Fish Dogs

Many years ago a our trainer showed up at the farm with a little black Labrador Retriever pup that we all instantly took a liking to. They told me and my two brothers, Andy and Brett, that there were many more still un-adopted in the liter so the three of us eventually got three sister labs, one for each of us. The first thing we did was to take our dogs to the river and throw them in to make sure they could swim, after all, being Labs, they should have taken to water like fish. And so they did, and it was to the waters edge and beyond that we frequently traveled together. Their aquatic aptitudes were many and they soon distinguished themselves as The Fishdogs. We raised two of the labs on the farm and one traveled with my brother Andy to live with him beside the Potomac river.

The fishdogs had many pastimes on the farm. One of their favorites was groundhog hunting, for they loathed the little brown bucktoothed ones. Every spring when the groundhogs emerged from their peaceful winter slumber they would feel the black killers lurking outside their door. Every spring the fishdogs would have to resharpen their reflexes as they got chewed up regularly during the first week of groundhog season but then became savvier with more practice and brought home more groundhogs and fewer wounds to themselves. Every spring as the groundhog season progressed the yard would become increasingly decorated with the headless remains of many groundhogs. The fishdogs loathed groundhogs and they believed the spirit of their enemy would be forever crushed by the simple and enjoyable end of the hunt feast of groundhog heads, besides that was the crunchy part and they loved crunchy parts.

The fishdogs also loved to point, but since we don't bird hunt the only thing they had to point was the family chickens which were easy to find and point. The fishdogs would select one of the hapless birds from the flock and take turns pointing it. Since chickens rarely hold for a point the chicken would wonder off in mid point and have to be retrieved. Since the fishdogs were Labrador Retrievers they had the softest mouth and could easily and repeatedly retrieve the same chicken. The chickens never got hurt but they went around for days with the damp look and complaining that they couldnít get the dog breath off their feathers.

They also had another pastime that always brought with its practice one of their horrors. Our area of the country has a huge population of skunks, they are peaceful critters that just want to ramble along looking for grubs and mice and they believe in not bothering anyone that isnít bothering them. I have actually caught a skunk by his tail, I just wanted to see if I could do it and there was no good reason for this experiment. I had heard that a skunk couldnít spray you if its back feet were off of the ground. I think this is true as when I picked up the skunk by his tail he just hung there looking at me, still peacefully, but with the look that implied I was just being a pain in the ass and would I let go of its tail so it could find some grubs. We looked at each other for a minute, the skunk got bored quickly so I let him go. I thought he would hose me down good for holding him up in the air by his tail, and for this I would not fault him, but he just wobbled away without giving me a second look. Things would not have turned out this way if I had a fishdog with me. The fishdogs believed that God had put skunks on this Earth for their sole pleasure. Upon seeing a skunk they would all three race each other over to the poor skunk, and then they would surround it and begin taunting. Each dog would race in to nibble at the skunks backside until the skunk could stand no more of this intimate nibbling and it would release is arsenal of spray on all three dogs at once, giving each dog a thorough and over generous soaking. The dogs thanked the skunk for its kind sacrifice by not killing it and eating its head, in fact they never killed any skunks, viewing them as some sort of divine gift, a sacred cow to be disturbed on occasion but not decapitated.

