy. Better still, I would like to meet the investment firm exec who approved the ad and have the German shepherd I’ve always wanted to own attach himself to the idiot’s leg. Better yet, I’d have a Chesapeake Bay retriever fetch the dummy to me.
Why so outraged? Because the picture of a boy (or a girl, for that matter) and his dog is sacred, especially if it’s his first dog. Yes, sacred. The bond between a kid and his canine opens the door to the world of nature, to all that is beautiful and wild in this physical universe we inhabit. Indeed, this relationship with one of God’s creatures is the threshold leading to an appreciation of not only the mysteries of the visible world but also to those truths that so often lie just beyond our vision.
Over the top? Me? Yeah, probably. But since my earliest days I have always recognized something special about these descendants of the wolves who hung around primitive man’s camp sites. Somewhere along the line a partnership developed. Mister, I’ll use my superior nose to find our dinner, you shoot him with that bow and arrow thing you carry around. We share the meat. Deal?
Or, look, you knock that duck or goose out of the sky and I’ll swim out and bring it back. While you roast it over the camp fire, I’ll chase away those pesky foxes and coyotes hanging around drooling over the thought of Duck de la Orange. Shucks, I’ll even take on that blustering bear—assuming of course you’ve got my back with that thing you call a spear.
Yes, I was that boy by the lake. And Sandy, my blond cocker spaniel, was anything but a robot. He was a real dog who made a pact with the Latreilles who lived on Washburn in Detroit and lived a full life for 11 years. He was my dog, of course, the fruit of my years of bringing home stray dogs, wandering cats, lost rabbits, and wounded robins. My parents finally gave up and bought a dog.
Sandy joined us when I was 11, and he lived for 11 years, until the day cancer took him away. I was 22 then, just out of college, waiting for the draft to collect me. Sandy was with me though those turbulent teen years. Maybe he helped my keep my head on straight. In any event, I survived those years, as did my poor parents.
A purebred cocker, Sandy still retained a lot of the instincts that made the breed so popular with the gentlemen hunters on the English estates. We lived in the city but the nearby railroad tracks were bordered by vacant fields where we kids used to wander, often flushing pheasants and on occasion a covey of quail. I was fascinated by the way Sandy would rush around sniffing and quivering with excitement just before a colorful cock pheasant exploded into flight, filling the air with its cackling protests. There was more to the little guy than long ears and soulful eyes, Much more.
I was not from a hunting family, but a seed was planted in those weedy fields in northwest Detroit, and before long I was learning to handle a shotgun and train a gun dog. Sandy never really got to participate in a real hunt, but his successors did, for aside from the bond of affection between dog and man, I have always been fascinated by the way humans have refined and perfected the canine instincts to produce great working dogs, so remarkable in hunting and herding canines. The proud pointing dogs we see in outdoor art are the product of careful breeding standards over generations and sometimes centuries, as are the retrieving talents found in our Labs and Goldens and Shorthairs.
Now, looking back from the sunset years of my existence on God’s earth, I cherish the memories of my many canine companions. Next to family, faith, and a wonderful career, my dog companions are a cherished bright spot in my life. I have lost count, but their number include black Labs, golden retrievers, a Gordon setter, springer spaniels, English and Irish setters, and now an English pointer.
I am currently getting in shape after a hip replacement and plan on a full return to the woods and fields behind a fine hunting dog, I even thought of how nice it would be to have another Lab—or even another blond cocker like Sandy. Maybe both. Just a dream?
Oh, to be that boy again, sitting there imagining the bass and pike lurking down deep, maybe my arm around a Sandy. And you can bet that he’ll have fur, not a coat of armor.