Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Seven, "Third Year: Part 6"

For background on this serial, please click here. You can also start at the previous section
Blitz, having spent the lunch hour being rested and watered flew from her crate in her usual fourth gear, so I knew I should be expecting more of the same performance from her, and that's exactly what we experienced.  Field after field, Blitz was a machine, and we slowly got within a couple of birds or our limit.  Our Texas friends were happy, our guides a little sheepish, and Blitz and I were simply enjoying our South Dakota dream-come-true. 

Needing one last bird for our five person limit, we approached a field that had not been hunted that season.  We expected to see a lot of birds and be done in short order.  However, as we started through the brushy cover, Blitz's body language was telling me the field was a bust. 

We pushed through a large semi-circle of brush about a mile in total length, with only a couple of flushed wild hens to our credit.  We soon found ourselves a couple of hundred yards from the end of the cover, and in looking at the setting sun, I wondered if we'd have time enough to get to another field to try and complete our limit.  However, about that time Blitz shifted into a mode that told me she was clearly on a bird.  I warned the group that she was "birdy" and that we needed to be ready. 

About the time I got the warning out, as if on queue, a rooster pheasant burst from the cover well ahead of the dog, and about 40 yards in front of me.  I snapped a shot on the long bird, and clearly broke a wing, but figured he'd be hitting the ground running.  Fortunately Blitz had marked the bird down and was already in fetch mode.  Judging by her movements, the bird was clearly on the move, but after about 5 minutes of chase through the cover, Blitz ultimately appeared carrying our final bird of the day.  I took it from her and gathered with the others for the mile-long walk back to our vehicles.  We cheerfully congratulated ourselves on our South Dakota pheasant limit.  It was a first for all of us, and was most enjoyable.  We hoped it was one of three for the weekend.

As we were walking back, I noticed Blitz was limping.  I thought it funny, as she was in high gear the entire day, up to and including the last retrieve just minutes ago.  Now she was walking gingerly.  One of the guides said, "I bet it's sand burrs.  The land is covered with them.  For dogs not used to them it can ultimately get to them." 

We made it to the truck were I was able to get Blitz on the tailgate to give her a thorough exam.  I went straight to her feet, and audibly gasped when I saw them.  All of her pads were torn up.  Horribly, horribly torn up.  Her feet looked like hamburger.  I immediately went to work cleaning her feet, dressing them with pad medicine from my traveling dog first-aid kit, and wrapping them in bandages.  I cursed myself over and over - how could I not have paid more attention?  Blitz was a tough dog that had a huge pain threshold as the Rapala episode could attest.  While she never gave me any indication of any kind of situation until after the hunt had ended, I still should have checked her more carefully in the field and at lunch.  It was just another time where I let her down.  Even after that promise I made her on the day I picked her up. 

I got Blitz as comfortable as I could and took myself inside for dinner and perhaps a cocktail to try and take away my guilt.  Over dinner the guides asked about Blitz's condition, and the Texans raved about her performance.   I wasn't in the mood for much conversation and excused myself for an early evening.  On my way to my room I stopped and got another look at Blitz.  She was sore and tired.  I handed her some kibble and an apology and headed off to bed. 

I awoke the next morning, hoping the rest, medicine, and her famous resilience would allow her to participate in the second day of our three-day South Dakota dream hunt.  The liftgate  opened to the sound of a Labrador tail thumping loudly against a dog crate, and Blitz was standing there waiting to meet me and partake of some breakfast.  I opened her crate and she got to the door and balked.  With breakfast awaiting her, she was usually a yellow blur at this point.  Instead, she just kind of stood there trying to figure out a way down that would cause her the least amount of pain. 

I knew right away that her South Dakota hunt was over. 

I was able to get her out and fed, but kenneled her up and headed in for breakfast.  The Texans were hung over from a big night of shooting pool the night before, and the entire place wanted to know how Blitz was doing.  I informed them of her condition and that she'd not be hunting today.  And that's when I blurted out, "And neither will I."  "What?" one of the guides asked,  "You can sill go out and shoot.  There's still plenty of dogs to get the job done."  The Texans offered their encouragement as well.  One said, "Man, do you know how expensive this place is?  You gotta go!"  It was a great point, but my heart was broke.  "I originally wanted to do this trip for Blitz," I explained.  "This was all about me and her.  If she's not going, neither am I.  I'll be checking out and hitting the road right after breakfast."   

And, with two days left to burn on my South Dakota dream trip, that's exactly what I did.    

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