The fishdogs would come into the farm yard after a successful spraying in a high happy mood, jumping and playing and rubbing their new gift on everything and anything that was in the yard, including me. The fishdogs knew what was coming next, the hose and that awful smelly soap that would make them smell like people. As soon as I would start to capture one of the smelly fishdogs they would all run away, disobeying any calls, and hide in the crawlspace under the house which they would enter thru a doorway. Once entrenched in their lair even doggy biscuits wouldnít budge them. One day after a successful skunk campaign I got the bright idea to first block the skunkdogs "hole in the wall" hideout. After blocking the door I turned my attention to capturing the smelly little black beasts. This time I didnít got to the hose first. I pretended I saw a groundhog and the first fishdog came eagerly into my grasp. Upon seeing the leash and their companion chained to the fence near the damnable water hose the free fishdogs taunted their sister for being stupid enough to get caught. While thusly distracted with their taunting I snatched another smelly fishdog and it joined its sister at the fence. Fishdog three knew for certain it was next on the fence and tore off for its hole in the wall. The doggy brakes were locked up just in the nick of time as fishdog three halted within inches of the blocked door. I could see the thoughts on her face, I knew there was a door here, I must have cut around the wrong side of the house because I know I have a door around here someplace, this has to be it, lets think about this for a minute, this is too weird, Oops, should have done more running and less thinking because now dingus just got a leash on me, where is that door! Giving skunked fishdogs a bath was not fun but since they slept in my bedroom it was a chore that had to be done. As each fishdog endured the humiliation of getting bathed and rinsed and then freed it would then taunt the next fishdog that was getting bathed. It didnít matter to the fishdogs if they had just gotten bathed or were about to be bathed next, whoever was being bathed was mercilessly teased. Upon completion of the baths all three fishdogs would race each other back to the spot the skunk had sprayed them and roll for hours in its lingering essence, knowing full well that a second bath awaited their return home. But, gifts from God are not to be wasted and there was no price to high to pay for their enjoyment. They were a good deal harder to catch for the second bath of the day.

Another pastime that the fishdogs had that constantly frustrated them was fox hunting. I would watch the baying fishdogs hot on the trail of a red fox. I would then watch the fox jump the horse fence and run to a cedar tree where it actually, and this is the truth, ran circles around the tree, then it would go to another tree and do the same and then with a mighty jump in the air it would land ten feet from its circle and saunter to the woods where it would turn around, sit down and await the three fishdog stooges. The fishdogs would be going full steam ahead to the first tree, not fooled they would search and easily find the foxes trail to the second tree where the trail ended. Now they had him, but where was he? Foxes donít often climb trees like the groundhogs sometimes did. They would search relentlessly around the tree, bumping into each other, pushing each other out of the way, and even looking under each otherís bellies as if the fox was trying to hide right under their noses. They knew that the fox was right in their grasp but couldnít see it. They would search the base of the tree for half an hour, occasionally looking up into its boughs to see if they fox was up there ready to pounce on them from above. The truth is that the fox enjoyed tormenting the fishdogs as much as the fishdogs hated groundhogs. The fox would slip away quietly into the woods after the fishdogs gave up and went in search of other quarry, They never did catch the fox in all the years he played the same exact trick on them over and over.

As the fishdogs had free roam across the farm they took advantage of all the culinary treats that farm life offered. One of their favorite gourmet treats were dried horse turds, the only reason they went for the dried ones was they were easier to carry to the yard and sit in the shade and eat, plus the dried ones were crunchier. After a dried horse turd snack it was critical to find someone, anyone to breath their horse turd breath on. This is how they judged the quality of the turd, the more you revolted at being breathed on the higher quality they judged the turd. Truly spectacular turds would charm a crowd just by breathing in the same room and did not need to be applied individually, but this quality was fortunately for the fishdogs a rare find. When one fishdog was chained up for some social indiscretion the other fishdogs would take pity on her and fetch some dried horse turds for her to chew on while in captivity. Their other absolute favorite treat were the trimmings from the horse hooves. There is nothing in the world that stinks as much as a chewy horse hoof trimming made by a blacksmith. THe fishdogs would sit in the shade and chew on these delicacies all morning and then try to breath on me as we took a ride in my truck out to go fishing.

The coyote like appetites of the fishdogs did get one into a little trouble one day. We were night fishing for catfish and had reeled our lines in to move to another catfishing hole, and had left the chicken livers on the hook so we wouldnít waste any bait. When I went to cast out I had already had caught a fishdog that thought she had found a nice liver treat. I tied the leader to her collar and headed home to the vet. She had swallowed the hook into her esophagus and my tying the line to her collar had stopped it from going into her stomach. The fishdog was operated on but during the operation, in which I got to help out and saw what the insides of a fishdog really look like, yuck!, the hook slipped down into her stomach. Thoracic fishdog surgery wasnít in the budget so I put my poor fishdog in the truck and went in to pay her bill. Being groggy from the surgery the fishdog had leaned forward while I was inside the office and fell off the truck seat and when I came back she was whining and standing on her head. I got her home and looked after her and in several days she passed the hook without any problems. It did teach me not to leave baited hooks around the fishdogs anymore.

