There are two songs I associate with our ten year old yellow lab Poe.
One is Randy Newman`s ‘It`s a jungle out there’ the theme song from one of my favorite shows Monk. The other is ‘The Happy Wanderer’ although Poe generally doesn`t have a knapsack on her back when she sets off along the mountain tracks.
Before we moved up on our hill side farm ten years ago we lived in a trailer park. It was a very nice little park but they had a very strict indoor cat’s only rule so we were contented with our calico cat Bean. As soon as we were settled here on our own acreage though we wanted a dog, my daughter who was three at the time couldn`t wait to get a puppy! I suppose a cat who was already eight at that time was just plain boring in her eyes.
Of course much discussing went on between Mr. Yodeling and I as to what breed we thought would suit best. With a three year old in the house we ruled out any small, delicate and/or nervous breed right off the bat. We needed a dog that could take the robust toddler hugs and kisses with good humor. Also hubby wanted a hunting breed that he could train to flush and retrieve upland game birds, ruffed grouse and ring-necked pheasant mostly. So we decided upon a lab for our first family dog. They seemed to fit the bill for everything we were looking for in a lifelong companion. It`s a decision I have never regretted, we all simply love the breed, odd personality quirks and all!
We were fortunate enough to have a litter to choose from within a very short span of time after the dog decision had been made. A woman who worked in the senior home my husband`s grandmother was living in at the time had a litter of thirteen lab pups she was looking for good homes for! It didn`t take us long to leap on her offer of a free puppy let me tell you! When we arrived at their farm mom and all thirteen pups were there to greet us.
The decision on which puppy to choose can be a tough one but not in this instance, for as we sat amid the rumble tumble of the litter one pudgy little yellow pup came waddling over and climbed into my husband’s lap. It was right then that the bond was made between Mr. Yodeling and Poe as she would be named by my daughter. (Hey it could have been worse; she could be named Tinky-Winky.)
Poe, Mr. Yodeling and hunting soon became a fall staple. She was just a pup when my husband began taking her out in the field with him when he would go grouse hunting. Usually her short legs would tire and she would end up coming home tucked into his hunting vest but the love of the field was there from the beginning for her. As she grew each year he and she would set out in search of grouse in our state woods, or head down to the nearby lake where the game commission stocks ring-necked pheasant for our hunters and their dogs. By the time she hit her peak at about five years old she was helping my husband to bag forty some birds over the course of the season!
Of course, as all we dog owners know, each dog has their own little idiosyncrasies and personality quirks. Poe seems to have a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder that can best to described by relaying a story to y`all to be followed by an example of said disorder.
The story begins about six years ago after we had become the owners of another lab Trinity who you met earlier. Trinity was about six months old and it was summer when this story takes place. Outside our goat barn we have two piles-one is for manure that gets tossed out a large window and the other pile is hay that isn`t fit, we feel, for the goats. We peel the outer layer off the large round bales we feed and place it in a pile. Of course the goats will run out and eat the yucky hay like rabid hyenas that they wouldn’t touch if you put it in their mangers but I digress….
That summer some ground-nesting bees decided that the yucky hay pile seemed like a great place to set up housekeeping. Poe of course found the nest right off when we would do morning chores. She stood there still as a statue, her head cocked slightly and listened to the buzzing in the mountain of hay. Of course Trinity did as well since if Poe did something then it just HAD to be the thing to do! After a moment of silent listening and planning Poe then drove her front feet into the hay. Of course the bees didn`t think kindly of a sixty pound dog stomping on their house and retaliated. Both dogs were stung on their pink and black noses respectively and we assumed that would end the ‘Bee Game’ for Poe. We were wrong.
This dog could NOT leave those bees alone! Every single day she would streak down and dive feet first into the bees nest. Every-day. I kid you not. She would paw at her nose and leap and snap, yet her obsession with that humming noise over-rode her common sense! Trinity had learned her lesson the first morning after her face had swollen up so badly she could barely open her eyes. Having your people make you swallow a Benadryl along with the discomfort was all she wanted of the ‘Bee Game.’ Finally we ended up, or I should say Mr. Yodeling ended up, digging the nest out and disposing of it. I don`t do bees. Period. I swell up like a Macy`s parade balloon from a mere mosquito bite so I avoid all stinging insects as if they were Freddy Krueger.
Now that above story should show how Poe tends to lean towards some slightly obsessive tendencies. I`ll give you the example now to help drive home the point. If you are ever in my house and want to see a dog spend hours at a window, just whisper any word that begins with SQ. It doesn`t have to be squirrel, although she must assume any word that begins with SQ does in fact mean there is a squirrel in the yard. Merely mention squash, squeeze, squelch, squint, square or squid and her vigil begins in a flash. She will sit for hours waiting for the SQ word to appear, her head drooping as nap time tries to lure her from her post, yet she maintains constant vigilance. You just can`t relax when squash are milling about the yard apparently.
Poe also suffers from selective hearing, that’s a condition that many men also seem to suffer from I`ve noticed. She is, as my husband reminds me daily, a hunting dog. So when she goes out for her restroom breaks with the other two dogs she just seems to not be able to stay close by. She is a happy wanderer and will slip off without a sound to the woods behind our house, or the wide open field that sits across the hedgerow. I have no objection to that. It`s the way she can turn her auditory system on and off at will while she`s out a-wandering that fascinates me.
See if I stand on the front or back porch and call for her, well she may decide to hear me and she may NOT decide to hear me. But let Mr. Yodeling step onto the porch after I`ve yelled myself blue in the face and let out one small ‘H`yup!’ and lo and behold, her selective hearing kicks in and she comes back with a smile to match his. Hmpfh.
Of course even with her eccentricities we do love the old girl dearly. Much to her displeasure Poe has had to retire from her days afield. Her hips are quite bad from dysplasia and any running, even a short time playing with Trinity and Tinker in the yard, causes her a great deal of pain. I know my husband suffers the loss of her companionship in the wood nearly as much as Poe does. They were an inseparable team for many years.
Daily trips to the lake just she and he then stopping at the corner mart after a rousing day to share a celebratory Slim-Jim….watching the dog doing what she had been bred to do with pride…..hunting with his friends and having them compliment her drive and skill…..these are memories he will cherish forever. Her love of the hunt and the accompanying scars under her eyes from many a trip into rose bushes to flush a rooster to wing for her master, THAT is the bond of man and dog that retirement can`t take away from either of them. So here`s a chorus for old hunting dogs everywhere!
‘Oh, may I go a-wandering
Until the day I die
Oh, may I always laugh and sing
Beneath God`s clear blue sky!’