THE YOR­KIE (FI­NAL)

SA Jagter Hunter - - VOORBLAD -

KO­BUS DE KOCK

He wo­ke up look­ing in­to the ple­a­ding ey­es of the dog. The ball of fluff sat on his chest. It was still dark out­si­de, and rai­ning by the sound of it. The bed was ni­ce and warm and he had the du­vet pul­led rig­ht up to his e­ars. So­me­how the litt­le mutt had cra­w­led all the way up to his chin and was blo­wing puffs of dog bre­ath in his fa­ce. “Dam­mit,” he said, “why don’t you ask your mot­her to ta­ke you out­si­de? Why must it al­ways be me?” They pro­ba­bly ha­ve a se­cret pact a­gainst me, he swo­re un­der his bre­ath.

He li­ked dogs. Ac­tu­al­ly, to be mo­re ex­act, he lo­ved wor­king dogs. Dogs t­hat ha­ve a pur­po­se in li­fe and the­re­fo­re me­an so­mething... gui­de dogs, tracking dogs and gun­dogs. Gun­dogs are his pas­si­on, spa­niels spe­ci­fi­cal­ly. All his li­fe he had spa­niels. S­hort­ly af­ter they got mar­ried they boug­ht their first spa­niel, a litt­le gol­den coc­ker. He was lucky for it sto­le his wi­fe’s he­art as well. They call it pup­py lo­ve. He just re­cent­ly re­ad in a Field ma­ga­zi­ne ar­ti­cle: “T­he­re’s no bet­ter way for a man to perk up his da­ting pro­fi­le than by po­sing with a pup­py. It gi­ves a w­ho­le new me­a­ning to picking up bi­rds”. Well, he al­re­a­dy had his bird and they we­re hap­pi­ly mar- ried, but still, in their ca­se it sort of ce­men­ted the re­la­ti­ons­hip. He wan­ted a bird dog and with his li­mi­ted k­no­w­led­ge the coc­ker soun­ded a­bout rig­ht.

The coc­ker’s fat­her was a de­coy in an an­ti­que shop, com­for­ta­bly lo­a­fing on a worn out loun­ger, the c­hair’s pro­tru­ding coir mat­ting an ex­cel­lent ma­tch for the coc­ker’s gol­den bro­wn hair. It pul­led in unsus­pecting fe­ma­les li­ke flies to a rot­ting pig. The shop’s o­w­ners we­re very hap­py with their de­coy’s re­sults, and the dog was al­lo­wed li­ber­ties no ot­her staff mem­ber could e­ven con­tem­pla­te.

Back then he knew no­thing a­bout shoot­ing, let al­o­ne se­lect- ing the rig­ht gun­dog for the rig­ht pur­po­se from wor­king li­nes and how to train it pro­per­ly. For­tu­na­te­ly the spa­niel si­red ex­cel­lent pups, with so­me an­cient hun­ting ge­nes still lin­ge­ring a­bout, and w­hen his ni­ne-month-old coc­ker flus­hed a pair of S­wain­son’s from a clump of reeds, ca­t­ching him and his ma­te still con­cen­tra­ting on emp­tying their e­ar­ly mor­ning blad­ders, he knew he had a keeper.

The coc­ker was fol­lo­wed by a li­fe­long lo­ve af­fair with En­g­lish sprin­ger spa­niels, be­cau­se the books said they are so much bet­ter than the coc­kers – a bet­ter tem­pe­ra­ment a­ny­way. Ap-

pa­rent­ly t­he­re was no good wor­king coc­ker ma­te­ri­al in South A­fri­ca. W­het­her t­his is still the ca­se he doe­sn’t know, the coc­kers seems to be ma­king a g­re­at co­me­back in the UK. But his sprin­gers we­re fan­tas­tic dogs. By the ti­me he col­lected his first pup­py from the ken­nels he had gai­ned so­me practi­cal ex­pe­rien­ce and ha­ve re­ad e­ver­y­thing he could lay his hands on. On the way back ho­me he saw his wi­fe crying qui­et­ly with the pup­py on her lap, “he’s so good, so bra­ve”. He just smi­led, t­his one too, he thoug­ht, was going to fit in well.

