New Puppy Means New Challenges Ahead

It was about 10 years ago when I put my last dog down.  It was painful.  It was heartbreaking.  I never wanted to experience that sort of loss again.

As I left the vet’s office I just needed to be alone.  I cried.  I was filled with memories and emotion.  I made a promise to myself that this was it.  Never again am I getting a dog knowing full well the eventual outcome and heartache their loss will mean to one’s life.

I was at a transition in life when I got married just two years prior to the dog passing.  My wife never connected with my Black Lab.  My Stepson certainly didn’t feel anything towards the canine.  Indeed, the dog getting sick and needing to be euthanized came at an opportune time…if ever there is such a time in a person’s life.

Afterwards I drove to the hardware store where I browsed the aisles for what seemed like hours.  Why?  I needed to find my happy place.  Nobody else felt my grief.  I didn’t want to go home.  After all, there is nothing more lonely in life than to deal with the empty kennel syndrome all by yourself.

Nope, never again was I getting a hunting dog.  These days I rarely go duck hunting.  There is likely only a pheasant or two in my entire county.  And frankly, if a person has to have a dog I could not see owning anything but a Labrador Retriever.  Without a doubt when God made dogs he stopped with the Lab as he molded the perfect canine companion.

Meet Mikka

Within a year of losing my dog something else came along in my life–my first biological child.  I quickly realized how raising a puppy was a lot less challenging and costly, but the task of becoming a father certainly occupied my time and energy.  Indeed, I forgot all about being dog-less for one of the first times in my life.

That is, until my stepson turned 17 and decided he wanted a dog.  He held this fantasy notion that if he took the puppy with him while driving to visit friends…well, he would garner more attention.  Presumably attention from girls.  I dunno.  I never stooped to such tactics, although I’m aware when used properly it can work marvelously to a single guy’s advantage.  In other words, the cuter the puppy, the stronger the magnetic attraction by the female human persuasion.

I worked to quickly squelch this harebrained scheme.  Pulling some parental logic, I asked him what would happen to the dog for the 10+ years of its life AFTER he moved on to college.  As suspected, the dog would then by default become my sole responsibility.  I quickly nixed this idea.

Then a few more years passed when my daughter then became school-aged and started asking for a dog.  I thought…NO…not this again.  I’ve been down this track before.  But this time things were different.  She needed a summer companion.  She would be around home for the next 10 years to presumably care for the critter.  And moreover, she wants to grow up to be a veterinarian.  How can you be a vet without animal experience?  She played me perfectly.

We brought a new Yellow Lab puppy home on May 5th from a local breeder.  We named her Mikka and boy what a ball of energy she has become.  Yes, I lost the battle.  I mean, when I’ve grown up with dogs for the first 45 years of my life…how could I deny my daughter the same youth canine experience?

Mikka, the patriotic puppy during Independence Day.

Well, I was steadfast in my decision that if I am buying a dog it would be a Lab…and after two BLACK Labs this time it would be something different.  I wanted to go with a YELLOW Lab.

Mikka getting to know her new trainer before we left her for two weeks of puppy training.

Mikka has grown into quite the family pet.  New this time is Mikka’s also an indoor dog.  All of my previous dogs have been outdoor kenneled dogs, so that is also a completely new experience for me.  Still getting used to having a dog in the house, but I must say they grow much closer to the family that way being with you almost 24/7.

But today the crate is empty again.  We’ve been through the puppy obedience sessions and all that sort of thing…but now she is taking the first big step toward growing up.  She’s in puppy kindergarten.  Yup, for the next two weeks she is attending training at Tom Dokken’s Oak Ridge Kennels near Northfield, MN.  They do an excellent job with the dogs and I can’t wait to see how much Mikka has learned.

So, for the next 10 days or so I need work through my loneliness once again knowing how this time it’s only temporary.  Mikka is a great dog with the potential of being my best hunting dog ever.  She’s smart…good looking…and I can already imagine her flushing those pheasants within gun range.  My only concern now is…can I still hit those birds so as not to disappoint a new pup?  We shall soon see.

6 Trapping Safety Videos Dog Owners Should Watch

Earlier this spring I was impressed with a video the Idaho Fish and Game Department put out to educate dog owners on the possible dangers that exist while taking your dog afield during trapping season.   It was a video I thought was so well done to educate the public, I questioned why other DNR’s, like the one in my home state of Minnesota, didn’t follow suit and produce their own.   Particularly considering the negative publicity of some dog deaths in recent years due to conibear traps sometimes set legally and at other times in illegal situations.

Well, that’s another story for a different day…but yesterday I noticed outdoors writer, Al Cambronne wrote in his blog basically the information I had intended to share in an upcoming post.   I’ll spare you those details as I will direct you over to Al’s expertly written blog, but instead I want to conveniently link some videos I think every houndsman should watch.   Even if you do not trap, the day could come when it pays to understand what they are and how they function at least on a fundamental level.

