Porcupines and Bird Dogs

On a late August morning a good friend and hunting partner and I headed north to run our bird dogs and scout out some new area. Heading into new areas to scout for grouse cover is exciting. There is some anticipation, hope, excitement, and wonder associated with heading to new parts of the state to scout. There is anticipation of what you might find in that new area. Is it going to be full of prime cover and covered in dumb birds that hold like they’re stapled to the ground for our pointing dogs? There is the hope that you’ll shoot a limit of grouse in a spot that you found independently, based on a hunch that it might be a good area. There is excitement associated also. Excitement that when you get there, you’ll turn on the first seasonal road and there will be a brood of unsuspecting road birds dusting themselves off signaling that you’ve come to the right place. Lastly, there is wonder. Wonder of where in the hell the closest veterinarian is. Wonder of how much it costs to put your buddy’s dog under and remove the quills that are up to his eyes and down his throat.It was one of those days that starts off dry and cool, but you know by the forecast that it will be hot, fast. We were racing the clock to get to the area and beat the heat. After a depressing drive around a very large chunk of state forest, we found one spot of marginal cover and put my pointer Chopper down for about twenty minutes. About 3 minutes in I hollered to my buddy, “I don’t like it. Let’s make a loop and get the hell outta here”. No birds moved. We jumped back in the truck and headed northwest into the state land.Since running Chopper nothing had really caught our eye. According to some landmarks and my map we were quickly coming to the northern border of the large tract of state land. So, we jumped on the main road that borders the north end of the state forest and headed to another part that we had not explored. It was getting warm and we were running out of time and patience.We jumped on a road that we knew would cut through the center of the state land and headed east. About a half mile in we saw a very young stand of aspen. Its edge was bordered by an older cut of aspen and also a nice chunk of white pine and spruce. I told my partner to park the truck. It was the best cut we had seen all day. It had dense young growth with food, an older more open cut bordering it, and also some evergreens for roosting.

We jumped out, strapped his pointer with a collar and hit the woods. About five minutes in we decided to make a turn and head west. His young pointer Rusty had just decided that he was going east. He called him, but the dog was sticky just a few yards ahead of us and didn’t want to come in. At this point, the area we were in was so dense that we couldn’t see him. His owner called him and he wouldn’t come. We could hear his bell and knew that he was moving but he wasn’t getting closer. As we moved toward the dog we heard what sounded like gurgling and blowing and knew something was very wrong.

Rusty finally came to us and I will never forget the picture of that poor bastard that is now permanently burned into my brain. Until that warm Saturday in August I had seen four bird dog vs. porcupine results. This one was not like the other four.

The dog was frantic. He was pawing at his face and head with his front legs and rubbing his head on the ground. He would shake his head radically and back up like he was trying to escape his obvious misery. But, that was not the disturbing part of the scene. Rusty had so many quills in his mouth that he could not shut it. Therefore, he could not swallow and was gurgling his own blood and saliva. I have never felt so much compassion for a dog in my life. I have seen some dogs hurt and sick, but not suffering like this.

Neither of us had a leash (of course the one time I really needed one I forgot it). But, the one thing that I did not forget was my multi-tool. It is one piece of gear that I have never been without while training or hunting. This would be the fifth time I’d need it to remove quills. I have been the puller every time I was present for a porcupine encounter and I’m glad I could help. However, I’m fairly certain that you could add up all of the quills I had pulled in previous encounters and they would not equal the amount in poor ol’ Rusty.

We immediately got a belt around the dog’s collar to help restrain him and flipped the dog on his back. My partner Cody straddled him to hold him down and I went to work pulling quills. It wasn’t long before we decided that we needed to get out of the woods and back to the truck. It was getting hot, the dog was fighting us so hard he was exhausted, and we had no way to cool him down. I ran back to the truck and grabbed a jug of water and ran back to meet my partner and his poor dog on the trail. I soaked the dog and we gave him a breather and let him rest.

Once we were back at the truck we went to work on the dog again. My biggest concern with this situation was the fact that the dog had so many quills in his mouth we couldn’t see his throat. I wanted to get this dog somewhat comfortable so he wasn’t in a panic before trying to find a vet office that could help. Cody got the dog on his back again and we went to work on his front legs first. After those were clear, we tucked his front legs under the straddling owner and I started on the muzzle and neck. There were so many on the muzzle that I still could not get my hand close enough to get to the ones inside the dog’s mouth.

Cody would hold the dog down, keep him from fighting, and I would pull. I would pull as many as I could as fast as I could while trying not to break them off. We would work on him for about 5 minutes at a time then let him up and take a break. We would soak him with water and let him relax for a couple of minutes to cool down. We were both very concerned with stressing the dog so much that he would have cardiac arrest. It may sound silly reading this, but being there, seeing and feeling first hand how hard this pointer was fighting you would understand. Rusty fought so hard to get up at one point that he actually defecated. Keep in mind, the dog had so many quills in his mouth he could not close it, and also had them less than an inch from both eyes.

We repeated this process for approximately 30 minutes until we had cleared the front legs, muzzle, and as many in his mouth and throat that we could. One of our concerns was, when he would paw at his face he would fill his legs and feet with quills again, and in the process, he may actually take one of his own eyes out.

After getting as many of the quills as we could, we soaked him down again and we all took a little breather. I got on the phone and started calling while we began our trip home. The first two offices I reached said, “Sorry, closing up. Can’t help you”. I couldn’t believe it. So, I called the local veterinarian’s office where I grew up (which was on our way home) and they said that it would likely cost about $500. Now, my partner is also a hound man and he made some phone calls to some of his fellow hound buddies. We got the number to an old school vet that wasn’t too far away. We called and they said “Bring him on in, we’ll be here”. We pointed the truck in the opposite direction of home and headed to the welcoming veterinarian.

While talking to the old timer he let us know that he graduated from the Michigan State University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1958. If you were to look up “old school vet” on your google machine, his picture is there I’m sure.

He sedated the dog, went to work, and all went well. We helped with the whole process and learned a few tricks while doing so. He sent us on our way with more antibiotic than ol’ Rusty needed. During our visit, he learned that my partner ran coyote hounds and would likely need the antibiotic for the upcoming season.

When we got in the truck and headed down the road I asked, “How much?”. Cody looked at me with a grin and said, “$66”.

Thank God for an old school vet that still does business like that. I’m sure that what we had just seen was an old man that loves to help animals and doesn’t really give a damn about the money. He was great to talk to and you could tell that he enjoyed our chat as much as we did.

That day is one that I won’t soon forget. I learned some things about tough dogs, good dog men, and old vets. As horrible as it was for a few minutes, it was just another day for a grouse hunter, his partners, and their dogs.

Thanks Doc Clark.

2 Comments on Porcupines and Bird Dogs

  1. Great write up…but who is this awesome Doc Clark that we should all have on our phones?

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