In a few weeks my dog Axel, a male Deutsch Drahthaar, will be 7 years old. He's my fourth dog, and his upcoming birthday reminded me about times I've shared with him and his past "brothers."
My first dog was a German shorthaired pointer named Jake. He was followed by Ace, a German wirehaired pointer. Then came Viking, also a German wirehaired pointer, and finally my current dog, Axel.
All were good dogs (have you ever heard of a hunting dog owner with a lousy dog?) but each had his quirks. If those four dogs could talk they probably would say the same about me.
Of the four dogs, most of the horror stories that come to mind revolve around Viking, my second German wirehaired pointer. He was a bit of a misfit from the beginning, since he didn't have a wirehair on his body. In fact, his solid brown coat was so short he was always mistaken for a German shorthaired pointer.
But beneath that short brown hair was a body built to run. Viking would bound through the woods and fields with the speed and grace of a deer. He was 80 pounds of solid muscle. A Manitoba farmer on whose land we often hunted said "now that's a barrel-chested son-of-a-gun" when he first met Viking.
Viking wasn't the brightest pointer in the woods, but what he lacked between his ears he made up for with his vigor. Like most hunting dogs, Viking had only two passions; hunting and being with dad (me). He was a nervous sort, and idle time was not to his liking.
I'll always remember a stunt Viking pulled while a friend and I were hunting in Manitoba. It was the last day of our hunt, and since we had a long drive ahead of us we slept until about 8 a.m. Upon rising, we packed our gear for the drive home, left the motel and went to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. At that time I had two dogs, Viking and Ace.
"I'll leave the dogs here and we will pick them up after breakfast," I had said.
When we left the motel, Viking was lying on one bed, and Ace was on the other. Both dogs were tired after our five-day hunt, and as we drove past our motel room window I noted they seemed content as they watched us leave.
A short time later we returned to motel. As we pulled up to park I could see the dogs through the window.
"Uh-oh," I said. "Look at Viking."
Viking and Ace were staring at us through the window, but both dogs were now on one bed. Ace looked content and happy, but Viking's ears were pulled back and his head was lowered. He appeared sheepish, and I knew he had pulled some kind of a prank.
During our absence Viking had chomped on the bedspread, ultimately leaving a gaping hole about two feet in diameter. He then hopped over to other bed, hoping maybe the maneuver would somehow shift the blame to Ace.
I gathered the tattered bedspread under one arm and walked to the motel checkout counter.
"Add this to my bill," I told the clerk as I flopped the chewed blanket onto the desk.
"Don't you feed your dog?" the clerk replied.
My friend and I hunted in Manitoba a few more years after Viking's blanket-chewing episode. Word had spread among the local people that we were "the guys with the dog that eats bedspreads." I'm sure I was also labeled a "sucker" because I had paid the motel clerk $40 for what probably was a $10 bedspread.
Most hunting dogs encounter a skunk during their lifetimes and we all know the results of those meetings. Some dogs avoid skunks after getting sprayed once or twice. Other dogs never learn. Viking was of one of the latter. During his 13 years of hunting he was sprayed by skunks eight times.
Earlier, I mentioned Viking wasn't the brightest animal. I think he knew what an encounter with an aromatic black-and-white animal would lead to, but he just didn't care. Twice he even retrieved live skunks. He presented the animals to me, holding them in his mouth, head high, while he pranced proudly, skunk essence dripping from his muzzle. On those occasions I'm sure he wondered why I was backpedaling as fast as I could.
Another of Viking's famous blunders occurred in front of a crowd at Game Fair, the outdoor hunting show held each summer at the Armstrong Ranch near Anoka. I was talking with Ron Schara, host of the television show "Minnesota Bound" and outdoors columnist for the Star Tribune. Viking was on a leash at my side, straining to sniff the various smells left by other dogs that accompanied the assorted fairgoers. Schara suddenly looked down and said, "Your dog is lifting his leg." At that instant I felt a warm sensation on my calf. Later, a few people asked me why I wore just one yellow sock.
Another time I was jogging with Viking down a woodland trail. We were about to pass a campground. I was supposed to have him on a leash, but it was a weekday and I figured the campground would be barren of guests. I was wrong.
Viking was in the lead, and as I rounded a bend in the trail I saw a camper toss a rolled-up sleeping bag from the trunk of his car. The instant the bag hit the ground Viking approached and - you guessed it - lifted his leg on the guys sleeping bag.
"Hey! Your dog just *&^% on my sleeping bag!" the guy yelled.
I apologized without slowing down, quickly rounded a bend in the trail and got out of sight. If the owner of the sleeping bag is reading this, that incident occurred more than seven years ago, so I think the statute of limitations applies.
Viking has been gone for six years now, and even though he was trying at times, I always admired his tenacity. He, like my other three dogs, was special in his own way.
BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer in Fort Ripley whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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