Moreover, it also pays to understand some rather simple techniques on how you can quickly extract a pet from these wildlife control tools used by trappers.   Honestly, I understand that when the adrenalin is pumping and the excitement is high…nothing is simple regarding these corrective actions.   Nevertheless, I feel it not only behooves trappers to use due diligence in setting their traps to avoid non-targeted animal capture, but for dog owners to realize sometimes this cannot be avoided in all circumstances.

Let’s start off with a video I first seen about six months ago that I think serves as a great overview for the topic.   In other words, if you don’t want to take the time to watch all of the videos I’m suggesting…at least take the next 8 minutes to view this one:

I feel the video you’ve just seen gives a good overview on the topic of removing pets from traps.   Now, here is the series of videos Al Cambronne referenced in his blog post.   Consider this viewing extended learning, if you will.   The point is any responsible dog owner must prepare for these possible dangers that may exist in both the fields and forests where hunting dogs are likely to roam.   Having this knowledge could potentially save your dog’s life, or at the very least minimize any physical damage.


When The Tail Stops Wagging…Tough Decisions Must Be Made

“I hope your day improves.”   Those were the words meant to comfort me as I left my veterinarian’s office yesterday morning.   When I had arrived a half hour earlier my heart was still filled with hope that my nearly 10–year old black lab, “Duchess” would snap out of her recent medical funk.   Didn’t happen that way.   Nope!   Instead, the prognosis was so grave I decided to end her misery by signing the paperwork for euthanasia (which is a word almost as scary as the process itself).

Of course my mind knew this day was coming, but my heart just didn’t want to let go quite yet.   You know, canine hunting partners teach us so much during their life.   They’re with us during some of our most glorious outdoor moments.   They’re never critical of our sometimes lacking abilities…they just want to be part of the action and please their master in the best way they know how.

Yet, even in death a canine companion teaches us so much.   As most sportsmen, I’ve been through this before…and most certainly I will go through it again someday with another dog.   Saying goodbye is just never easy.   I look at it this way.   Each of the dogs I’ve known in my life are like chapters of my life.   The storyline might be slightly different with every dog, yet their main purpose adding fulfillment to your life always seems to be a constant.

Duchess was certainly no exception.   Admittedly she wasn’t my best hunting dog ever.   In fact, our days afield during most of her life have been somewhat limited because of her early health issues tearing an ACL.   She just never had the stamina for long days afield because of these previous joint injuries.   Still, she fulfilled my need for a canine partner in every other way possible.

Yes, there’s a strong bond that develops between a hunter and his dog.   It’s sort of hard to explain, in fact.   The dog doesn’t have to possess the best nose in the world or even be sharp as a tack with its retrieving and recovery skills.   Nope, when you enter the field with your canine hunting partner all you really hope for is to act in concert with one another to have a little hunting fun.   Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?   Man and dog working as a team while sharing quality time together in the outdoors.

Like it or not, eventually we must all face reality.   Compared to our lives, the life-cycle of a pet is fairly short, yet it sends a strong reminder to each of us to think about our own mortality.   Let’s face it…we only get the pleasure of hunting with a certain number of dogs in our lifetime and for me, at least, the final words have just been written on yet another chapter of my life.

When your canine partner approaches the twilight of their life it can really tear at your heart-strings to see them lose their quality of living.   At first thought you want to prolong the inevitable decline by offering them medication to ward off the medical signs and symptoms.   Eventually, however, you just look into their eyes and you know it’s about to come to an end.

Friday and Saturday morning I looked into Duchess’ eyes and I realized we were about to part ways in our physical presence, but certainly not in our shared spirit.   The tail had stopped wagging and the sad eyes indicated she was losing her will to battle on with life.

Now comes the hard part.   As sportsmen we make decisions dealing with the life and death of animals all the time.   Some folks even accuse us of being cruel and heartless as we kill animals for our pleasure.   To hell with those folks.   They have no clue as to the agony I have faced over the past several days making tough decisions about a life other than my own.

Indeed, sometimes the hard part really isn’t knowing what action must be taken when you choose to end the life of your dog.   Nope, the tough part is carrying out the process of that decision.   You strive to do it in a dignified and respectful manner…but the reality and utter difficulty of the process can truly rip the most stoic man into emotional pieces.

I’m happy to report that my vet was right.   He hoped my day would improve, and it most certainly did.   I spent some “happy time” thinking about all the great moments Duchess and I got to share together.   In the process, I realized that although our time together seemed way too short…we shared a great life creating many fond memories together.   After all, isn’t that the real reason a sportsman even owns a dog?

2008 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.