My love affair with the hunting dog started like most everyone, with my dad! My earliest memories were of the hunting dogs he had. Some were incredible but others simply adequate but each was a partner afield. After college and into a career it was my turn – a Golden Retriever, Pirate! He was an exceptional hunter, often in spite of me. My original training prowess came from between the hard covers of a book by James Lamb Free, Training Your Retriever! It became my bible but lost somewhere in the process of the “lend a book” favors that come along in life. As the years passed other 4-legged hunting partners came along too with each being a Golden Retriever until not too many years ago but that’s a story for another time. I’m not sure if some were better than others or more likely it came down to my training skills and time spent or was it just that memories fade a bit over time. It really doesn’t matter because there’s a very unique and special bond formed between a hunter and his dog that I really can’t adequately put into words. It’s the days spent afield, the birds hidden from your sight that become easy for the dog’s nose to locate, it’s the cold miserable days when a dogs’ coat turns from wet to ice and her tail wags eagerly waiting for the next time to do her thing. It may be an impossible retrieve that was made or one you thought had nothing to retrieve. It may be a cold morning when you feel a muzzle nudging your arm for one of those endless pets you so willingly comply with. Why? That’s easy it’s because you are her world and her only world! A hunting dog has so many super human instincts I simply can’t begin to comprehend but also an innate ability to love boundlessly, forgive instantly and the ability to love you endlessly with everything they have and then some. Sound familiar?
A number of years ago when there were tough times for both boys, Erik and Chad I made them each a promise. When they finished school, got their degree were gainfully employed and living on their own I would buy them any dog they wanted! Well almost ten years ago Erik reminded me of that promise so we began searching. After numerous calls and checks we found a litter of Golden Retrievers outside Wendal, Minnesota. That weekend we headed out to see the pups. They were small puffballs filled with boundless energy but only one went directly to Erik wanting to play. Looking at me with a huge smile he said “this is the one dad!” So the deal was done, papers signed and the payment made. We headed back home with a grinning young man and a small puppy on his lap. It was the beginning of much more than simply a special relationship she became the very best, the best Golden I’d ever seen or hunted with and Erik’s best buddy too! He decided to name her “Acea Spades, the Prettiest Card in the Deck” or simply “Acea” for short which later became “Acea Baby.”
As time passed the initial hours of work Erik spent with her were rewarded time and time again. It didn’t matter either if it was divers winging over decoys, geese hitting the ground with a thud, Mallards jumping from a grass-covered slough or cackling roosters she trailed a hundred yards or more twisting a turning eventually forcing them to take flight. Her retrieves were always to hand and she never ever considered giving up on a lost bird even if it meant a dive under water in pursuit of a winged duck or disappearing into the abyss of cattails only to later reappear holding wide-eyed rooster very much alive. But at day’s end she was content to curl up at Erik’s feet to sleep.
When Danielle, Erik’s wife and mother of their recent arrival Jack arrived another bond was formed. Together they hunted behind her and loved her deeply. So some may say it’s just a dog but a gun dog is so much more, they are extensions of ourselves and actually, I believe make us all that we can be adding something very special to each of our lives.
About 4 months ago our friend and our vet, Dr. Dennis Gallenburg came back from reading an x-ray of Acea’s muzzle that had developed a lump and with tears in his eyes told us the bad news, it was a tumor and there wasn’t much that could be done other than continue to hunt her and keep loving her! Together Erik and Danielle did both until last Saturday morning when it became time to say goodbye to their wonderful hunting partner! That goodbye was bitterly difficult and we all, including yours truly feel a huge emptiness with her passing but the memories of past hunts are fun to recall. There will be more hunting partners but there will only be one first and this First was truly a wonderful part of all our lives especially Erik and Danielle !