WILD THINGS: THE WORST BIRD DOG IN THE WORLD

I remember the breeder’s place was in an orange grove just north of Okeechobee. There was a barn with two walls (a post supported the fourth corner of the roof), a wire enclosure in the ground and a small pond. Plus, there were puppies everywhere, misbehaving in all sorts of ways, like a page in a children’s book.

We got out of the car and one of the puppies came over and sat on my foot. She had a brown head, correctly called a liver by German Shorthaired Pointer enthusiasts, and a tick-like body, the tick being the freckled brown and white coat that GSPs get.

We were like, “You’re cute, dog, but there are eight other puppies here and we’re going to look around a bit.”

She gave us a look that said, “Don’t bother, it’s going to be me.”

It turned out she was right. We paid for it with poker winnings from a lucky streak the night before.

As she pulled away she vomited three times in the first 20 miles, mostly in my beloved Jersey Devil – the devil, not the hockey team – baseball cap. Cars didn’t seem to be his thing. Also, she didn’t seem a fan of Jonathan Coulton’s song “Code Monkey,” which we didn’t understand. It’s a great song.

We arrived at the Everglades Rod & Gun Club that first night, Key West the next. I don’t know if she went north of Marathon after that.

We named her Eleanor Zissou of Aquitaine for reasons that probably don’t make much sense outside of our household, but we mostly called her Elly.

We wanted a German Shorthair for a number of reasons. On the one hand, they are just very beautiful dogs. Sleek and fast and beautiful when they run. I might not have gone for the severed tail if I had been given my jabs, but I can’t say it didn’t kill me every time she wiggled it really fast. Additionally, GSPs don’t shed and seem to tolerate the Florida heat quite well.

But also, I’m an ornithologist and pointers are bird dogs. Unlike, say, Labrador Retrievers, who are trained to put their mouths on birds for retrieval, I thought a Pointer might have more journalistic cravings. Instead of chasing a bird, maybe she would just point it out to me. (“Psst, man, look at the tanager in that grove over there…”)

Three of his litter mates were purchased unseen and flown to a hunting ranch in Nebraska. Elly seemed quite calm, but as she transitioned from puppy to adult, I worried that her prey would become strong and difficult to control around wildlife. Ha.

From an early age, she had no interest in the kind of creatures that dogs traditionally hunt. She would stand 3 feet from a chicken and refuse to recognize it, or even look at it directly. An iguana was crossing the porch and kicking up the mahogany and heading for the front of the house as if it had an important phone call to make. She had hours of fun chasing the much smaller curly-tailed lizards around our backyard, but never caught any.

We periodically reminded her of her three Nebraska-related siblings and how lucky she was to be with kind-hearted people like us. She would stare at us for a second, then yawn and lay her head on the nearest pillow, refusing to acknowledge that fact the same way she refuses to acknowledge chickens.

He was a beautiful dog, so I showed him pictures of photographers like William Wegman and Theron Humphrey. I explained to her how they had both built their careers working with their dogs to create funny and often touching and nuanced images, and how she needed to be more career-oriented in her ambitions. But every time I tried to put her down, she usually looked the wrong way, or sat down when she needed to stand, or just walked away, even though she had mastered the art of giving me the disapproving eye.

Elly’s signature side eye. MARK HEDDEN / Weekly Keys

At some point, we realized that her personality characteristic was that while she clearly loved us and considered us her people, she had no interest in pleasing us, seeking our approval, or giving up much. of his personal autonomy. It was a trait I deeply admired and sometimes tried to emulate.

Elly had other skills. She could surf the edge of the kitchen counters looking for food carelessly unattended like nobody’s business. She could jump on a table, or over the back of the couch, or into my lap while I was working if I wasn’t careful. (I don’t think a dog has made me say “oof” that often.) She could catch a frisbee in the air. She could steal a sandwich from a deli plate in a room full of people. She could sleep two grown adults within the 18 inch margins on the sides of the bed while she lounged in the middle.

She had an inordinate fondness for men. On poker nights, she sat with her chin on the back of the couch and stared, only leaving her vantage point if someone dropped a chip or something, but quickly returning to her post. She also had a serious fondness for paper, stealing and chewing on paper towels and napkins whenever she could. One morning, after winning a pretty serious game of poker, I carelessly threw my shorts in the corner of the bedroom, then woke up to find her staring at me with a big roll of cash in her mouth. (I realize that this column might give the impression that I often win at poker. I don’t.)

It was my wife she trusted, though – the one she went to when she was scared or tired or hungry or needed someone to play fetch with. in the hallway at midnight.

She turned gray through the bridge of her nose first, then around her eyes, then through her muzzle. She lost the ability to jump onto a table, then the ability to jump over the back of the sofa, or onto the bed, or even climb onto her favorite chair.

We realized that she was failing slowly, then quickly, even though there was no way she had suddenly become so old, so frail. She was throwing up in my hat the other day. But we lost her, and we probably won’t be quite right for a while.

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