Sometimes the best hunting buddies come into our lives in the most unusual ways.
Three-year-old Mitchell came down the stairs, tow-headed, his eyes wide and bright with wonder as he beheld the magic of a Christmas morning. His eyes took in the beautifully decorated tree that he and his parents selected earlier that month from a nearby Christmas tree farm, and he looked over the Little Tykes car, the Barney action figures and the Sesame Street Big Bird story set that was all the rage that year.
But more than anything, he wanted a puppy, and there among the boxes and toys was a Longaberger basket with a bow on top and barely visible over the edge of the basket was a little brown head.
Mitchell ran over and plucked out the mostly-beagle puppy that his parents had selected from a local dog shelter. There was a ribbon tied onto the puppy-sized collar with a tag that Mitchell’s mom read for him; “Here is your new buddy – from Santa.” Of course Mitchell interpreted that to mean the puppy’s name was Buddy, so Buddy he became
The magic happened, as it always does between a small human child and a puppy, and Mitchell and Buddy were inseparable. Naturally the first few months were occupied with housebreaking and learning the rules. For instance, Buddy was not allowed to sleep on Mitchell’s bed, but in time the bigger humans learned that was a silly, unenforceable rule.
The two grew up together, and in a few short years Buddy accompanied Mitchell to kindergarten, well at least as far as the end of the driveway where the large yellow thing devoured Mitchell and took him away. It did not take long for Buddy to recognize the sound of the approaching bus and make sure he was there waiting to greet his young master.
Of course the two played games like hide and seek, fetch, “wrassling,” and Buddy provided plenty of companionship. True to his nature, Buddy also exhibited more than a little desire to chase the local rabbits, and Dad started taking the pair hunting close to the house. Buddy would find the trail of a rabbit, let out a loud, long “Barrooo!” and the game was on.
A few more years passed, Buddy matured into a “good boy,” and Mitchell played sports and took on other interests and friends, and even though they didn’t spend quite as much time together, Buddy still waited for his boy to get off of the bus, and was still there to make sure nothing harmed him in his sleep.
Nothing got Buddy more excited in the fall and winter than seeing Mitchell and his dad putting on their hunting clothes and getting the shotguns out of the gun cabinet. He knew it was his time; time for hours of frolicking in the woods and fields, doing what came instinctively to him. He was in his prime for a hunting dog.
Mitchell on the other hand was still young for a human, but he grew taller and stronger, his looks and his voice changed, and he began taking more interest in the females of his species, all of which Buddy observed from a distance.
Mitch no longer rode in the big yellow thing, but drove his own car. Buddy’s eyes were a little weaker and cloudy now, and he couldn’t chase rabbits quite as long, and sometimes Mitch would put him up on the bed.
Proms came and went, senior pictures with Buddy (all cloudy-eyed and skin and bones), and then finally graduation. Mitch was getting ready to go off to college out-of-state, and the day came that Buddy just couldn’t get up, no matter how much he tried, his old legs wouldn’t move. His work was done, his human ready to move on.
Our story skips forward a few years to today.
A little tow-headed girl trundles down the steps this morning in her PJs, wiping her eyes from the sleep, and there on the floor a little puppy with its paws on the edge of a basket, looks out eagerly at its new human – a little tag on its collar reading “Here is your new buddy – from Santa.”
Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District. His column In the Open generally appears every other weekend. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at firstname.lastname@example.org