Wel­come Home

There are cer­tain phrases that roll out so eas­ily they de­serve a manda­tory cool­ing off pe­riod. ‘Hold my beer — watch this’ is a hardy peren­nial, along with ‘just give it a thump’ and ‘it’s not that deep’. If you’ve ever been rash enough to let slip with ‘

Field and Game - - ACROSS THE DITCH -

‘We should get a puppy’ can go ei­ther way. It might be the sloppy start to a care­less re­la­tion­ship, as any­one who has walked the cell blocks of the local pound can tell you. Talk about a boule­vard of bro­ken dreams. Or it can be some­thing so good it will mark you for life.

I gen­er­ally en­joy my dogs one at a time, so the de­ci­sion only comes up rarely. When it does there’s time to en­joy it — the re­search, the yarns with mates, the cast­ing of crit­i­cal eyes over sires and dams. It’s not ob­sess­ing over de­tail, just a sim­ple prob­lem — I can’t af­ford a no hoper — but Mrs R finds it hi­lar­i­ous. She told me once that Popes have been elected with less rig­ma­role than me choos­ing a gun­dog.

There’s an old say­ing with work­ing dogs that you get out what you put in, and for me that starts with their par­ents and breed­ing, not just in train­ing. A good worker will be born with more in his blood than you’ll ever teach him. Get that right and the rest comes along much more eas­ily.

I’ve run GSPS for a quar­ter of a cen­tury, half of that in Aus­tralia, and still find my heart skips a beat when one swings into a stone cold point. But where I live now on the South Is­land isn’t the wide coun­try that big run­ning dogs thrive on. There are ducks on the river five min­utes away, quail and pheas­ant and rab­bits in the tan­gles and black­berry. My short­hairs have done it, but cold wa­ter re­triev­ing and beat­ing through the thick stuff isn’t play­ing to their strong suit. You can cut steak with a spoon, but a knife is a lot eas­ier.

You know what comes next, the great Spaniel v Labrador War. Two choices really, set­tle in and bring pop­corn, or just walk around the whole ar­gu­ment. I went in with the view that a well-bred pup in ei­ther breed would do me just fine, and still think that way. But life has a way of in­ject­ing re­al­i­ties into the sit­u­a­tion — if you want a sum­mer pup (and I do, es­pe­cially with young kids to fac­tor in) then you have to see what’s on the ground out there.

And so af­ter many leads we fi­nally came to a lit­tle fel­low up on the North Is­land. Bred by a pro­fes­sional game­keeper to strong work­ing lines, proven par­ents and a bonny lit­tle chap, but I learned gun­dogs from a vet­eran who would damn near look at a pup with X-ray vi­sion, past the cute and deep into struc­ture. And it was also from her I learned the true value of a really well-bred lit­ter — that you can pick al­most any one of them and they’ll be good.

And then sud­denly, with all the home­work done, it’s the eas­i­est thing in the world. Yes, we should get a puppy. This one and no other, be­cause I’m dream­ing al­ready — and as they say, dreams are free. They’re part of gun­dog life and if they’re not then it’s time to quit. I look at him and a name comes from nowhere — a tough old Ir­ish­man who was good and gen­tle with dogs, and who de­serves to be re­mem­bered — and once there’s a name, you know it’s game on.

Pup­pies and dreams go to­gether — vi­sions of crisp au­tumn morn­ings, the mud and squalls of win­ter, the birds in hand, the thou­sand lit­tle ges­tures that pass silently be­tween good friends. We must saviour th­ese dreams like the finest sin­gle malt. We need them, be­cause what also comes with the pack­age are the tough mo­ments when it all goes to hell for a lit­tle while, when you need to be pa­tient. And to sea­soned eyes there might just be a faint glimpse of a far­away day you don’t want to think about — and shouldn’t, be­cause if there is any point to a puppy at all it’s that they are a joy to be around, an es­cape from the wear and tear of the world. A pup is all about hap­pi­ness, right here, right now.

With luck, a gun­dog is a mate for a dozen years. For them it’s a life­time of loy­alty, and all that they will ever know. We won’t let you down, lit­tle guy.

Wel­come home, young Tom.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.