Saying Goodbye to the McGuffin

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

have that last hunt with my friend. His first hunt was for doves. He was nine weeks old and fell asleep on my shell vest, rousing only a bit when the gun went off. He sniffed the dead birds with puppy delight, then went back to sleep.

Guff was more than a hunting dog. He rode a canoe like the lookout on the Santa Maria, ever eager for the sight of something other than water. In his old age, he took up fishing.

He'd lie on the dock, his feet over the edge, and watch the circling bluegills below, trembling so violently he was a blur. Jimmy Houston never got that excited about fishing. If I hooked a catfish, he'd wade in as I led it to shore and offer to help land it.

It's always intrigued me that hunters, who make mistakes routinely (like missing more shots than they hit) expect perfection from their dogs. Guff never came close to perfection.

He was just an intelligent and skilled bird dog with an average nose, but sometimes he screwed up almost as badly as I did. There was a memorable day when Guff did absolutely everything wrong. First, he busted birds. He acted as if he couldn't have smelled them if they'd been glued to his muzzle. Then he rolled in a cowpie. I got him reasonably cleaned up and brought him inside the cabin at the hunt's end.

He promptly threw up. While I was cleaning up that mess, yelling at him, he pouted over to the duffel bag of a fellow hunter and flopped down on it...depressing the nozzle of a can of WD-40 inside. The entire can emptied inside the bag.

Guff never turned down a dogfight and never won one. He was covered with scars. His eartips, lacerated by a decade's-worth of briars, were scarred and often bled after a tough day in the field. He had several scars on his face from losing encounters with his grandson, Dacques.

Dacques hero-worshiped Guff for a couple of seasons, followed him everywhere. Then, with young dog arrogance, Dacques decided he was the heir-apparent and Guff was over the hill. He was wrong, of course, but you can't tell a young dog anything.

Guff had been the same way. After a first season when he made few mistakes, he hit the sophomore jinx. He knew it all. It took another year of hard work and often impatient instruction before he settled back down. Once he realized it was a partnership between him and me, we melded like solder and a metal joint.

Dacques became a better bird finder. He has a great nose and good range, more like a pointer than a Brittany. I loved to hunt with him. But when I wanted a day by myself, more to get away than to kill birds, I'd load Guff and we'd take our time working the fields and draws and creek edges.

I knew he'd find some birds and hold them forever. I didn't have to worry about where he was because we each always knew where the other was. It was like a marriage. We merged personalities and became as one. Guff and I, a couple of old dogs, scarred and stiff and comfortable with each other.

That's why I feel as if I've lost a piece of me.

So, from time to time, I'll go to the mossy log and sit there and think about McGuffin and me. There needs to be an end to mourning and there are those who will say it's silly emotion even to cry after dead dogs. The new pup will warm the cold spots in my heart. It took a long time to get over the death of Guff's predecessor, but I did.

Life moves on and dead dogs don't come back.

They just leave great dark holes in the November landscape where once they flamed like the sun.

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