It’s always a heartbreaker to say goodbye to a dog, especially one as talented and eager to please as Birch, a handsome English pointer who was my closest hunting buddy for eight years. Fortunately, I happen to know that he is in Heaven—on Earth.
Having shared some 60 years of my earthly sojourn with canine friends , I am not unaccustomed to the sadness that is part of dog ownership—bidding a final farewell to my a Lab, Golden, Springer, Gordon setter, and English setter. I’ve been through that ritual many a time, and, yes, more than once I wiped away a tear or two. Dog owners know whereof I speak.
Thank Heavens, this time it was different.
Birch and I faced missing a third bird-hunting season because of my bum leg, and I decided it was time to do right by him. Even if I had to miss the joys of hunting the forests and fields, there was no reason Birch must.
I found a home for him.
Not just any home. In September, as Nature was just starting to paint the forests the autumnal reds and oranges and yellows, Birch went to live with a dedicated bird hunter and dog man, Bill Mollison, a lawyer from Fowlerville and a personal friend for more than 30 years. As I bid adieu to my canine companion, there was an element of envy in my final hug. I remain on the sidelines while he flashes though the aspens and alders in pursuit of ruffed grouse or glides through farm fields seeking the scent of Putin-tricky cock pheasants.
If I had any doubt about my decision, it was dispelled when I learned that just a few weeks after Bill took custody, he entered Birch in a Ruffed Grouse Society field trial. Amazingly, after not having been in the field in two years, Birch beat out 18 other grouse dogs and won the first place trophy. I have a photo of the runner-ups studying first-place Birch, wondering where the heck that guy came from).
As if Birch’s cup (or water bowl) were not already running over, he now lives on 10 acres instead of my city lot. Not only that, he now has a girlfriend. Her name is Sophie and she is an English setter, a breed that some people (before Birch) believe is the premier grouse dog. When not hunting, Birch and his significant other keep in shape running and chasing each over Bill’s acreage; that is, when they are not grouse hunting in the Houghton Lake area or stalking pheasants in Iowa, both of which they did for a week this fall.
And now I face my first Christmas in 40 plus years without a dog.
When I was 11, after I’d brought home every stray who came within a block of our Detroit home, my parents broke down and bought a tan cocker spaniel for me. Sandy lived for 11 years. Although, like me, he was a city boy (Fenkell and Wyoming area), he showed what he was made of when we wandered the fields next to the nearby railroad tracks. Suddenly he would put his nose to the ground and his rear end and tail would start wagging the speed of sound. Within yards, a cackling, colorful, rooster pheasant usually would explode from the weeds and disappear over the horizon. Sandy never actually got to hunt in front of a gun, but I was a bird-hunting convert from that first feathery explosion, even if it was only in my dreams until I was old enough to own a shotgun.
Sandy was followed by Princess, an adult Irish setter. She turned out to be an enthusiastic pheasant hunter, although she would not hold a point. She was followed by Suzie, a Springer Spaniel, and then Rally, a black Labrador retriever who got me into retriever field trialing. I was fortunate enough who find a talented black Lab puppy, Bigstone Flint, who started winning AKC derby field trials. I was able to sell him for enough to pay my way through law school. He went on to win the National Derby Championship and become a titled open-age field champion and amateur field champion.
Over the years I owned several other retrievers and a few pointing dogs, but I was always impressed with the beauty and majestic style of the English pointer, often nowadays just referred to as a Pointer. Then one day I found this little black and white guy who ran like the wind and radiated an eagerness to please like I’d never witnessed before.
And now I’ve said goodbye to him. I’ve told myself that if Birch is the last dog I ever own, my outdoorsman’s life will have been complete. And yet…
At home I have a dog calendar full of pictures of the top hunting breeds, and it has a saying: “Old age is knowing that you will never get to own all the dog breeds you dreamed of.”
Lucky me. I haven’t reached old age yet.