Learning New Tricks from Old Dogs


From the time I was five or six years old growing up in rural southeast Texas in the 1950s, my daddy used to take me with him to hunt quail during what I remember as a relatively short season in the late fall and winter months. Quail lived in coveys in fields in the countryside around us and were excellent at hiding from their enemies in the tall grasses that would become hay when baled. You could walk and walk and walk some more until you felt like your legs were going to fall off if you had to put one foot ahead of the other again, but the quail were always one step ahead of you unless you had help locating them.

Enter the hunter’s best friend: the German short-haired pointer a/k/a in Grimes County, Texas as the bird dog. A good bird dog could run through a field sniffing and sniffing, sometimes whining, until he caught a whiff of a covey of quail and then he would stop, raise his right front leg to a ninety-degree angle,  curl his medium-length tail over his back and point his nose exactly in the direction of the covey. He remained in this precise position until the hunter walked up beside the dog which would cause the quail to take flight with the sound of their fluttering wings making a whoosh noise as they left the ground.

Whoosh! Bam! It was over that quick. The covey rose from the ground cover, and my daddy would shoot his twelve-gauge shotgun. Occasionally a bird would fall, and I would run to retrieve it and put it in my jacket to take home to my grandmother who would be happy to fix it for our supper. We rarely got our  legal limit, but we would usually have enough for a meal.

The problem my daddy had was he never had a “good” bird dog.  He got the puppies from different people  in the area who always assured him their dogs were the best in the field, but invariably the pointer he got didn’t respond well to training. A common trait Daddy’s dogs had was rather than stopping to point and hold their position, they would  stop to point for a split second and then run as fast as they could to try to catch the birds by themselves. Of course, the quail would take flight when they heard the dogs and be long gone out of  shooting range by the time we caught up with the dogs. Daddy would halfheartedly fuss – and the dogs rarely improved.

As I think back on this now, I believe our dogs had an identity issue which caused their lackluster performance in the field. Whether they did well or not in the hunting arena, they were fed regularly with  delicious scraps from our table (dog food wasn’t on Daddy’s radar screen) and petted and hugged on an equally regular basis. They came indoors for their pets and Daddy often scooped the big dogs up and held them on his lap while he talked to them about their shortcomings. My daddy was a very diminutive man – about five feet six inches tall – and those dogs weighed almost as much as he did. They looked at him with adoring eyes and absolute trust…and seemed to be saying I promise I’ll do better next time…but they wouldn’t.

My daddy loved his bird dogs. We always had at least one dog in our family for as long as I can remember and at one time when I was in high school, we had three.  I know that for sure because I still have the original oil paintings he commissioned  at that time from an artist friend of his.

001

Daddy’s Bird Dogs: Rex, Seth and Dab (circa 1966)

No wonder I love my dogs. I’ve never personally owned a bird dog, but I’ve been on the receiving end of the adoring eyes and plaintive expressions of more than a few dogs of my own throughout my adult life. I confess to holding them on my lap if I can scoop them up, but even if I can’t do that, I will give them lots of love and kisses whenever and wherever they will stand  or sit or lie down to be so smothered.

Loving dogs – or any animal for that matter – is the gift that keeps on giving to us mere humans, but the gift comes with a high price tag because their lives are relatively short. Indeed,  it seems the older we are, the faster we lose them.

Two of our three remaining dogs that have given us much more loyalty and adoration than we deserve over the past decade have now been diagnosed with cancers that will ultimately take them from us. What I have learned from them is that they both keep their pain to themselves without complaints. They are not troubled by wondering why they are in their particular situations, and I think this allows them to try to keep changes in their routines to a minimum. They like to roll the way they’ve always rolled if they possibly can.

I am a contemplative person – I can’t help myself. I find I can spend a great deal of time trying to figure out “why” this happened or that took place. Unfortunately, discovering “why” doesn’t necessarily lead to productive change. As a matter of fact, the opposite is likely to occur. So when I find myself in a position similar to the ones my dogs are facing today, I hope I have learned my lessons from the examples they have set for me and focus less on “why” and more on “so what.”

That’s the way I’d like to roll.

P.S. My daddy never asked anyone to make an oil painting of me.

