Hunting season in the upper Midwest passed quickly this year. Some diehards, however, just can’t put down their shotguns quite yet, so it’s back to the fields for some late-season pheasant. Count me among that group. For the past five years, my hunting dog Tucker and I have sniffed the fields of southern Minnesota until the season closes in early January.
Circumstances have broken our pattern this year, forcing Tucker and I to put away the shotgun before the end of the season.
Thanksgiving week was heartbreaking in our household. Tucker had not been himself. Multiple days at the vet trying to diagnose his issue left me with no answers. I finally found out from a specialty vet in Eden Prairie, Minn., that my beloved friend and hunting partner has Stage 4b Lymphoma and is considered clinically sick.
Lymphoma is the most common type of cancer our four-legged friends can get. They only rate it up to stage five, so Tucker has nearly the worst stage. It has affected the nodes in his abdomen and invaded his liver. This is a terminal condition. A couple weeks at worst, 9-12 months at best with the most invasive chemotherapy. For a pet that is only six years old and, quite frankly, the best hunting partner I’ve spent time with in the field, you can see why it’s heartbreaking.
Given my relationship with Tucker, which I’ve been told looks like divine chemistry, you likely know Tucker’s path: he gets a regiment of chemotherapy every two weeks, which could take two-five months, depending on his acceptance of the chemistry. He’s only had his first round, so in a week we’ll know if this process is working. There is only one way a person can be in this situation, and that is optimistic. If you’re not, it will eat you up inside.
Hunting is All About the Dog
Some of you will recognize the whitish four-legged wonder from our “Company of Enthusiasts” hunting video. I made a statement in the video that explains Tucker’s importance to me. The excitement about hunting is “everything about the dog.” The experience of hunting with a dog can be no more rewarding. I remember the first time Tucker brought a bumper back to me in my yard while training. He was still a puppy. Big feet, large ears and extra skin flowing as he ran with this giant bumper in his mouth.
The excitement grew the day I took him out for his first hunt. He was 10 months old. He was a little wily, but his breed is best at flushing, so it worked. Seeing the first rooster cackle at him as it tried to fly away was nothing short of awesome. Tucker looked at the bird and seemed to know it was the one for which we’d trained so hard. So I shot the bird and the game resumed for Tucker. Through the grass he went in search of the rooster. I couldn’t have been more proud!
Memories Make us Rich
I have hundreds of similar stories. Each is an important memory that will live on with me forever. I feel that is the point of having a hunting partner – it isn’t about the quantity, size or even the species of game you’re chasing. It’s about the time spent afield with those you care about and who care about you. I often wonder when afield with Tucker who cares about whom more. I foolishly think I care more for him, but deep down I know the truth.
It’s no mystery I love dogs. Always have, always will. But Tucker is more than just the family pet. I told my mother a couple days ago that I would trade almost anything to make him better. My mother said, “That is what loving someone is about.” Now, my focus has shifted to the health of my friend to ensure he has the best quality of life he can with the time he has left. That’s the responsibility I signed up for when getting him as a pup.
People are quick to ask, quite sheepishly I might add, “How much does this cost?” My response is unwavering: It doesn’t matter since there is no amount of money that can replace the memories we have created. And I’d pay a heck of a lot of money to create more. In reality, you don’t want to know how much it costs.
It’s amazing the types of questions you get from folks after hearing about Tucker’s issue. I like this one the most, because to me it makes the least sense to ask: “Would you do it all over again?” And by that they want to know if it’s worth the money and time to put into training a hunting partner who doesn’t have a long lifespan. The pain of being cheated out of the years during which Tucker and I would have grown old together is difficult, but there’s no question I’d do it again. Money can be made every day and we all make trade-offs for our time. But special relationships don’t come along every day. I get looks from people, as if to say, “That guy is a bit off.” I don’t think so. I just happen to love and support all of my hunting partners, whether they walk on two legs or four.
If there is one recommendation I could make to current and future bird dog hunters, it’s this: Never, absolutely never, pass up an opportunity to get out with your pup and do what he or she loves most – chase birds.
Time can be short; don’t waste it.