I’ve been thinking about the future a lot. This blog has helped me reach a sense of closure following the deaths of two beloved dogs. I knew a working type golden retriever intimately well. She could retrieve anything, for she lived for the retrieve. She was one of those dogs who sought kinship with our species to the point where she began to take on some of our traits. The other was a half golden retriever/half boxer that was a truly fell beast. She was the menace of skunks and feral cats, and the coyotes hit the brush when they saw her approach.
Neither of these dogs would have fit into modern American suburban life very well. The intelligent retriever with such a desire to retrieve would probably drive her owners batty in the subdivision. And no insurance company would ever take on a household that included dog that could rather quickly dispatch a feral cat with a simple crushing bite to the skull.
These two dogs taught me a lot about their kind. For their tutelage I will be forever grateful.
But I don’t think it’s fair for me to quest after dogs in hopes that they can replace what once was. It was great when it was, but because it’s based upon the very finite existence of a dog, it cannot be replaced.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I really want in a dog. I suppose that deep down, I want a dog that is pretty unspoiled but also domesticated and useful.
On my trips into the woods, I’ve been coming across a ruffed grouse. I’m sure it’s the same one, but it is hard to tell for sure. I remember eating the ones my grandpa killed, along with the copious dishes of pressure-cooked squirrel. I remember it as the finest poultry I’ve ever tasted.
Grouse have had a rough time in West Virginia outside of the High Alleghenies. When timber industry fell apart in the early part of this century, the woods stopped being logged. The forests started to mature, and the grouse, which prefer younger timber, began to disappear. I’m also sure, though it has never been tested empirically, that decline of the fur industry meant a rise in the number of raccoons and opossums, which love nothing more than to eat grouse eggs, and and a rise in number of red and gray foxes, which love to eat the grouse themselves.
I’ve thought about getting a working golden retriever to hunt grouse, which they certainly can do. They were actually bred to pick up red grouse in the Scottish Highlands. Red grouse are British subspecies of a Holarctic species that we North Americans call a “willow ptarmigan.” Unlike the North American variant, the British red grouse does not turn white in the winter.
Ruffed grouse are more like the forest grouse of Scandinavia. Probably their nearest equivalent in the Old World would be the hazel grouse, which is quite a bit smaller.
These birds can be hunted with retrievers, but it’s more of a flushing dog situation. This sort of raises the question if maybe I’d be better off with a spaniel of some sort.
But the truth is most people who hunt ruffed grouse with dogs don’t use flushing dogs. That’s because ruffed grouse are notoriously good at lying low until the last moment. The one I encounter on a regular basis usually flies off as soon as I walk by where it’s been hiding. Most people use pointing dogs.
The problem is that I don’t like English pointers or Llewellin setters. Nice dogs. But the American version of the English pointer is not the kind of dog I like. It’s more like a pointing white foxhound. To my mind, it’s a dog of the bobwhite plantation of the Deep South.
And it may seem picayune and petty, but I don’t much like the looks of a Llewellin setter. They look unrefined and unkempt, and when they point with their tails sticking up, it reminds me of a joke about all dogs having Ohio license plates. That’s a dog that shows it off!
But then I’m reminded that the pointing dog world doesn’t end with all the plantation stock. On the European continent, there are plenty of different breeds developed. Many of these are multipurpose dogs.
I know the German breeds of these dogs better than the others. The most easy one of these to find is the German short-haired pointer, which is split into several different lines right now. I’ve known one of these dogs from 4-H camp many years ago, and she was a very intelligent and docile animal.
The dogs that are closer to the German version of this breed are also quite capable of retrieving waterfowl, even though it would be unwise to use them during the dead of winter portion of the duck season that West Virginia has.
This breed is a sort of compromise between the Central European big game hound, the pointing gun dog and the retrieving gun dog. It’s not the only breed that Germany has produced that is like this. It just happens to be the most common one in the US.
But again, I’m thinking out loud here. I’m a long way off from being in the place to choose a dog.
But I know I want something unspoiled and something that is useful. I’m not seeking the most obedient dog on the planet. I like a dog with good sense and “sagacity.”
So here is where my mind is moving at the moment.
Idle thoughts about the future.