joe is leader of a mot­ley pack

Outdoor Life - - CONTENTS - BY JOE ARTERBURN

The first Gabe was a tiny golden retriever I met when Dad opened the front door, set the puppy on the liv­ing room floor, and said, “Happy birth­day!” I picked the pup up, looked in his eager face, and be­came a dog owner.

His name came from a Fal­staff beer com­mer­cial fea­tur­ing two guys, Gabe and Walker.

The se­cond Gabe was a $25 yel­low Lab we picked from a lit­ter when our two old­est boys, Hunter and Jack, were lit­tle and our youngest was yet to be born. Hunter and Jack, who hadn’t known the first Gabe, read­ily ap­proved the name. When we were ex­pect­ing our third child, I sug­gested to Cathy that Gabe would be a good boy’s name, but she said we weren’t go­ing to name a son af­ter a dog. Or two dogs. Or a beer com­mer­cial. So we went with Sam in­stead.

As the se­cond Gabe be­gan to age, grow­ing stiff and gray, we de­cided to get another yel­low Lab as a com­pan­ion for him. I thought we should pick the most ram­bunc­tious, big-footed pup of the lit­ter. So we did, and we named him Cooper.

Cooper was too much for Gabe—and, frankly, for us. Our back­yard be­came too small. That cute pup grew into a block­headed, de­struc­tive devil-dog whose rough­hous­ing was driv­ing Gabe to­ward an early grave. He chewed ev­ery­thing (What hap­pened to the stair ban­is­ter? Cooper ate it.) and peed acid that browned back­yard grass overnight. The fi­nal straw was when he stripped the bark off the young maple we had planted and nur­tured as the cen­ter­piece of our cob­ble­stone pa­tio. We gave him to a farm fam­ily with room for Cooper to be Cooper.

“How’s he do­ing?” we asked a while later. “Oh, he bulled through a wire fence and we had to take him to the vet for stitches,” his adopted owner said.

The se­cond Gabe fi­nally wore out. One morn­ing I heard him whim­per­ing and found him un­able to get up and out of the way of the back­yard sprin­kler. I told Cathy we had a de­ci­sion to make. But Gabe made it for us. Dur­ing lunch that day, Sam found him in the yard, peace­fully gone. Cathy, the boys, and I took the rest of the day off and drove Gabe to our cabin on the lake where he liked to run, roam, and swim. We buried him, wrapped in his fa­vorite blan­ket, on the edge of the shel­ter­belt be­hind the cabin. The boys found a rock to mark his grave.

“No more dogs,” said Cathy, who can’t re­sist big dog eyes that go from sad to happy with a pat on the head. I thought we’d stay dog­less for a while to see how it went. But Hunter heard about a lit­ter of yel­low Labs, and that’s how we came to have Quigley (Cathy’s grand­mother’s maiden name).

Quigley cost 50 bucks. A bar­gain, right? Sure, if you don’t con­sider—so far— dew-claw re­moval, shots, li­cens­ing, and that emer­gency run to the vet for a wall­eye jig­ging spoon dan­gling from his nose.

Quigley is not a great hunt­ing dog, and nei­ther were the Gabes, for that mat­ter. Will­ing, eager, and trained to fetch, come, heel, sit—the ba­sics. Own­ing good fam­ily dogs is enough, I guess, but we re­ally should have pol­ished their train­ing. They thought it fun to chase a downed pheas­ant and maybe carry it to­ward you. They thought be­cause they had caught the bird, it was up to you to claim it from them.

Once, on a dove hunt, the se­cond Gabe went on a re­trieve with one of my bud­dies. When they re­turned, we asked, “Where’s the bird?”

My buddy frowned at Gabe, who was smil­ing a happy, sat­is­fied Lab smile.

“He ate it,” he said.

But what­ever my dogs lacked in hunt­ing prow­ess, they al­ways made up for it as faith­ful com­pan­ions. Quigley is eight now and gray­ing at the muz­zle, but he still has the en­thu­si­asm of a pup.cathy says no more dogs af­ter him. But I’ve heard that be­fore.

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