I knew this day would come. It ended with much less ado than it started, no question. For 14 1/2 years he was barbed wire and lightning bundled up in white fur and floppy ears. Now the toughness and the fire and even the breath were gone, and along with them a stretch of time that will never be repeated.
Dogs are special, but bird dogs are very special, a fact that's hard to explain to a guy who's never owned one. That guy has never experienced the unique pride, never shared an obsession, never sipped that rare cocktail made of sport and outdoors and primal instinct and love. A bond forms when you've been through an uncommon or trying episode with someone. Reminiscent of the ancient blood oath ceremony, each becomes entwined with the other permanently, but on an emotional level. Hard to explain to a guy who's never owned one.
When he was eleven weeks old I stepped out of the shower to find him chewing on something. About par for a puppy, right? I reached into his mouth to pry it loose and pulled out a #6 Woolly Bugger. And then I got that strange "I want this to be all there is but I know there's more" feeling. Glancing over at the now-empty drying patch on my vest I knew there was more. I still have the x-ray showing three small fish hooks in his belly. It would have been cheaper to buy another dog and start over, but I was already too attached to him. Under the knife he went, and the blood oath was sealed.
I could carry on about the times he held point for ten minutes or more til I found him or the times he ran off for a lot longer than that. I could detail all the firsts and onlies and most incredibles and I'll be damneds in the field, but when I think about him now that's not what I think of. When I think of him now he's trying to weasel his way up on the couch. He's cracking open one eye to make sure I'm still in the room. He's curled up in the leaves under the sugar maple next to the driveway waiting for me to get home.
When my cousin died several years back, the minister said something so profound in its simplicity that I've never forgotten it. He said "hard times are hard", his point being that there's no immediate panacea, no pill or potion that can make them instantly easy. You just have to deal with it the best way you can find. It's more perspective than anything else, the old glass half full thing. Not the hole that's left, not good times that will never be again. Just loads of good memories and how lucky you were to have them.
He went in his sleep and personally I can't imagine a better way. Never seemed to be in pain, just ran out of steam. I've heard stories of people clinging to life for days, even weeks, under terminal circumstances, only to die within hours of being told by a loved one that it was alright to go. The night before he died I sat next to him, reading the paper and occasionally talking to him as I'd done for years. His hearing grew sporadic as he got older and it's not likely he heard much of what I said. Still, for some reason I felt I should tell him that if it was time for him to go, I'd be okay. And go he did, and okay I was, for the most part.
But damn I miss him.