THE YORKIE (FINAL)
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.
An English springer spaniel.