No more yellow fur to fill the vacuum canister, another collar put away

Published 11:39 pm Thursday, January 4, 2007

The last load of yellow fur mixed with white should fill the vacuum’s canister soon for we have hung another collar on the hook.

Our elderly golden retriever Hunter has, as the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “cross(ed) the bar.” Tennyson wrote the poem about himself and how he would have liked his demise to be greeted. I’m afraid we couldn’t meet his high standards Tuesday, for there was “sadness of farewell” as we said good-bye to our faithful companion and friend of 14 and a half years as she “put out to sea.”

I use Tennyson’s poem because Hunter liked to go to the beach and swim off the seawall in Waveland. She stank to high heaven after those swims, but she loved them so and I think they helped some with the skin irritations she would get from rolling in the grass.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Hunter came to us as a birthday present to our son, Will Pat, when he turned 10. We still had another dog, my old bird dog Molly, back then, but every boy needs his own dog, not that you can really own one when they are a pet. Genie found Hunter in a litter in Florence.

Yes, Hunter was female, but when Will Pat asked what kind of dog was she, I told him she was a retriever, a dog you used when hunting to bring back ducks and other birds you shot while hunting. He decided on the spot that her name should be Hunter.

She never got a lot of experience hunting, but she did get a lot of experience at helping us bring up Will Pat. She was a natural mother, not that she ever had a litter, and there in lies the first legend of Hunter.

We didn’t want to have her spayed until she came into heat the first time. Spaying too soon is supposed to cause problems. As she neared six months, we thought we were watching carefully for that first heat to begin.

One weekend I went to National Guard drill in Jackson and Will Pat left for a week-long Boy Scout camp. Genie let Hunter out to take care of business.

When she went to call her back in, Hunter had disappeared. We have fence and we thought she was too big to squeeze through any of the minor holes in it, but she was gone. I arrived home first and for the next two or three days we searched high and low for Hunter, hearing tales from sympathetic folks that she was seen here and there, usually with boy dogs, only to be gone by the time we arrived.

We were to leave for Gulf Shores when Will Pat came home from Boy Scout camp. One last time, shortly before Will Pat arrived home, we made another desperate search. No Hunter. Then, for whatever reason, Genie decided to walk from the driveway around the side of the house to the gate in the fence. As she rounded the house, there was a curled up, exhausted Hunter getting some sleep right in front of the gate.

Genie called me and I dashed home from the office, arriving about the same time as Will Pat. He had already heard the story of Hunter’s disappearance and thought we had gotten him another dog when he saw Hunter. He knew, though, when she stood up on her hind legs and put her front paws on his shoulders as she gave him a lick that this truly was Hunter. I immediately carried her to the vet to have the “wander lust” removed and she never wandered again.

Those same hind legs on which she reared to lick Will Pat are what failed her in the end. She had been having trouble getting up for about a year or so, then Tuesday morning she couldn’t make it. No matter how hard we tried, Hunter just couldn’t stand up and I had the sad task of taking her to the vet for the last time.

I’m not sure how long it will be before Genie vacuums up the last of her golden hair, much of which had turned white in recent years, but even with the hair gone, like all good and faithful dogs, we’ll never be able to forget her.

Over her 14-plus years, she helped mother our son and a series of cats, the favorite of which was Lynx. Lynx would let her wash his ears to her heart’s content and would even come seeking the ear washing and mothering.

All of our other cats, and daughter Katie, would tolerate her mothering only to some extent, but for Hunter, Lynx, like Will Pat, never grew up. Her brightest moments in recent years have been when Will Pat has come home on leave from the Navy.

Even the new dog Breeze that he and his wife now have never diminished Hunter’s pleasure at seeing Will Pat, nor of his at seeing her. On his last trip home at Christmas, Will Pat said he considered each day she has been able to be with us to be a blessing. I agree.