Barbara J. Andrews,
The Dog Place
Regardless of species, we are genetically programmed to do what we do. Genetics dictate more than our eye color,
or size, conformation and coat type in our dogs.
Descendents of the frontiersmen are independent and unusually mobile
whereas a tradesman's genes tend to produce congenial and firmly rooted progeny. But generation by generation, humans move
further away from our genetic roots as we’re shifted by today’s technology.
Fortunately, that's not so with our dogs.
you think about it, as you are about to do, dogs are still dogs, still guided by
genetics which for most breeds, dictate purpose. Some were pampered pets for
the ladies, or fireside companions for the gentlemen but all were loved by
children who, with no television and computer games, had time for dogs.
I remember my first “allowed” dog, meaning one my father chose as opposed to
strays I coaxed into following me home. We went to a place out in the country, a
place where daddy had taken most of the followed-me-home dogs. Mom and I waited
in the car as he spoke to the elderly lady and then quickly picked out a
wagging, fawning spaniel from the pack of motley mutts.
A few baths and good meals later, Babe turned into a purebred Springer Spaniel.
She would retrieve anything my daddy hunted. She preferred birds (of course!)
but would willingly retrieve a rabbit shot on the run or leap into the water for
illegally “stunned” fish. She would not however, retrieve a gigged frog that had
wiggled loose and when shown where a raccoon had washed and eaten, she
delicately turned away.
She learned tricks too, including how
to slip away and meet me half-way home from school so we could run home
together. She was immaculate; the only dog daddy ever allowed in the
house. When he took out the rife and shotgun, she would wiggle with
excitement, tufted tail wagging furiously as she watched him clean the shotgun.
Everything we hunted was for the
table except clay pigeons at the rifle range. I'll never forget the first
time we took her there. Not being allowed to retrieve them drove Babe
crazy until laughing, daddy sent her out. She searched frantically, then
tail tucked, she slunk back empty-mouthed. As she crouched at his feet,
daddy didn't laugh. He bent over, stroked her ear and told her next time
to listen when he said "get back," From then on, when we went to the rifle
range, Babe stayed by the car.
Lake Maggorie was just inside the St. Pete city limits,
which to the year-round ducks, made it a safe place to hang out. My father
decided otherwise on the grounds that they pooped all over the picnic and play
areas. I don’t know how he and Babe developed the plan, I was only nine years
old then, but I can tell you exactly what they did.
Just after daybreak, daddy would drive slowly along the far side of the lake
until he had a clear shot, then drawing a bead through the car window, he would
shoot a duck and quickly drive on. Babe marked the duck and the spot. We would
drive around the lake, Babe sitting in the front seat watching daddy; me in the
back seat watching them both.
When he took his foot off the gas, Babe knew. Trembling,
she would crouch down in the floorboards,
staring eagerly at the door as he applied the brake. Daddy would reach over,
open the door, and the retriever was instantly gone!
We’d circle the lake again and as we approached “the spot”, my job was to search
the reeds for Babe. That dog knew how to hide! That she did it on her
own never occurred to me because daddy took it for granted. When I spotted her,
daddy would brake, pull over, and open the door. Often, we were still in motion
when that flash of red and white turned into a wet retriever with a fat duck in
Babe wasn’t trained. She was from sporting dogs born and bred to retrieve. That
is what my father expected from her and I'm sure he never thought about her
retrieving on land or water. He had no special background with
dogs. He was a half-breed NC mountain boy who just expected a
dog to earn its keep. When my mother violated his spoken rule and bred her to a
“champion” retriever, daddy gave the puppies away, then took Babe back to the
old lady and gave her a big handful of bills.
He also held me accountable because mom had confided in me and I had not spoken
the truth. Even as a child, I understood that a lie was not in my father’s
genetic code. Private tears came often and for a long time after Babe, the little retriever who never
quit, never deceived, taught me what I’m telling you.
I didn’t understand it then but genetics made her a hunter’s dream. Genetics and
culture dictated my father’s hard decision. My genes and my upbringing enabled me,
a child who lost her really, truly best friend, to accept it.
I couldn’t help sharing this. It must have been an overdose of sunshine and
Portions excerpted from
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