To­get­her they had mar­vel­lous ti­mes. With his the­o­re­ti­cal k­no­w­led­ge ra­pid­ly ce­men­ted by practi­cal ex­pe­rien­ce their re­sults star­ted to im­pro­ved. He at­ten­ded Wor­king Spa­niel T­ri­als, to see w­hat the­se dogs we­re re­al­ly ca­pa­ble of, and how it should be do­ne. And very quick­ly de­ci­ded he was hap­py the way they we­re doing t­hings, for mos­t­ly they we­re ha­ving fun. The stres­ses and strains of com­pe­ti­ti­ve dog work and shoot­ing was not for him. The sprin­gers ha­ve an e­a­sy wor­king way, and al­most train them­sel­ves. They are in­cre­di­ble re­trie­vers, lo­ving hou­se­ma­tes and to­tal­ly loy­al to their hun­ting com­pa­ni­ons. Dub­bed the maids of all work in the field s­ports wor­ld, no man could ask for a bet­ter com­pa­ni­on. A o­n­e­man dog if e­ver t­he­re was one, he lo­ved them to bits, and soon he be­ca­me a dy­ed in the wool spa­niel man.

The won­der­ful thing a­bout wings­hoot­ing, he al­so re­a­li­sed, is the mul­ti-fa­ce­ted na­tu­re of the s­port. The e­pi­to­me of which could on­ly be re­a­ched w­hen all as­pects are mas­te­red and broug­ht to­get­her in one ho­lis­tic at­tempt at a per­fect ten. Al­so, the s­pe­ci­al skills re­qui­red for shoot­ing on the wing, the en­du­ring and ar­tis­tic beau­ty of a dou­ble-bar­rel­led shot­gun, fiel­d­craft and dog trai­ning. So­me folks he re­a­li­sed spend a li­fe­ti­me stu­dying one as­pect al­o­ne, but he wan­ted mo­re, he wan­ted it all. He knew so litt­le and de­ci­ded to bro­a­den his ex­pe­rien­ce ba­se.

First he set him­self the tar­get of col­lecting most of the ga­me bi­rds a­vai­la­ble in the coun­try, ma­king gre­y­wing his first quar­ry. He and a ma­te tra­vel­led all the way to R­ho­des in the high Dra­kens­berg to be gui­ded by the le­gen­da­ry Dirk S­teyn­berg and for the first ti­me in his shoot­ing ca­reer he en­coun­te­red poin­ters. Now t­his was so­mething to­tal­ly dif­fe­rent he then thoug­ht. N­jos­ter was ac­tu­al­ly a drop­per, a poin­ter/set­ter cross, qui­te po­pu­lar in tho­se days in the Eas­tern Ca­pe. He mar­vel­led at t­his ti­re­less and far-ran­ging dog, and for the first ti­me he al­so re­a­li­sed the im­por­tan­ce of dif­fe­rent dogs for dif­fe­rent pur­po­ses. T­he­re and then he set him­self the task of not on­ly col- lecting as ma­ny of the dif­fe­rent ga­me bi­rds a­vai­la­ble, but al­so gai­ning the ex­pe­rien­ce of shoot­ing o­ver as ma­ny dif­fe­rent gun­dogs as pos­si­ble.

Red-win­ged fran­co­lin o­ver pu­re-bred poin­ters fol­lo­wed in the S­teen­kamps­ber­ge ne­ar Dull­stroom and then Ca­pe fran­co­lin o­ver Hun­ga­ri­an Vi­zs­las in the val­leys be­low Ba­bi­lon­sto­ring and B­rit­ta­nies ne­ar Na­pier. He star­ted shoot­ing with f­riends who o­w­ned GSPs, which he thoug­ht was pro­ba­bly the best dogs he e­ver shot o­ver, un­doub­ted­ly the best dogs for South A­fri­can con­di­ti­ons. But so­me we­re al­so the worst gun dogs he e­ver ca­me a­cross and he de­ci­ded he did not re­al­ly li­ke their tem­pe­ra­ment. Dra­ht­haar or Ger­man wi­re­hai­red poin­ters ma­de their ap­pea­ran­ce on his ex­pe­rien­ce list, and he im­me­di­a­te­ly fell in lo­ve with them. La­bra­dors and gol­den re­trie­vers just ma­de him lo­ve his spa­niels e­ven mo­re. He wa­t­ched an I­ta­li­an spi­no­ne strut­ting his stuff and fol­lo­wed be­hind red and L­le­wel­lyn set­ters and soon re­a­li­sed his k­no­w­led­ge of set­ters was in­a­de­qua­te. He pro­mi­sed him­self a vi­sit to Tar­ka­stad to at­tend a Bor­der Field T­ri­al to wa­tch and le­arn a­bout the­se gra­ce­ful dogs. Big Sky coun­try his con­tact said, he will lo­ve the ex­pe­rien­ce. The Eas­tern Ca­pe is ap­pa­rent­ly the strong­hold of the­se beau­ti­ful dogs. He ne­ver ca­me a­cross wor­king Wei­ma­ra­ners and flat-co­a­ted re­trie­vers and spe­cu­la­ted a­bout the re­a­sons for the­se ex­cel­lent wor­king dogs not re­al­ly fe­a­tu­ring in South A­fri­ca.

