I’m here to tell you

In the beginning, no one tells you about the end.

Everyone focuses on the withdrawal from the bank account and the puppy breath and the belly rubs. Maybe they tell you about crate training or share their contrived tips to get the new addition through the night without incident, but they don’t talk about the end. 

I’ve long looked at myself as a rookie in this space. Always looking, always learning, trying to glean what I can from each new experience and get better – hunting, training, handling, and loving.

As the years went on I knew the end was coming, I even played it out in my brain a few times like one of those difficult conversations you have with yourself before ever uttering a word out loud to the other person. Those never go as planned, do they? 

This didn’t either.

Don’t get me wrong, I know about death. Trust me. Lose a family member to the violence of another as a teen and you get real close with it. But, unlike most things, the loss of those you care about doesn’t get easier with practice. (If you don’t care about your dogs you probably shouldn’t be here.)

I knew it was looming out there, a storm cloud on the edge of the horizon. That kind you brush off and will elsewhere by calling the dog around and striking out to new country pretending you won’t get wet. But, gamble long enough and those clouds end up on top of you – rain was coming. There was the inevitable slow down and the gray muzzle and the stiff legs on hoar frost covered mornings.

In the time since the beginning, those I met from the onset of this four-legged following had their own ends. Ends I felt, in a different way, sure, but ends nonetheless. No more scratches behind the ears, no more ‘whoa’ and the excitement that comes after, no more times on the tailgate getting collared and no more ‘god damnit, I said here!’ when they forgot to turn it on. 

Hobbes and Bonnie went first. I hate to say that I don’t remember which had the honor of first place in the race to the end, but I do remember the sting of the texts coming through for each of them. I remember the downturned eyes and staring at the phone screen with no words to type. They don’t tell you what to say in these moments.

We had a good run after that. Half of us with dogs in their prime, and the others with up-and-comers. We got a break.

And then the break was over. One week we had to drag Tine out of a cut over full of so many woodcock he forgot his name, the next had his weathered red reflective collar buckled for the last time and placed on the dashboard. That dash still had trips on the books, waypoints across bird country to hit, as we all do when it’s only October and you have a workhorse in the kennel, a kennel now empty. Best laid plans.

Before I dropped that tailgate in April and came face to face with the end I had plans of my own. Plans of a rookie turned intermediate who is beyond the puppy years and knows the clock will wind down soon. Plans to keep the list of first places and first birds going before her brightness dimmed too much. They don’t tell you that you can’t pick when the lights go out. One more thing not going as planned.

I wish they would have pulled me aside and told me about the end, if nothing else to dull the knife of loss just a touch over a lifetime before it plunged its way home. But they don’t.

Now it’s my turn to be ‘they’.

You know what I say? 

In the end, it’s so fucking worth it.

Author: Mike Neiduski

New Englander currently living in Minnesota. You can expect musings on bird dogs, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor adventures.

12 thoughts on “I’m here to tell you”

  1. Something about the way you wrote this, something about the profound sense of loss, the sadness, something about the heart so present….touched me to tears.

  2. Having been through it before, I really had a tough decision whether to bring another Golden into the family. It took me 11 years to finally get over the loss of my last one and even though pup is a year and a half now, not a day goes by that I don’t find myself bracing for the end.
    Worth it? Yeah but it won’t feel like when it happens.

  3. If you hunt with dogs, the end is inevitable. Sometimes early, sometimes late. It never hurts any less but is it worth it, you betcha. If it wasn’t for dogs I wouldn’t hunt.

  4. Tuck, my Golden, died beside me on the pickup seat; bad heart. I had to put Baxter the irascible Aussie down the day after my mother’s funeral. So yeah. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Nice work and touching. Those ends don’t get easier, and maybe that’s because each one brings me a little closer to my own. You see yourself in that grey muzzle and arthritic shoulders. Or I do.

    But yeah… hard as it is, it is still worth it.

  6. Well put, well wrote, I think each of us reading this get choked up one way or another thinking about the end, or having experienced it once, twice, a dozen times. I dread it, but those thoughts make you want to make our friends’ lives full of great experiences, companionship, and mutual respect.

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