In the deep of winter when we couldnít fish and the groundhogs were deep underground and far from their reach the fishdogs went sleigh riding with the neighborhood kids. They didnít actually ride on the sleigh, they didnít have thumbs and so couldnít steer a flyer. Their enjoyment came from chasing the sleighers down the hill and then following them back up to keep them company. We would watch a kid go screaming down the hill followed by a tail of three black spots. Their love of kids was profound, it didnít matter whose kids, and any kid would do. If a new baby was brought into the house the labs would form an outward ring around the baby, if anyone that didnít belong came near the babies they would have to get by three ferocious fishdogs. Their gentleness even transferred to the dogís archrival, cats. The fishdogs were raised with cats and must have viewed them as friends. They even tolerated some new kittens that had just been weaned trying to suckle the fishdogs, after the first attempt the fishdogs slept on their bellies for weeks instead of on their sides. They would clean the cats with their big Labrador tongue, whether the cat wanted cleaning or not. The cats would even play fetch with the dogs, although they always lost the tug of war.

The fishdogs soon learned to love riding in trucks with their favorite position in the back of my pickup truck, it was like a huge window for them. They would run from side to side of the truck as each mile of our trip revealed new sights, and more importantly for the fishdogs, new smells. The fishdogs soon learned to distinguish between the commands get in the car, the truck or the boat. They loved to ride anywhere and as soon as they saw me picking up my fishing rods they knew we were going fishing. In the truck each dog had its favorite position, and in the boat each dog had their favorite seat, which they would kindly share if I had taken a guest along. The duty of the fishdogs was not merely to weigh the front of the boat down but eventually evolved into their ambition and duty. After the boat was unloaded each dog would take it seat and guard the boat until I returned from parking the truck, they barked in excitement for me to step it up so that we could get going on another fishing trip. Anyone can find big fish in America with lots of hard work, but with the fishdogs I didnít have to look hard at all. The fishdogs job was to sniff out schools of carp shifting silently beneath the boat. I would take the fishdogs upriver and they would enjoy the scenery. As soon as they detected a school of carp they would stand up, wag their tails and begin sniffing the air above the water. This was my signal to slow down and come in easy. Once the fishdogs got excited and began to yelp quietly and pace the boat I knew I was in over the fish. Fishing guests never clued in that the fishdogs were helping me, I just told them the dogs wanted to go potty. The fishdogs were never wrong in locating the schools of carp, but even they couldnít make the carp bite.

If the fish werenít biting the fishdogs slept, watched the deer on the opposite shoreline or would simply decide it was time to plunge in. Their swimming never seemed to affect the fishing since they knew when the fish left the area. The fishdogs did take great interest in the fighting and landing of each carp. They would stand on the gunnels wagging their tails and woofing encouragement. Their excitement didnít depend on the carps size, they liked seeing them all. They got to sniff each capture before it was returned to the water and never expressed an interest in eating the catch, they seemed to realize that this was just for fun.

The fishdogs died before I took up Eurostyle carp fishing and chumming, it would have been a real mess trying to keep them out of the chum buckets. I know boilies would have confused them to no end, why is doofus throwing doggy treats out in the river and not letting us swim out and get them? The bite alarms would have irritated them too, waking them up from their fishdog naps and fishdog dreams. I have missed the smelly fishdogs for several years now, they can never be replaced. I still feel their tails wagging, hear their excited woofs when I am tracking down a school of carp, and every time I smell a skunk it reminds me of my fishdogs.

Oatmeal Jack
Dec, 2000

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