And then, most im­por­tant­ly, he be­gan to re­a­li­se t­hat to e­very man his dog was the best. You would ne­ver be a­ble to con- vin­ce them t­hat their Jack Rus­sell Ter­rier was not an i­de­al gun­dog, or t­hat their sausa­ge dog t­hat re­trie­ves the ten­nis ball so ti­re­les­sly is not going to ma­ke it in the field. And you bet­ter not cri­ti­ci­se them in any way, le­st you want to get rid of all your f­riends. They sim­ply will not un­der­stand, nor do they want to un­der­stand. Fat­her f­or­gi­ve them, he qui­et­ly thoug­ht, for they do not know the dif­fe­ren­ce. The man be­hind the dog being just as im­por­tant as the dog it­self!

He in­ten­se­ly dis­li­ked stoep­kak­ker­kies and be­we­ra­sie­brak­kies and kef­fer­tjies and a lot of ot­her dogs too, in his mind they we­re u­se­less mis­cre­ants of man’s ex­pe­ri­men­ta­ti­ons. But, he le­arnt to keep qui­et a­bout ot­her pe­op­le’s dogs. And then his wi­fe wan­ted to buy a b­loody Yorks­hi­re ter­rier. Tho­se litt­le snap­ping hai­r­balls with pig­tails and bows on their he­ads. They spo­ke a­bout it for so­me ti­me... Ar­gued a­bout it. It would be a ni­ce com­pa­ni­on for her w­hen he was in the bush, she said. Why don’t she co­me al­ong, he coun­te­red. They are che­ap to feed, she said, they eat so litt­le. T­hat is ex­act­ly the point, s­mall dogs lo­se their teeth from being fed from the ta­ble, he said. They don’t shed hair, she said, they are c­le­an. He was qui­et then. He knew his spa­niels should re­al­ly stay out­si­de. Their co­ats so­meti­mes we­re a mess, es­pe­ci­al­ly w­hen they ca­me back from a shoot all wet and mud­dy. The silt from so­me of the pans is par­ti­cu­lar­ly bad. But the dogs al­ways look so cold and mi­se­ra­ble. They wor­ked so hard, gi­ving e­ver­y­thing they had just to ple­a­se him. How could he for­ce them to stay out­si­de shi­ve­ring and wet whil­st he has a hot sho­wer and warm bed wai­ting for him? Be­si­des, he li­kes his dogs’ soft sno­ring at the foot of their bed; t­hat deep con­ten­ted sleep, so­meti­mes still run­ning in their d­re­ams, still c­ha­sing the one t­hat al­most got a­way.

They are smel­ly too. Rot­ten marsh could ne­ver be mar­ke­ted as an aphro­di­si­ac, he knows. Neither did she li­ke wa­king up with ticks cra­w­ling through the sheets. She was very good a­bout it though, very pa­tient with him and his dogs. But then, she said, it was her turn now. He could not ar­gue a­ny­mo­re. They see­med to ha­ve re­a­ched a stale­ma­te. Af­ter t­hat t­hings went qui­et and for mont­hs they did not bro­ach the sub­ject a­ny­mo­re. He thoug­ht it was all o­ver, till t­hat mor­ning af­ter the shoot w­hen he took her cof­fee to the room. His di­sap­point­ment was com­ple­te w­hen he re­ad the no­te she had left him on his pil­low. She said she was off to Jo­han­nes­burg to col­lect the b­loody mutt.

F­lip­ping the du­vet to the si­de he scoop­ed the mop up in one hand and wal­ked her to the kit­chen. The Yor­kie ga­ve him a lick on the chin. He smi­led. B­lêr­rie blik­sem, he grew to li­ke her too, and o­pe­ned the back door for her to check the post. It was ti­me to ma­ke cof­fee a­ny­way.

The Yor­kie ga­ve him a lick on the chin. He smi­led. B­lêr­rie blik­sem, he grew to li­ke her too, and o­pe­ned the back door for her to check the post.

Pho­to: Ko­bus de Kock.

An En­g­lish sprin­ger spa­niel.

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