My boy Blue, rest his soul, was roughly 14 when he passed. I only had the pleasure of his company for seven years, but he was, by a million miles, the toughest and most loyal dog I've ever had the pleasure and misfortune of calling a friend.
On September 9, 2001, I was harvesting a crop of early soybeans in a field on our farm. My farm hand called on the radio and told me to take a look out the window. When I did, I noticed a black dog methodically walking beside the combine. He followed the machine from one end of the quarter-mile field to the other, turned on the end, and followed it back. He proceeded to do this for the entirety of the day. He looked famished and I could see that he was walking with a noticeable limp. I put out a small amount of food and water in the farm shop parking lot across the street from the field I was cutting, and to my surprise, he was still lying in the parking lot the next morning when I arrived. Again, this dog followed the combine to the field and walked beside me until about 3:00 in the afternoon. Feeling sorry for the dog, I picked him up and set him in the cab of the combine, which made him quite happy. That evening when I left for home, again, I placed food and water in the parking lot of the shop. And again, the next morning, he was there waiting for me when I returned. This ritual continued for two weeks, at which point I decided that his owner wasn't coming back. On one particular day, a buddy with a new shotgun came to the farm to try it out, and I noticed that when he fired, the dog broke. Armed with the new understanding that this dog knew what a shotgun was for, I set out to make him a hunting partner.
I took the dog to the vet and inquired as to whether he might be displastic, as the limp did not seem to be getting better. After a check-up, the vet responded that the dog's pelvis was broken, one back leg was broken in three palces, and he he had a piece of buck shot in his rear. The vet indicated that he thought he could fix him, so reluctantly, I agreed.
In summary, I have now picked up a stray dog and invested $2,500 for surgery to drive a pin through the bone in his leg, wrap it with steel wire, and hope for a decent recovery. On the other hand, he was a happy dog and a new hunting partner, so I figured it was worth a shot.
I took the dog home, allowing him to live indoors while he recovered. As time progressed, he seemed to get better, but developed a habit of dragging the foot on the leg that had been "fixed". Eventually, sores began to emerge on the foot and infection set in.
In February of 2002, I was fishing for trout on the White River, 3 hours from my home, when my Russian wife called in tears. (I mention that she is Russian because in my then 9 years of marriage, I'd never seen or heard anything resembling tears out of her. By female standards, she's about as insensitive as is imaginable.) Hysterically, she said that someone must have been murdered in our home. There was blood in every corner, on the couches, the bed, the bathroom. I called my father and told him that we had a serious issue and that he should go check things out. A half-hour later, dad called back to inform me that there had been no slaughter in our home. It appeared that my boy Blue had simply chewed his own leg off, and was quite proud of himself. He almost bled to death. To be fair, he left the bone, but there wasn't a stitch of flesh from his ankle down.
The family took the dog to the vet, who stopped the bleeding. Vet said that the dog had lost too much blood for surgery at the time, so they held him and cut the leg off 2 days later. When I returned to the vet to pick the dog up, the vet said that the pup was very unusual. He said that normally, with an amputation, a dog doesn't want to get up for several hours, and sometimes days, after the surgery. He indicated that there is an element of depression that goes with it, and dogs usually have to mentally adjust before they try to stand. As for Blue, the vet said that he was up within 20 minutes of his completion of the surgery, so the vet assumed that he needed to relieve himself. He took the dog outside, and was shocked to see that Blue tried to hike the wrong leg and fell down. Apparently, missing that back leg just wasn't that noticeable.
I took the dog home, whet to work, and returned 4 hours later to find that he'd eaten all 50 of the staples from his stump. Another trip to the vet.
Eventually, the dog healed up, and the next season we resumed hunting together. By the time his last season came around, Blue was completely deaf, 90% blind, and retrieved most of his ducks by smell on his three legs, but he never gave up. He was a constant companion at home and on the farm, and he cost me a small fortune.
In the fall of 2003, Blue was riding in his normal spot on the combine under my feet when I received a call on the 2-way radio from my farm hand, who said that there was a problem with a tractor. I left Blue in the combine and rode back to the farm shop on the grain cart my employee was pulling. On my way back to the field, I noticed that my farm hand looked out the window of the tractor and pointed. I wasn't sure what what the commotion was about, but I could see the shock on his face. I leaned over the grain cart to see around the tractor and found, to my dismay, that my combine was in the ditch, and the back wills were 2' off the ground and still spinning. Blue had taken my seat in the combine, and had knocked the hydrostat forward in the process. Ultimately he drove the rig a quarter-mile, across two levees and a road, and off in the ditch. As the hoards of farmers swarmed onto our property to see why I had ditched a $200,000 thrasher right beside the highway and in full sight of my collegues, my father again reminded me that this was a very expensive dog.
Three years after his surgery, Blue was sitting in the back of my pick-up at convenience store. When I walked out of the store, I noticed a gentleman walking up to the truck. He simply said "that's a fine looking lab you have there." I responded that looks could be deceiving, and pointed to the place where his leg should have been. He asked me where I'd gotten the dog, and I said that he'd gotten me. The guy looked at the dog and said "Cache?", in response to which Blue walked over and licked the guy in the face. The long and short of it was that this guy was the owner of the dog, a master hunter, and the pup had been stolen from him in August, 2001 by some gentlemen from Illinois. According to the gentleman, ole Blue had been trained for the director of DU in Memphis, and had an impressive pedegree. When the OOS'ers nabbed him, they apparently dumped the dog around our farm, and he'd made his way the best he could until he walked up to my combine. In the end, I put well over $5,000 in that stray before it was over, but he was probably worth every penny. Over his short 5-year hunting career with me, Blue gave me a lifetime's worth of memories. I've never had a dog that was less willing to leave my side.
Smell that? Smells like sumthin died in here.