One of the frequent characters in the last decade of these columns, our last Brittany, Beau (short for Beaujolais), died on Aug. 29.
Dr. Dugan, who has cared for all our dogs, said that Beau’s heart was barely beating before he went to sleep, but he did eat, for his last meal, three of the fresh pods of peas he loved, hand-fed to him by Herself.
It was only at the end of April that Beau was diagnosed with congestive heart disease, and a couple of months later the gods piled leukemia on top of that. We could not believe the speed of Beau’s decline to the point he wasn’t having any fun, and had to be helped into his house.
In this recent heat, Beau would spend much of his time reclining on the cool concrete in the shade under his house and often not emerge, even when visitors entered his big yard, including me sometimes, and even our grandchildren he so loved to play with.
That amazingly-designed dog house was home to all five of our Brittanies, including Raz, who was scheduled to be our last dog. But Raz succumbed to severe, untreatable epilepsy at just over three years and, the next day, Herself told me she wanted another Brittany pup, ASAP.
Good Brittanies are hard to find, so I consulted Leslie Andreas of Maple Creek, who had sold us Red, perhaps our all-round best and also our longest-lived Brittany, at two months over 13 years. Leslie’s waiting list was three years but in those days I could not survive that long without a hunting dog, and asked for suggestions.
Leslie said she was seeing too many Brittanies that couldn’t find their dinner dish, but was impressed with a Brittany line being produced by Scott Listoe of Castor.
Beau came home with me on Aug. 28, 2003. I had gone to Castor on a very hot day to look at a litter of Britts, born on July 3, 2003. Scott Listoe let the roiling piddle of puppies out into his yard. Only one came boldly over to me to say hello, then went to sleep in my shadow. “This is the one,” I told Scott. “His name is Beau.”
From the start, Beau stubbornly clung to his principals. He absolutely would not piddle, let alone do No. 2, in his kennel run, despite our equally stubborn efforts otherwise. We even transferred to a corner of his run turf he had anointed on the lawn; still no go in the run, even through his last illness, and to his dying day.
Beau was also our only Brittany that would not retrieve to hand. In fairness, that may have been because too many people were playing “fetch” with him and letting him turn what should have been retriever training into a game of keep-away.
Fortunately, Beau had a laser nose and was rock solid on point; not only could he find his dinner dish, he would stand, pointing it, for as long as you cared to croon “steady . . . steady . . .” to him. He’d unfailingly find and point a downed pheasant, then lay down with it between his front legs and give you the “see what I found” look, until you traded him a dog biscuit for the bird to avoid being growled at or nipped.
Beau pointed, then “found” his first pheasant years ago when Dr. Jake Reimer and I scratched it down near Patricia. His last was five years ago with Don Hayden and me on Beau’s favorite hunting spot, my old “farm” near Brooks. Since then, my mobility problems have robbed Beau and me of too much pheasant hunting.
I’ll soon miss Beau telling me, when the first trace of gunpowder scents the cooling fall air, that it is time to think Brooks and upland birds, as he did just a year ago. So we took Beau to Brooks for opening day, and Jake Reimer tried to hunt him down ditches with other hunters and their dogs, while I blocked the far end, sitting in my walker. That worked for a while but then, as always, Beau wound up hunting for — and finding — me.
There’ll be no more canine nagging to take our dog where he could do what he was born to, even just for a trip to the Stump Ranch, a run in the hayfield, and a swim or three in the creek; without Beau, I won’t go.
Beau’s death has shrunk my . . . our … world so that our huge backyard seems smaller … and emptier … without him. Herself misses him following her around out there, pleading for peas.
I’ve always believed, like my dad, that the best way to survive the death of a dog at dawn is to get a new one by sundown. We won’t do that this time. Dad left a dog surviving him, and the grief of that last Labrador was a life lesson to us.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.