Friday, August 14, 2009
A Special Treat
The following article has impressed me immeasurably over the years. It's one of the funniest pieces of gundog related literature I have ever read, and whenever I think that dog out there in front of me should do everything right, in spite of the fact that when it becomes my turn to perform, I can't, I try to remember this article. I get a laugh all over again, and it puts the whole reason we're out in the field with a dog into perspective once again!
My thanks go out to the author, Mr. Joel Vance, for his kind permission to reprint the article here, in it's entirety..
I know our readers will get just as much from it as I have every time I've reread it over the last 20 plus years..
So, without further adieu..
Guff's Bad Day
By Joel M. Vance
They say every dog has his day, but when Guff had his, planets collided and stars rocked in the firmament.
Now, there are good days and bad days. This was a bad day. Well, saying it was a bad day was like saying an encounter with the guillotine is "a little owie."
You must understand, Guff is my pride, my talented child, the kid who just spelled "anopheles" in the Spelling Bee finals.
Guff is a dog.
Not just any dog, you know, but a French Brittany who has enough Gallic blue blood in his background to out-do the house of Burgoyne. His grampa was a champ and his daddy was a champ. Most of his uncles and aunts win field and bench shows nationally and internationally. They look on Westminster as "that silly little American show."
Guff is short for "McGuffin" which is what Alfred Hitchcock called the gimmick in all his movies that all the good guys and the bad guys sought. The McGuffin is what everyone wants.
McGuffin is an ardent hunter who will come out of a sound sleep if someone murmers "birrrrrd!" He is broadchested with the typical butt-sprung gait of Brittainies. He has several bird seasons under his orange and white hide which have included just about every game bird in North America-ruffed grouse, sharptailed grouse, woodcock, pheasant, quail. He has worked them all, growing as reliable as Mr. Goodwrench.
Guff has a cute little freckled nose that makes cute little freckled girls gush over him, so I take him to a lot of places where there are many cute little freckled women.
He loves attention, thrives on affection, does adorable things that make you just want to hug him. God! I envy him!
Large men in brush pants no doubt are gagging at the thought of hugging a bird dog unless you're trying to squeeze some sense into it, but I love my dogs and we share pretty much everything.
For example, I buy a sack of caramels every time we come north to the pine woods to hunt ruffed grouse and woodcock. Some are for me, some are for Guff, most for the family dentist who enjoys replacing my fillings and taking his own vacations in more southern climes. But the caramels keep our energy up as we stumble through God-forsaken swamp edges where the footing is somewhat like break-dancing on a pool table covered with ball bearings.
Because Guff is first a quail dog, he has trouble with grouse. Since he only sees them once a year, he tends to forget they aren't just big quail who will sit right under a French Brit's black nose as if skewered there with a dirk.
Instead, grouse are stupid birds, brainless and indecisive. Anything foreign in their environment throws them into a mindless confusion that usually leads to movement-they either walk off or fly up in a tree where they can be taken in what one of our hunters euphemistically refers to as "the pre-flight position."
A French Brittany creeping forward like a roan cat definitely qualifies as "foreign" and Guff has trouble realizing that he must instantly freeze at the merest whiff of grouse stink, no matter the direction, that he must not try to locate that smell or make it grow stronger. He must learn that a bird spotted on the ground walking around is not crippled and will fly if you try to catch it.
So, it is understandable that he has the occasional bad day. But this bad day was the Johnstown Flood compared to an overflowing toilet.
Guff started it by falling off his bed. He'd sneaked up on the overstuffed chair in the old cabin where we stay, and probably dreaming of cute little freckled ladies, rolled over and onto the floor with a thump that woke everyone up.
We all thrashed around in bed, grumbled a bit, and went back to troubled, interrupted sleep. God knows what Guff dreamed about, but no matter how wild his reverie, it couldn't have approached the reality that was fast approaching him.
I was expansive at breakfast, telling a disbelieving audience in the log cabin where we shuck civilization that I had reformed.
"No more screaming at the dog," I said and they smirked. "No," I protested, "I mean it. Just not worth the hassle. Besides, the dogs have settled down and I just don't need to run them down and speak long and earnestly at them. We're both mature now." I smiled paternally at Guff. Me and my doggie, finding grouse, shooting them, a scene to warm the cold, revered shade of Burton Spiller.
