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OUTDOORS COLUMN: Finally -- the perfect retriever!

Bob Kornegay

Bob Kornegay

Gee whiz! Can’t they ever screw up conveniently? I’ve messed around with retrieving dogs since 1979, and none of the glitches involved have been simple or easy to remedy.

This one’s a Labrador. His sire’s name is Murphy. Why I didn’t christen this puppy “Murphy’s Law” instead of “Royal Rook” is beyond me. Lord knows I’ve trained outlaw canines before, but he’s the limit. And I’ve about reached mine.

On second thought, Rook isn’t an inappropriate name. Looks for all the world like I got “rooked” from the outset.

Right now Rook’s atop a logjam in the middle of a cypress pond 40 yards from shore, where I’m standing in agony, blowing the little ball out of my dog whistle, my face rapidly becoming the color of a beet. He’s lying there, leisurely, looking much like those ancient tomb statues of Anubis, the Egyptian jackal god. Of course, I never saw Anubis with a training-pen mallard pinned firmly under his big, clumsy forepaws. The big oaf isn’t hurting the duck, just lying there holding it. In fact, the bird looks far more bored than scared.

I know my coal-black miscreant won’t bring the duck back to me. He never does. It’s his toy, not mine. I sincerely believe if he didn’t need both feet to hold the drake down he’d raise one paw and flip me off every time he heard my whistle shriek. It’s inevitable. I’ll soon be in water up to my neck, wading out to drag both duck and dog back to dry land. Rook’s tail will wag all the way and he’ll have, as always, that “ain’t-this-a-ton-of-fun?” look in his eyes. The duck will yawn, poop on my tailgate and stroll nonchalantly into the bird crate. Time again, I fear, to demote yet another vexing pooch to the rank of lapdog.

So goes the story of my retriever-training life. Thirty-plus years. You’d think I’d learn. The whole tenure’s been a running chronology of canines with no talent, no desire, no get-up-and go, or, like my present anathema, a generous helping of just don’t give a damn.

There was Pete, for instance. He ate ducks. Even those foul-tasting mergansers. Wonderful retriever, but what practical purpose is served by delivering one’s “master” a head, neck, and beak?

There was Rascal. Rascal was an autoerotic pervert. He licked himself. I realize that’s a common male-canine trait, but Rascal wasn’t a now-and-then self-licker. With him it was constant. Very difficult seeing where a duck falls when one’s head is always between one’s legs. I wasn’t unsympathetic, but it was quite annoying.

Captain had a “territorial” thing about furniture, notably the chairs of field trial judges. More notably, the chairs all had judges in them when Captain decided to “go” on them.

Luke was a master of “long” retrieves. “Back!” I’d command as I sent him for a downed bird. Hours later, “back” he’d come, usually with a shapeless mass of days-dead roadkill in his mouth.

Hattie was a master kennel escapee, particularly when that time came. Thus, she was always in a family way. And her various offspring seldom resembled Labradors. There’s an apt description for the Hatties of dogdom, but I’ll refrain from using it. My mama might be reading. Too bad Rascal was dead before Hattie came along. They’d have been a perfect couple.

The list goes on. And, determinedly, so do I. I plug along, a glutton for punishment.

Or maybe not. I have high hopes for my next retriever. He’s on order. FedEx should be dropping him off any time now. Reading the particulars supplied by his “breeder,” he seems reliable, tractable, easy to keep and downright too good to be true. I’m reliably informed he’s house broken, won’t eat much and doesn’t take up a lot of space in a duck boat. He already has a name, even. I’ll not have to waste time coming up with one.

“Dip Net” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?