Loss: Chillingly Swift & Mystical
2/26/19 First, two more important aspects of this story. There are so many:
Edie is a rough-coated JR. We have always favored the package God sent her in. When she was lost, she was in full coat and peak condition.
This is my 61st year in the gym. I have worked hard at keeping myself fit over the years. When Edie was lost, I was in peak condition.
The Loss: On the afternoon of 2/10/19, near dusk, Edie, Loretta and I were following the same routine we have for the eight years of Edie's life, walking the fifty yards or so of our backyard from the kennel to the house for the night. Our backyard adjoins a large block of woods and farmland; beginning with a downhill 70 yard fringe of hardwoods that slopes gently to a creek that runs east and west to form a large and expansive bottom. The creek run goes for several miles into wetlands and woods, eventually crossing several roads.
Deer, coyote, coon, possum, squirrels, and other critters frequent the creek corridor as normal course. To Edie it's home territory, the first 200 yards or so any direction, and Seventh Heaven. Some 70 yards in front of our dwelling is Sam Moss-Hayes Road, a state road now well traveled, but not minute by minute. Across Sam Moss-Hayes is another great block of hardwoods and farmland, and the coyote pen. Edie has never crossed Sam Moss-Hayes but twice, once when a puppy in training on a cat chase, about three years ago to bury a squirrel. Both times she was sternly reprimanded; she knows it's off limits. But she does know how to get back from there if she doesn't go far.
The evening we lost her, at dusk, she was off-leash as usual, as she has been all her adult life. I have trained my own dogs all my years, pointers, setters, Boykins, English cockers, Labs and JRs, including Edie. Sporting dogs, field dogs, bred hot and high. In training such dogs for basic obedience and field manners, you must realize who they are: flesh and blood, with in-the-genes hunt so fiery it can ignite to a uncontrollable blaze in an incendiary moment at some incidental quarry stimulus, and unless you are on the spot and totally ready, roar temporarily and dangerously out of control. That's exactly what happened with Edie the night we lost her, but there's more to it than that. Same time, the sporting breeds are wonderfully devoted. It's why they are loved so universally as companion dogs, by field men and suburban dwellers. They're all a little different, like us, and you have to read them individually. I knew Edie, I think, as well as anyone could.
As a long time trainer, I don't know that you ever have a high-drive sporting dog under complete control 24/7. Or want too. If you do, you've taken away the thing they live for, as if someone took away from you your purpose once you've found it in life. No matter how uttterly devoted to you, you think they are, there's always the blood boiling quietly beneath the surface. If you love them unselfishly, and give them what they live for in degree so that they too can fulfill their lives, which are all too short to begin with, it's foreever a training and handling balance between control and freedom, hoping to attain maybe at very best a 95/5% compromise. That's about where Edie was. At a 5% gamble, that somehow that night eventuated disasterous. (But, could still have been avoided. More on that later.)
She's 100% JR, incredibly docile and devoted at hearth, but hot as a firecracker in field element. It's one of the reasons I covet her so. Every afternoon, approaching dusk, that we returned to the house, she would stop on the hill over the back bottom, and listen for some small tick of the leaves in the bottom. I'd watch her closely. If she heard what she hoped, the 5% kicked in, and it was three bounces and gone. Always without exception for the last five years, she'd take whatever it was, usually deer, for an eighty yard ride, make the usual loop in the woods, and be back in five minutes. So I'd normally let her, but not always, if she listened and gave me a choice. Either way, she was always back in five or so.
It's what happened that evening at dusk. It was dusk, late. When her hinge came loose - in afterthought I should have hooted more forcefully at her - would she have stopped? I don't know. I was giving her the freedom percentage based on practiced and historical behavior, and didn't.
After two minutes, we started calling, after ten, more forcefully and seriously. After thirty, we were beginning to be really worried. By all behavioral and historical rights, she should have been long back and wasn't.
More tomorrow . . .