Friday, June 12, 2009

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Two: "Pre-Dog," Part 1

For background on this serial, please click here

You can aslo start at Part One or Part Two of the previous chapter

I had never owned a dog before. I had grown up with one; a fabulous Golden Retriever named Brandy. We had acquired her when I was in seventh grade, and she was a more traditional outdoor dog – kennel outside, never in the house, no really strong connection with the family, etc. That all changed when I went to college. I distinctly remember coming back on the first break that school offered to find Brandy roaming the house. “Oh yeah,” my sister replied to my inquisitive look, “she’s been living in here ever since you left.” Traded for a dog. How’s that?

Brandy and I were able to share the space, both in my parent’s home and in the duck blind as well. She was a serviceable hunter, and she clearly had won the heart of my dad. He thought she was some kind of hunting machine, and the conversations he had about her belied his opinion. She was a faithful hunting partner for dad for many years before finally being put down at a ripe old age. I don't think dad ever got over not having Brandy around.

While I enjoyed her company, Brandy was never my dog. I knew ultimately that I wanted a dog – I had done enough hunting with buddies that did have dogs to see the joy they brought to a day afield. Somehow, when a dog is present, the hunt is just better. Beyond their obvious contributions in the field, they impart some not as obvious ones as well: when birds are ample, watching a good dog go about its work is like watching a fine athletic event. When birds aren’t ample, dogs offer the ultimate distractions via the things they do, or don’t do, as the case may be. The conversation is always a little bit better, the mood always a little bit lighter, and the stories a little bit more entertaining with the presence of a dog.

In 1998, my dad was diagnosed with Pick's Disease, which is basically a rapid degeneration of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. It manifests itself akin to Alzheimer's Disease, but impacts different parts of the brain, and at least in my dad's case, moved incredibly more rapidly. I had always been close to my dad, and the one thing in which we pretty much always found common ground was on hunting. Dad loved duck hunting, and I caught the same passion from him, and caught it in spades.

When dad's diagnosis finally came in, the shockwave that hit our family was massive. While we were all relieved to finally have something to explain dad's condition and behavior, the ramifications of the finding were dire. There was no cure. There was no treatment. His disease would quickly take his memories and his mind, and, ultimately, his life.

To this day, I still can't fully comprehend what this sentence has meant to my family and me. I saw my mom staring at her retirement years, the thing that my dad worked his entire life to enjoy, as ones that she would face without her spouse at her side. I saw my sister bring two beautiful children into the world, only to have her father know nothing of them. I saw my brother get married and, while dad attended the event, his presence was only made possible through the patience of mom and by the hand of God. My brother's children were also never known by their grandfather.

Illness and death are part of every family, and ours was impacted substantially. For my mom, siblings, and I, dad was no longer with us. His body and physical manifestation remained, as did infrequent glimpses of personality through the deep fog of the disease, but for the most part the patriarch of our family was gone.

In the wake of the disease, not only had I lost my dad, but I also lost my hunting partner. We had hunted together since I was 8 or so. Not every hunt, clearly, as we both had other folks with which we enjoyed hunting, but certainly every opener, and most of our time in the slough.

I lost my best hunting partner, and in that light it seemed only appropriate to add a new partner to the equation. That partner was going to come in the form of a yellow dog.

Part Two

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