This appeared in the Worland Presbterian Church’s newsletter in September of 2010.
Labrador Retrievers are the dominate American gun dog, for good reasons. But while I admire Labs, I’m not crazy
about them. Don’t get me wrong, I had one, a wonderful rangy yellow Lab, all bone and muscle, who performed some incredible feats in the four seasons I had him. It was a tragedy when we had to put him down. But the truth is, I’m nuts about English Springers.
While Labs are focused, disciplined, no fooling around dogs, Springers are riddled with AD HD. They can’t stay focused for more than five seconds before the next shiny new smell sends them ricocheting in a different direction. They’re a cross between Tigger, a jack rabbit, and the Mad Hatter. Their dangerously high energy, goofy sense of humor, and lack of focus will drive you crazy. But as a pheasant dog, the are unequalled. It has to do with DNA.
For example, you never have to teach a Lab about water and retrieving. Water retrieving is so deeply embedded in their DNA that before you take them down to the pond for the first time, they know all about it already . On the other hand, Springer DNA is all about pheasants.
My second Springer was a great example. Charlie was an ugly representative from the shallow end of the Springer gene pool, with lots of problems. He had chronic problems with mites, that led to nasty secondary skin infections. He constantly smelled bad. He either was healing up and smelled of chemicals, or was getting bad again, and smelled like rotting meat. His other primary problem was he didn’t seem to be interested in birds at all. After several years of waiting, training, providing opportunities, Charlie couldn’t care less about being a bird dog.
The last straw occurred the last morning we went fishing on the Blackfoot river in Montana. We were shortly moving back to Wyoming, and this was my good-bye to the Blackfoot, As Charlie and I pulled up to the river, a big turkey came strutting down the road at us, across the bridge and into the brush along the river. “O ho!”, I thought, “I’ll bet ol’ Charlie can’t resist this – this will be fun!” So I dumped Charlie out of his kennel and sent him down the road, thinking he would pick up the scent, and curiosity would do the rest. Didn’t happen. I sent him into the brush, and he couldn’t care less. He was across the bridge and down the road, when the turkey came out of the brush, onto the bridge and hopped up on the guard rail. It was more than I could take. “Charlie, Charlie!”, I was shouting in a whisper, “Come on, come here!” He slowly trotted back onto the bridge, and noticed this enormous feathery thing standing on the guard rail. Any self-respecting bird dog would have hit the after-burners with flames shooting out his eyes, and been half-way over the rail when the turkey flew off. Right. Charlie ambled over, looked at it with mild curiosity as it flew off, giving the equivalent of a canine shrug. “Huh. Interesting. Come on boss, enough messing around, let’s go fishing” was what he was telling me. That was the moment Charlie and I were done. I gave up on him.
Sadly, we moved to a place where I could really use a bird dog. The community we settled into is the epicenter of the best bird hunting Wyoming has to offer.
Theoretically, you could begin bird hunting September 1 with doves, and end some time in May with turkeys. It’s a great opportunity, but pretty tough sledding without a good dog.
I did my best the first weeks of that first fall without one. Taking Charlie was never a consideration, because that case was closed. All the attention I was giving him was taking him for the occasional walk. Our little town was bordered on the north by railroad tracks, and on the east by pasture, then the canal. One day I took Charlie for a quick walk down along the tracks to the canal, then south between the canal and pasture to the highway, then back again – a quick jaunt without a leash.
As we made our way through the thick grass and weeds along the tracks, an odd thing happened. Charlie started sniffing hard, and up in front of him a pheasant flew off. I never gave it a second thought because Charlie was not a bird dog, period. The cover along the irrigation canal was even better, and the coincidence repeated itself. Charlie was hard at work using his nose, and a pheasant popped up.
Back at home, I began to wonder. Could Charlie have actually, intentionally, been looking for those birds? That didn’t seem possible, but a couple more times along the tracks and canal confirmed the coincidence. It was true! Charlie actually was a bird dog! Even though he was from the shallow end of the Springer gene pool, he still had pheasant imprinted DNA. He could care less about grouse, or turkeys, or ducks. But the first scent of a pheasant had triggered his DNA – pheasants he got.
He was never a terrific bird dog. But as we headed into our third season, I thought we were going to have a fun fall. We had worked hard all summer, and he had made significant progress. I was looking forward to it.
But on our family camping trip he bit my daughter on the face with no warning what so ever. My wife took her into town for four stitches, and I tied Charlie up to the picnic table and never said another word to him, even as we took him in to put him down. As cold as my fury was at his betrayal, it still tore my heart out to see the life slip out of him, lying on that table so far from home.
But I had learned something important long before Charlie’s tragic demise. While I had given up on my dog, God has never given up on me.
I am an awful lot like that dog. Created for wonderful things, imprinted with the very nature of God, yet failing so miserably at attaining it; so often not even interested in it; sin infected, smelling bad (usually in a metaphorical sense), capable of cruelly injuring those I love; betraying God at every turn. Yet God has not abandoned me, turned his back, or given up. Daniel recognized that to be true: “O God, you…never give up on those who love you and do what you say.”
Daniel 9.4 (Msg) The Apostle Paul knew it too: “God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, … will never give up on you. Never forget that.” 1 Cor 1.9 (Msg); “If we give up on him, he does not give up— for there’s no way he can be false to himself.” 2 Tim 2.13 (Msg).
God will never give up on you, period. No matter how miserable of a person you were, are, or may be in the future. God will never treat you as I treated Charlie. Your behavior may tear God’s heart out, but it won’t make God give up on you. As Paul says, never forget that.