Driving Dixie to point a quail for the last time about a month ago reminded me of the first time I saw the German shorthair point.
She was still a pup and we were walking along a dry creek bed on a ranch near Brownwood when she suddenly swirled and locked down. I saw nothing.
Standing at the edge of the creek I thought maybe the birds were on the on the other side until something caught my eye.
Four feet down in the creek three quail huddled together, trying to plan their escape.
It was 2006 and it was the first thing Dixie taught me. If she was pointing, look for the birds. She didn’t do false points.
I say didn’t because Dixie is gone. She took another ride Friday a week ago to Glenwood Animal Hospital where Dr. Ann Buchanan and her staff put her down. She had cancer and has left us too soon.
She won’t be replaced. She couldn’t be replaced.
I believe every hunter gets one special dog in their life. Dixie was mine. I didn’t teach her to hunt. She taught me how to hunt with her and I loved every minute we were afield.
She hunted dove, bobwhite quail, blue quail, pheasant, although somewhat reluctantly, and even ducks on a couple of occasions.
Unless you put her in the kennel she would hunt from can until can’t. She ran to the point there were times I had to carry her back to the truck, and then she would howl to get back out.
I got Dixie from my friend Mike Craig. She was that puppy no one wanted. If her brothers and sisters turned out to be half the dog Dixie was they are good ones both as a hunting companion and a friend.
When she was young I worked from the house a lot. Dixie was always either laying on my feet or next to my desk looking out a window. We would take frequent walks where I would throw tennis balls doused in quail scent or dummies to break up the day for both of us. It created a bond I never had with a dog before.
For a pointer she quickly learned sit and heel, which helped on her first dove hunt at about 6 months old. She always made me laugh on dove hunts, racing out to retrieve the dead ones, but stopping to point the wounded birds before finally picking them up.
Dixie was a family dog. Not only did both sons, Tristan and Thomas, take her any time they needed a pointer, but she was that dog that slept at the end of the bed and rode around in the truck. My wife, Liz, liked her around as company when I was out of town.
I was never embarrassed by Dixie in the field. She may not have had the experience of the dogs she was hunting with, but stood up to any of them when it came to finding birds.
Last winter I talked about retiring her or maybe shortening the time she was on the ground hunting. Subconciously I may have noticed something, but she had such a big hunting heart it was easy to ignore whatever it was. As Dr. Buchanan said, a bird dog has a lot more miles on it than other dogs because of all the running they do. I chalked it up to that.
It was on a hunt toward the end of the season that we knew there was a problem. She came back lame and it never really cleared up. We hunted another time after that and while she worked as hard as ever she again came back limping.
That is when I saw the swelling on her hip.
After a trip to the vet it was clear what had to be done. But not that day.
Cord Burnett at Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort had a few leftover quail from last year that he said I could put out to let her have that last hunt. Thomas went with me and there was no holding her back. Although she really couldn’t stand on four legs, she went from one bird to the next with statue-like points. We would shoot and she retrieved. It was a bittersweet trip.
I then took Dixie back home.
Every morning for a month I got up early and went to bed late so I could take her out alone, not bothered by the other dogs around the house. I smothered her medicine with peanut butter to make it more palatable. She got hot dogs or scrambled eggs added to her meals.
When I watched TV or worked in my office she was like that puppy sitting at my feet, just gray in the face now. She wanted to be aclose. It was a mutual feeling.
Dr. Buchanan’s late partner and my friend, Steve Wilson, always said when people ask how you know when it is time to put a dog down, you just know.
And I knew it was time.
It was possibly the hardest call I have ever made. I have had to put down other dogs before, but this wasn’t the same.
Several years ago I asked Dr. John Hudnall if he had replaced a Lab he had lost. He emphatically said no, explaining that putting a dog down was too hard on an old man. I truly understand.
There is something about losing a dog that really stings. I have talked with friends about it. Our best guess is that it is because they can’t talk. They only look at you with those same loving, trusting eyes.
Dixie’s last night was her roughest since she had gotten sick. It was almost as though she was telling me it was OK.
Sitting at the clinic I had planned to stay with her. In the end I couldn’t. Instead I sat and petted her for more than an hour before they took her away.
I could tell she was in pain. I am pretty sure she knew I was.
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