July 15, 2004

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

This week marked the end of an era for this writer as I bid farewell to my trusty old black Labrador retriever, Lake. Many readers of this column remember how my sidekick worked his way into more than his fair share of articles with his hunting skills. Of course, more often than not, Lake served as comedic relief instead of a model hunting dog. Regardless of his skill or lack of it, he will be missed by our family.

Lake joined our family as a pup, just after my wife and I were married. Basically he served as our practice child. I guess thatís not really true, because if that were the case we probably never would have had children.

As a youngster he did prepare me for the numerous wake-up calls in the middle of the night for potty training. He whimpered to go to the door, while the kids yell at you ďIím done.Ē The whole door thing was quite a bit easier.

He also taught me to store my dangerous items up high where the kids canít get into them. I still can picture him running upstairs from the basement with that fishing lure hooked through his lip after he had found my tackle box on the floor and decided to chew it up.

Through this dog we learned the proper methods for food storage. Oatmeal cookies, all eight dozen of them, are not safe on the countertop. The stovetop may not be the best place to let the fresh baked ham cool down either.

I had to allow myself to watch Lake work his way up the pecking order. As a puppy he took his lumps from the rest of the dogs at the farm. It was difficult to see him whipped by the other dogs, but I knew that I had to allow the situation to resolve itself. Dogs will be dogs, and they have to figure out for themselves who is the leader and who are the followers. Lake did just that one day, when he finally had had enough. He went to each of the other three dogs separately. But instead of submitting he fought back, rolled each one over on its back, pinned them to the ground and let them know there was a new leader. They all got along wonderfully after that.

Lake definitely expanded the limits of my patience. We all must learn how to be teachers, and this dog definitely was not the best student. Still the time spent with him proved priceless when he retrieved his first bird, pointed that covey of quail and located countless other downed targets in our hours shared hunting.

My ability to forgive also grew under my dogís tutelage. Iím quite sure there was smoke coming from my ears on more than one occasion when my hunting partner deserted me to chase deer or tree a opossum. (I also learned that swear words can be heard from a long way away along the canal bottom.)

So it is obvious that I am a better person for having lived with Sir Lakeland. I was sad to learn of his passing. However I did take some comfort in knowing that he died doing what he loved best, hunting. I know itís not bird season, but Lakeís favorite kind of hunting took place year-round whenever there was a female in heat within the tri-state area. He died en route either to or from a secret rendezvous with one of his girlfriends.

I guess I should have had that problem taken care of a long time ago. I just never could bring myself to do it. You see, right off the bat Lake became a friend, not just a dog. My wife always complained that he was a person and not a dog. I thought she was just mad because he hogged her side of the bed those first few years. But she was right - Lake was more than just a hunting dog. He was a friend that will be missed dearly.

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