About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is an essayist with humorist tendencies who periodically indulges her desires to write outside her genre by trying to write fiction and poetry. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press is publishing her collection of first-person accounts of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBT organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBT history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published four nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and a group of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike and Charly. Her Texas roots are never too far from her thoughts.
This entry was posted in Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, Random, Reflections, Slice of Life, sports, The Way Life Is and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Learning New Tricks from Old Dogs

  1. Anne Boring says:

    That is very sad, Sheila ! Even our animals are getting cancer now. This never used to be. But I gave up asking that useless who many years ago. I just have faith it is part of the plan !!!! I’m sorry you didn’t get your portrait painted back then but there are many who would like to do it now.!!! You have a very large family and there are many who would come forward for that one !!!!

    Like

    • Hi Anne,
      Gosh, I always love to hear from you because you make me feel good when you write about the support my family has for me today. That is worth so very much to me! I sometimes forget just how large my family still is because I get to visit them so infrequently. I particularly miss seeing yours and C.H.’s children and grandchildren. It was so fun having Nita Jean and Joey come to Charleston this year.
      Yes, even our dogs aren’t spared cancer anymore. It is so very sad to see, but I admire their good spirits and spunk in the midst of their pain.
      Thanks so much for writing – please send my love to everyone in Texas and beyond!
      Sheila

      Like

  2. Dana Bickford says:

    Two?? Hold them, love them! And when the time is right, release them. Their time IS much shorter than ours. But Angels only live a short time. Love you!

    Like

    • Hi Dana,
      Thank you for writing! Yes, Red and Chelsea both have cancer now. Red has a less aggressive, but now very large, malignant tumor on his right side and Chelsea has a very aggressive bone cancer. Lindsay will remember Red’s tumor because it’s in the same area where Dr. Lippke removed a large benign tumor several years ago. I think he almost didn’t survive that surgery so we’ve probably had a few bonus years with him!
      We do hold them and love them and hopefully will know when the time is right to release our Angels. I know you and John and your kids love yours the way we love ours – but thanks for reminding me that Angels only live a short time.
      I love you and all of your family and miss you very much,
      Sheila

      Like

  3. Luanne says:

    What a sad time for you and your family. I’m so sorry to hear this. It must feel overwhelming. On the subject of the bird dogs, I am relieved to hear they were overly enthusiastic as I am on the side of the quail and not the hunters 😉. Send love from Casa Castle to the dogs.

    Like

    • Thanks so much, Luanne. Maintaining a little hospice for our babies is a tough situation, but I think we have Chelsea’s pain meds regulated pretty well and our vets are very close if we need them. We have an oncologist who is extremely helpful for her and our regular vet practice has four super women vets that we trust and know they love their patients so we are very lucky.
      I gave up guns and hunting when I left home for college at 18 and never liked the killing part, either. I loved being outdoors with my dad and the dogs, though. I still love being outdoors with my dogs for a walk in the fields and forest and often think of my father who died from cancer himself when he was fifty-one and I was thirty.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luanne says:

        Hunting was part of the culture. I think we all loved spending time with a beloved parent when we were kids–no matter what we were doing! I’m so sorry you lost your father at such a tragically young age.
        Your veterinary practice sounds wonderful. We too have a good practice and our favorite vet is really a treasure. She’s been making housecalls when necessary, too (certain circumstances because of Mac’s heart and now Pear’s heart). After a year with the final phase of Mac’s illnesses, I well know that veterinary hospice in the home biz. It’s a lot of work. I wish you good health to get through it yourself!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so very much, Luanne! Teresa does her best to take care of me, but it’s a tall order these days. 🙂
        I’m so glad you have a wonderful vet, too – I think it makes all the difference in the world.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. bob says:

    He would have if he had read your story. -Bob Lamb

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Learning New Tricks from Old Dogs | I'll Call It Like I See It

  6. Your Daddy and my Pop were cut from the same cloth. His dogs were everything, though he did not hunt with ours. I think they would’ve received similar treatment.

    Those paintings are a treasure. I love them.

    Give all your pups extra love from me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What kind of dogs did your Pop have?
      I thought you’d love the paintings – they meant the world to him – my mother gave them to me, and I’ve kept them forever. I just can’t let them go.
      Everyone gets extra love these days!
      Hugs and kisses to you all in the North, too!! 🙂

      Like

  7. My father was a terrier man. His favorite was the first family dog I can just about remember, Skippy a rat terrier. He used to babysit me. Mom would put Skip in my playpen for company. He also would keep me from climbing stairs by pulling on my diaper. I always teased my parents by claiming I was raised by wolves. 🙂

    As for those paintings, hold on to them for dear life. What a sweet connection to your daddy and your own love of dogs.

    Liked by 1 person

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