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  • June 14th, 2019


By Joel M. Vance


I’ve seen it attributed to Mark Twain but actually it was the rope twirling humorist Will Rogers who said “If dogs don’t go to heaven, when I die, I want to go where they go.” Considering the many moments of happiness and hilarity that dogs have given me over the past decades, I’m with Mr. Rogers when it comes to a vacation in eternity.


My first dog was named “Chaps” a literary allusion.  Chaps was a half cocker spaniel half springer spaniel who seduced my father as he was passing a pet store in Chicago, Illinois. He thought that having a dog would tame my juvenile tendency to create new ways to get in trouble. Of course, in later years, Chaps became his dog, a constant companion in the squirrel woods where she excelled at treeing the bushytailed critters so he could shoot them.


But I did get to name her as a puppy. I had been reading “My Friend Flicka” and there was a dog in the novel named Chaps which I thought was a good one for my new puppy. I also had been working on a balsa wood model of a World War Two airplane and had spent countless hours gluing the little pieces together until I had a lovely, but flimsy replica of a fighter I much admired because of its sleek and dangerous look. Unfortunately, with virtually no grasp of international warfare (I was eight years old), the plane I chose to build was a Focke Wulf German fighter bomber. The puppy, Chaps, obviously was far more patriotic than I was because as I passed by my bedroom en route to the supper table, I spied Chaps reveling in the wreckage of my cherished model which she had chewed to splinters and shreds of paper.


Flick was a Li’l Abner among dogs, a rangy French Brittany who seemed from the outset to believe that his purpose in life was to have a good time. Once, hunting with the late outdoor writer Nick Sisley, Flick had an exemplary morning, outshining the other dogs on the hunt, pinning pheasants to the ground as if he had staked them with a hammer and nails. All in the hunting party admired my flawless dog until just after lunch when our host introduced his dog to the hunt. “She’s coming out of heat,” he said, “but I don’t think she’s attractive to male dogs anymore—she’s been defused.”


Flick, however, disagreed and fell instantly in love and the only thing he pointed from then on was his new girlfriend. “He is,” Nick said, “a fun dog.”


Flick did love the ladies and his best friend among our dogs, was Tess, a demure French Brittany whom I called Lady Di because of her habit of peering somewhat seductively up at whoever was petting her, much as did the late Princess Diana. Tess and Flick loved to race each other until the day that Flick, a half stride ahead in the race, looked over his shoulder at Tess…. And ran headlong into a tree. He staggered back from the collision, shook his head— and then snarled and jumped on Tess as if to say, “it’s all your fault, bitch!”  Typical male reaction— blame somebody else when you do something dumb.


Not too long after that, Tess came in heat and she and Flick were united in canine marriage. Sixty three days later they became the parents of eight puppies. I have a photograph of Tess standing in the yard with eight youngsters hanging off her faucets as she glares at Flick, standing nearby, with an expression that clearly says, “it’s all your fault, you son of a bitch!”


Pick any given winner of Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club competition, especially if that blue ribbon dog is a pointer, a bird dog, symbol of the club for 100 years, and lead that dog into a field formerly occupied by cattle. Unsnap the dog’s leash and let it roam and within minutes, the dog will return covered with green slime from having joyously rolled in odious cow flops. There is no substance so noxious that a dog will not enthusiastically decorate himself and, if you’re not extremely agile at evasion, you.


I know this is true because our dogs periodically return from brief romps in our woods smelling not unlike the effluvia from a defective sewage lagoon. A dog’s nose, many hundreds of times more sensitive than that of a human, is a marvel of evolution— able to detect at unbelievable distance the faint aroma of something so odious that it would, to quote an old simile “stink a dog off a gut wagon.” Except, of course it wouldn’t—the dog would be in canine heaven, perfuming itself in an ecstasy of self gratification. The reeking dog invariably wants to share its bounty with you and display its undying gratitude by becoming a lapdog


The target of the dog’s ecstatic attempt to roll in the sludge not always is inanimate. Well-known is the penchant for a dog to dare the rear end weaponry of a skunk with disastrous results both for the canine and the canine owner. Once, on a grouse hunt in Minnesota, the owner of a Labrador retriever, belonging to a member of our hunting party and his fuming owner, returned to the motel apartment where we were staying, clutching in one hand a large can of tomato juice, and in the other hand the collar of the skunk-sprayed Labrador which he dragged rapidly through the room where we were eagerly awaiting supper, into the bathroom where he and the dog and the tomato juice wrestled in the shower.


The theory is that tomato juice defuses the awful stench of skunk but I can testify that is a fallacious theory much like that of the 1950s theory that if schoolchildren get under their desks they will escape the effect of an atomic explosion.  We banished the dog to a kennel in the back end of the owner’s pick up outside the motel where it proceeded to howl its dissatisfaction all night. Periodically, large and outraged truckers staying in the rooms below us opened their doors and snarled that if they ever could discover who owned that condemned dog they would exact corporal punishment. The least the guy who owned the Lab could have done was to sleep in the kennel with his dog— he didn’t smell like roses either.


Another time, closer to home, my late best friend Spence Turner and I were quail hunting when our two dogs went over a nearby rise in search of the elusive bobwhite. We heard a yelp and then both dogs returned bringing with them a veritable tornadic whirlwind of skunk stink. The temperature was about 20° and we were 50 miles from home—and we were in my car which was not equipped for distance traveling with reeking dogs. The only way we could survive was to roll down all the windows and by the time we got back to my house we both were verging on hypothermia. I got no sympathy from the family trying to explain why the family car turned toxic while daddy was trying to hunter gather supper.


Once I had a dog who, in one monumental hunt, committed the equivalent of a human breaking all 10 Commandments in one day. First, he acted as if his genetic imperative, rather than pointing birds, was to make them fly. He ran through grouse after grouse and I began to wonder if he had completely lost his sense of smell–until the moment he obviously scented the effluvia of a particularly juicy cow pasture and returned from having bumped yet another grouse, smelling like an exploded outhouse. By nightfall, when we returned to the cabin where we were staying, exhausted and exasperated, he had run through enough weeds and damp vegetation (and grouse) that the awful stink of cow flop had faded.


I was on the verge of forgiving him for his sins, figuring that even Michael Jordan had a bad game once in a while, and I even felt a twinge of sympathy when he flopped exhausted on my hunting partner’s duffel bag. I heard a faint hissing sound but it didn’t register until my hunting buddy moved the dog to get some gun cleaning material only to discover that the hissing sound had come from a can of WD-40 that he had laid in the bag nozzle up and that the dog had triggered when he laid down on it.


It wasn’t until much later that I remembered something that happened to me at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, when I was at ROTC summer camp, learning how to be an artillery officer. It was Friday night and we were to have an inspection the next morning before we could go on leave for the weekend. I had spent a couple of hours arranging my footlocker so that every item was neatly displayed, ready for the most rigorous inspection by the most rigorous inspecting officer. I was ready.


I also was ready for a moment or two of relaxation so, with several buddies, I went to town and indulged in a few cold ones. We returned late at night, worn out with a week of training, readying for inspection, and, not to mention, from a few cold ones. I opened the footlocker for one last look at my artful display only to be confronted with a tsunami of foam from a can of Mennen’s shaving cream which I had laid in the footlocker with the nozzle pointing up…. And then had closed the lid on the can.


It runs in the family.








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