I spoke the words and believed them. Ah, the words with barbed wire wrapped around them, the toughest kind to digest when you have to eat them.
"Zen dog training," Ted Lundrigan said. "I'll swallow that when I see it."
Ted and I walked the edge of a doghair popple stand which crowded a pasture. I searched the thick saplings in vain for the noble sight of my dog, descendant of champions, as he coursed the covert. Then a movement caught my eye, in the field beyond.
There was my noble dog snacking on a cowpie, his shoulder drooped and twitching, like Charles Laughton in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," ready to roll in what he didn't eat.
It may come as a shock to new dog owners to think that their endearing companions would eagerly snack on bovine biscuits, but life with bird dogs is filled with such taut moments of unhappy discovery.
My Zen calm went out the window when I roared ancient Anglo Saxon while Ted tried to pretend he was hunting alone.
I lost it again after the third point Guff busted. Zen went the way of my resolve never to touch Scotch and Water again, never to buy another shotgun, never to lie about my shooting.
I laid curses on Guff that you couldn't cancel with an exorcism. I held him by the cheeks while I explained in dog language what I expected. Dog language is sheer, roaring filth that even the most inane creature comprehends.
Perhaps Guff pointed a grouse that day, but if so it was done while I wasn't with him. I do know that he busted at least a half dozen birds, most of which had been nailed by Ted's setter, Salty, until Guff came along like a derailed cattle car.
You can steal a man's children, corrupt his wife, ruin his business, even insult his baseball team-but let your bird dog bust up a point that his bird dog has made and you've really ticked him off.
Ted began to look at Guff as if he were head lice, then looked at me as if I were the head.
I muttered about "competition" and "doesn't realize you can't lean on grouse" and Ted muttered something about "take that dog's head off with a two-by-four."
Salty was becoming jittery, Ted was becoming, well, homicidal is the word that springs to mind. Fortunately, the sun took pity on me and started to go down.
We headed back to Pine River. Guff, of course, had to assistant-drive, his face between us, panting a fog of recycled manure.
Back in the cabin I regaled a bored audience with tales of Guff's misbehavior. "He was disgraceful," I said. "He made every mistake in the book and invented some new ones. He was terrible." As I spoke, Dave Mackey's face grew alarmed and I thought it was with horrified sympathy. It wasn't.
"Watch out!" Mackey exclaimed. "He's sick!"
Guff threw up on the carpet behind me, a slurry of awfulness that took an hour to clean. Clearly this was a dog beset by devils, a victim of black magic or a curse. The Red Gods were playing dodge-ball with my dog and me.
Guff looked at me with a sick apology and suddenly I felt sorry for the little guy and tried to consider the big picture. After all, for every bad day, he'd given me so many good ones. For every point he'd busted, he'd made a dozen good ones in the past.
I tried to correlate the day's experience in human terms and the television set helped me. The St. Louis Cardinals had just won their way into a tie with the San Francisco Giants behind shutout pitching by ace John Tudor. Tudor had pitched like a Little League dropout his previous game; couldn't do anything right.
Obviously, even the best have their off days.
So, I relented and petted the little dog and he sighed heavily and pouted off to a corner to lie atop Dave Mackey's hunting pants, which were draped over his box of ammo and gun cleaning gear.
We watched "The Equalizer," whose methods of correction (throw them through brick walls, etc.) were close to those what I'd considered all day long for Guff.
Dave picked his pants up the next morning and they were dripping with WD-40. Guff had laid on the nozzle of the full spray can and emptied it.
His bad day was complete...
I first encounted this great little story in 1988, in the September/October issue of Gundog magazine. It made a great impression on me, and I've often thought about it over the past 20+ years. Any person who cruises the glorious uplands with a dog must surely be able to relate to this story.. If not, you've had better luck than I , or just have not spent enough time with gundogs as of yet!
What also is obvious from the story is the great bond that existed between Guff (pictured above) and his partner, Mr. Vance.
Once again, I'd like to express my thanks to Mr. Joel M. Vance for his permission in allowing me to reprint "Guff's Bad Day" here.
Mr. Vance has many more books that should be of interest to readers here. On Conservation, and his lifelong love affair with the uplands and French Brits.