Abby wasn't a bird dog, but she was great at catching snakes. She wasn't much for fetch, but she loved when you threw rocks (but she wouldn't retrieve them). And she was an expert at playing keep-away with one of your shoes. We grew up in rural Ohio together, and on every adventure to the woods or around the farm, Abby was by my side. At night, she slept in my bed, and we would fight over whose head got to lie on the pillow--she usually won.
It was hard saying goodbye to Abby when I went to college. I had to watch my dog grow old from afar, and it hurt every time I left her after holiday breaks. My first heartbreak came when I got the call from my mom telling me it was time. Abby had become so frail that I had to carry her into the vet's office to be put down. I've never cried so hard in my life.
I wasn't sure I could ever love a dog as much as I had loved Abby. But a few years later, I fell in love for the second time.
I remember the night he came home like it was yesterday. But in reality, it was six years ago. I was living in the big city after college and fresh into my career. I was dreaming about getting another dog to come home to and adventure with when he came to me as a surprise gift for my birthday.
I fell in love with that chubby puppy as soon as he was placed in my arms.
He was a beautiful, strong retriever. I named him Lincoln.
At the time, I was not a bird hunter, so training Lincoln to hunt wasn't even a thought. But it was important to me to have an obedient dog. He was smart, and quickly caught on to commands such as sit, lie down, and stay, and he would ring bells on the doorknob when he had to go to the bathroom. But even with those accomplishments, I had moments of frustration with my pup. Carpet cleaner became my best friend. One of my favorite boots met its demise. And on an early attempt to train him to be out of his kennel during the day, a young Lincoln ransacked my condo. The contents of my kitchen trash can littered my living room, along with playing cards and game pieces from a board game box that no longer existed.
He was your typical puppy. There were moments of complete frustration and adoration. But the reason I love Lincoln the most is because he made me a bird hunter.
When Lincoln was two, we were invited by friends to a dog training day. I pointed out that he was not a hunter, and had never even smelled a bird. I was assured that he couldn't screw anything up, and that this was just for fun. In just a few short hours, I watched my young dog catch on and flush and retrieve a rooster. I could have burst with pride as he trotted across the field with a bird in his mouth.
He would flush and retrieve two more roosters that day. It was then that I decided it would be a shame not to train him to hunt birds.
Together, we became bird hunters. I hid bumpers around my yard for him to find, taught him directions for blind retrieves, and to deliver birds to hand. He taught me to trust his nose, a sense of adventure, and unconditional love.
That chubby puppy and I grew together during the most vital years of my life--when I needed him most. The hunting adventures we've shared are some of the best memories I will ever make.
I hope there is a puppy that has affected your life as much as Lincoln has mine. This issue is dedicated to those unholy terrors--and all the joy they bring to us at home and in the field.
See you in the wild,