Daddy always had a bird dog, and the dogs were the best friends Dad had except for maybe T. A. Roop. And probably he would have chosen the dogs over T. A. at times – those two men played the awfulest pranks on each other!!
Buddy was the first bird dog I remember from my childhood. He was a big, strong liver and white, short-hair. I remember T. A., Mr. Cleo, George Kelley, Gilly Robinson, cousin Johnny Johnston, and little Davey Grubbs going hunting with Daddy and Buddy. This was when I was too little and too much of a girl to get to go with Daddy. Goodness, I just hated it – all those other people sharing that special time with my Daddy, and they always brought Buddy back too tired to play. How I loved that dog! And how I learned from that dog! Buddy and Daddy gave me my first lesson in racial sense and sensitivity. When I was four, Buddy got real sick and Dad took him to Dr. Montgomery, a Black veterinarian in Poteau. (It was very rare for a dog in our family to visit a Vet.) As Dad had feared, Buddy had cancer, and Dr. Montgomery’s attempt to remove the tumors was unsuccessful. The Dr. sewed Buddy back up and sent him home. Well, I needed someone to blame for Buddy being sick, so in a 4-year-old mind I decided that Dr. Montgomery had sewed Buddy up with the wrong color thread because he used black thread on one of Buddy’s white spots. Dad used that situation to teach me about people. He took me up to Poteau when Buddy got his stitches out and Dr. Montgomery explained to me what was wrong with Buddy, and Dad explained to me how many years a person had to work hard in college to become a Vet. Through Buddy and Daddy, at an early age I got rid of any racial prejudice that might have risen up in my heart and mind. Buddy was a great hunting dog and a great friend, and all Dad’s hunting buddies were sad to say goodbye to Buddy when the time came.
After Buddy died, we went through a couple of dogs that Daddy traded for. (It was very rare for Daddy to spend much if any money on a dog.) I remember one trip to Chillicothe, Missouri to get a dog. I have no recollection of why or what the connection was that led Daddy to Missouri, but my sister Judy was not too thrilled with (already-named) “Judy” the pregnant, long-haired orange and white bird dog who soon gave birth to 7 puppies. When they were weaned, Daddy sold those puppies and the mama dog, too. He kept one puppy from that litter, and I named him Chilli because he came from Chillicothe. (Dad conceded to let me name the dogs because he knew darn well he wasn’t going to let me hunt!) I remember how thrilled Dad was that first season with Chilli! His new dog could hunt, and Dad enjoyed the time he spent training him, and he was filled with pride that the hunting buddies thought he was another great dog. Right at the end of hunting season, however, Chilli ran out in front of a car and got hit hard. He was knocked out cold, but still breathing, so we loaded him up and went to see Dr. Montgomery. Chilli came to and staggered around the Vet’s office, and even though he was acting really strange, Dr. Montgomery declared him OK to go on back home and heal. Well, Chilli did heal, and how we loved him after the months of nursing him back to health. The smack on Chilli’s head left a huge knot on his forehead that never went away, but that wasn’t the only effect of the accident. When the guys took Chilli out the next year, he didn’t remember a thing about hunting. Dad had to completely retrain him. After a short while, he picked it back up and everyone was thrilled to see the old Chilli back out in the fields. Well, the next season – same thing – Chilli didn’t have a clue why he was in the woods. So Daddy retrained him, and he became a good hunter every year. I don’t remember what happened to Chilli, but into my life came Ginger. Yes, Daddy let me name HIM too, because again – he felt guilty that I wasn’t going to get to hunt.
Ginger, the orange and white, short-haired pointer was the dog for all time!! He played with me, he worked harder than any of Daddy’s other bird dogs, and he drove Mother crazy! That dog knew every time Mother had scraped the wax off the den tile floor on her hands and knees, and then rewaxed it. Every time, he would run past us and get on that floor and slide all up and down the length of the den on the fresh wax. June-Bug would pick up a newspaper or magazine or anything handy and slap at the dog and slap at Daddy until we got him outside. I can hear my Dad’s laugh this very minute! Mother also stayed mad at Ginger because in every Easter Sunday family picture, my frilly little dress had two muddy paw prints right on the front!!
Daddy and Ginger were fast friends, and Ginger was the best hunting dog ever! Usually every man would brag that his dog was the best, but with Ginger, they all agreed that he was the best hunting dog ever. And Ginger loved to hunt!! Mr. Cleo or George Kelley or T. A. or Gilly would stop by the house, and Ginger would run and jump in the back of their pick-up, just like they had a hunting date set. He was ready to go, and he often went hunting with those hunting buddies even when Daddy didn’t go. They didn’t even have to come to a complete stop because Ginger knew their trucks, and he would charge down that gravel driveway and leap into the back of the truck in the street. It could become a bit of a problem when those men were simply driving by, not on their way to the woods.
Ginger would get skinny during hunting season because he worked so hard, and I remember Dad would actually cook for that dog. Eggs to make his coat shiny, and when it was cold outside, Dad would heat broth and pour it over his dog food. I did get to go hunting with Ginger and Daddy one time, but there was a little incident with the gun and I don’t recall ever asking to go back again. When Daddy tried to teach me to shoot, he apparently forgot that unlike David Grubbs or John Charles Johnston, I had never shot a gun before. Well, he set me all up, but didn’t tell me about the kick (or whatever you call it). The gun jumped back and smacked me in the forehead, leaving a huge knot and a small amount of blood. Like a brave little trooper, I finished the hunt, but I was done with that!! I do remember from that day how fascinated I was by the work and the form that Ginger showed!
Bird dogs are a big part of my childhood memories – some hilarious, some sad, some huge lessons about loyalty and respect! Even Harry got to experience the extent of the treasured relationship between a man and his dog when T. A. Roop gave him a well-delivered piece of advice on our wedding day: “Harry, you’ve got to treat your wife just like you do your old hunting dog. You’ve got to be good to them, but you can’t be TOO good, or they won’t hunt for you!”
Why, you may wonder did all these bird dog memories come rambling back to me tonight? Well, these are my two newest Grandpuppies, belonging to my son Mike. They were about 11 weeks old when these pictures were taken. Looks to me like Mo would be really, really proud of the dogs and the young man who is training them!
Written with love for the men and the dogs in my life! Kathy Bain Dunn, 1/28/10