Four tales of hunting companions that were cherished and lost reveal a lingering truth -- the love that binds best friends never ends.
I thought Annie would make it another season. I had worried about her. But that's what I had hoped for: one more season. She was 13 and a little stiff in the mornings. But she seemed to warm out of it. And she had such great desire to hunt, to retrieve. In the field, I knew she would be OK.
Then a few weeks ago she stopped eating. I had to put her down. That was the first night that I was home since 1950 that I didn't feed a dog.
Over the years, I've always had one Labrador and usually two. I've had some great dogs and I've had some dogs that didn't work out. I found them good homes and gave them away.
If you have time to be with a dog, and the dog is smart, you come to understand the dog, and the dog understands you. They're not hard to train. But they have to be smart and you have to spend time with them. It's like coaching. I was a better coach when I had smart players.
When I was in Winnipeg, I had a Lab named Cork. One day I was hunting with (the late outdoor writer) Jimmy Robinson and I sailed a mallard that landed about 300 yards away at the end of a long slough. I sent Cork, and one of the Ducharme boys who was with us, the French-Canadians who worked for Jimmy, said, "Cheemee, Cheemee, dat dog won't get dat duck.'' Then, when Cork came back with it, he said, "Cheemee. Dat's da best dog I ever seen!''
I tell you it's hard to imagine what must go through the mind of a Labrador retriever.
Now, with Annie gone, I'm looking for a new dog. I have a lot of duck hunting planned and I can't imagine doing it without a dog. I'm 84, so I won't get a puppy. I've looked at five or six trained dogs. And I'm still looking.
It'll be hard to replace Annie. If I sat in a blind for six hours, she'd just sit there with me. She was one of the most attentive dogs I've known. She could tell the difference between a seagull and a duck, or a hawk or a robin.
But in recent months, as I say, I did worry about her. At the lake, I'd throw two or three dummies for her, which seemed to satisfy that part of her life. Then things changed. She went two or three days and wouldn't even look at food.
Instead she'd look at me, as if to say, "Do something.'' That was the worst part, the look in her eye. "Do something.'' I took her to the vet, and that was the end.
Grant retired as the Vikings coach in 1985.
Read Dennis Anderson's other interviews here:
Belle lived the life of a champion. (Paul Hauge, Centuria, Wis.)
Marty steamrolled the competition. (Charles and Yvonne Hays, Princeton, Minn.)
Aspen was more like a person than a dog. (Rick Young, River Falls, Wis.)
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