Jessie wasn’t meant to be ours. Or it could be that she was ours all along. You see, there was a mix up when we chose our new Brittany pup at the Breeders that morning. We brought her home – played with her – laughed at her – held her while she slept, and in less than a day, fell in love with her. Later that night the Breeder called to explain that he had given us the wrong dog. It seems Maddy (the name we had chosen) had been promised to another hunter. He pleaded with me to exchange her for another female from the litter. I was having none of it. After only one day this little dog had nuzzled her way into our hearts and I couldn’t see how to part with her. But even while hanging up the phone I new what we had to do. After tears all around, I called the Breeder back and gave him directions to our house. He came thru the door on a late Saturday night with Maddy’s replacement in his arms. The expression on his face gave a clear indication of just how sorry he was about the mistake. With few words, we exchanged puppies and said goodbye.
Our daughter Allison had decided that we couldn’t call our new arrival Maddy. That name had already been given. I asked her to choose a name, and we settled on Jessie. Over the next 24 hours we went thru the bonding process once more, falling in love all over again. How could we love Jessie any less than her littermate?
It’s 3:00 AM when I hear her whining from the crate downstairs. It’s the 3 rd night and I’m into the routine. I unlatch her crate door, gather her into my arms and while she licks at my ear, we step through the front door into a still spring night. When I set her down, she is cautious for a moment, testing the air with her nose, then she quickly moves off to do her business. Returning to the porch with her at my heels, I bend and scoop her up to go inside. Jessie is never ready to go back to sleep after these interruptions, so we lay on the couch. I stroke her puppy ears while she gently chews on the edge of my sweatshirt.
It’s been said that the eyes are windows to the soul, but when I hold Jessie’s face in my hands and look into her eyes, I see more than that. I see a promise.
I see a promise of trips North and West. Of clear October skies and falling leaves. The promise of a fast rising Grouse and the raucous cackle of a Ringneck Pheasant. The sound of the report from the shotgun that can seem distant and imagined when taking a bird on the wing. The soothing tone of her bell on a crisp autumn day. The promise of the earthy scent of bottom lands and that of spent shells. The promise of her attention, when she hears the whistle and the way she‘ll shiver when making game. Of her bringing bird to hand and afterward smiling in a way that only dogs can. The promise that every distant worry and external thought will be purged while following her through coverts of Alder and Aspen. And of course, that of her sleeping by the wood stove after a long day afield. Oh to be sure, there will be days of missteps and mistakes along the way. Days filled with concern and frustration. Still in the end there is that incredible feeling of completeness while with a great hunting dog.
During these late night sessions with Jessie I have time to look inside myself for clues to why bird hunting is so important to me. I love to fish and I always look forward to our annual Deer Camp. But for me, nothing comes close to working a bird dog through cover. There is something very magical about the process. A complex recipe of instinctive desire, sensory input, and intense purpose that is not easily defined or understood.
I’m holding Jessie while stroking her ears and she appears ready to go back to sleep, but she opens her tired eyes for a moment and she seems to be looking into mine. And I can’t help but wonder what she sees.