"The best damn bird dog ever!" as my dad exclaims. No lie. Cody was the dog. I have to thank Ambulance Driver again for a) making me cry at work, and b) sending me back down memory lane. Thank you.

We brought him home as a puppy when I was in the second or third grade. He started as a family pet more than anything. Dad did all of his research on dogs and Golden Retrievers in particular. Some of our close family friends had a Golden Retriever and his owner raved about how smart 'Czar' was.

Cody was a nephew to Czar by about two or three litters. The bloodline between both ran on the bitch's side. They had pretty much the same tempermant and were both extremely smart. Czar was the dog that broke my fear of dogs, too. See, when I was a young stroller jockey, some stray came into a store my mom was shopping at and started slobbering all over me. From that point on, I had a serious fear of dogs. I could not be in the same room, much less the same house with a dog unless it was securely locked in a room or chained outside. I guess the fear was rooted in the fact I was strapped into the stroller and couldn't run away. As mom tells the story, she had her back turned for a minute and next thing you know, the dog was right in my face. Scared her too with all the wailing and carrying on I was doing.

My parents went to Rome for a second honeymoon and left the kids scattered to the winds. I got to stay with Czar's family. They were well aware of my fear of dogs and respected that I couldn't be around Czar without going bonkers. When I was in the house, Czar was in the yard. If I went to the yard to play, Czar came in by another door. At night, the rule was inviolate, Czar was the night watchdog. He was inside, but only after I fell asleep. The youngest son and I split a bunkbed and kept the door to his room closed.

I guess it was me trying to keep up with Czar's youngest owner and his daredevil ways that brought me around to accepting dogs in my life again. Coming back from somewhere or other that night, he coaxed me into trying to pet Czar through the cracks in the fence. He told me that as long as I don't run away or freak out, Czar wouldn't try to jump on me. Within five minutes, I was petting Czar while the back gate was wide open. Five minutes later, we were playing fetch and chasing around the yard.

Czar was the dog who broke me, and I think it was a karmic twist of fate to have a dog straight from the same bloodline in our own family. Very fitting.

Cody...what can I say about this dog. Smart as a whip. Loyal to a 'T'. Very protective.

Dad gave him some bird dog training as a pup, but I think it was more to work off excess energy and as cross-train as a matter of maintaining discipline. We didn't hunt with Cody until he was about five or six years old. He took to it like the proverbial duck and water.

Truly the alpha male of his litter, when we first took him to the lease for dove season, Cody whipped the biggest dog's ass and was asking for seconds. After that introduction, the other dogs were doing as Cody wanted. Dogs looked to him in the field before they listened to their masters. Kid you not, when someone else's dog acted up, Cody would come over and whip his ass back into submission.

I have never seen a more intelligent animal in all my life. When working, Cody could pinpoint each and every bird shot down. If other dogs were searching for down birds, Cody would go straight to them, bring them back to the guy who shot the bird, and then return to heel at my dad's side. There wasn't a bird he couldn't find. The first time this happened, my dad yelled at Cody. The next bird Cody brought back to dad was all chewed to hamburger.

A couple of the older hunters in our group took umbrage at how Cody worked the fields. They didn't hunt with us in the same field after that. One asshole in particular made offers to buy Cody outright, and would have stolen him like he stole my dad's Remington 1100 one weekend. Sorry sumbitch! I guess they didn't like the fact that they spent all that money getting professional training for pure bred dogs that couldn't hunt for shit. They treated their dogs like Mike Tyson treats women.

Cody was a personable S.O.B., too. I kid you not when I say he chewed up a bird when my dad yelled at him. Cody knew when he was in the right. He never let you forget it. He got me once or twice. One hunt in particular stands out. Dad and I got down to the lease early on a Friday and set up in a field before everyone else showed up. Just the two of us and our dog...a Norman Rockwell painting in real life. Birds were coming up this little draw to water behind us. Dad was on one side and I was on the other, about 75yds separated us. Birds were thick in this area and we had no trouble shooting. Just put your gun up there and squeeze the trigger, something would land at your feet. About the time we were hitting our limit, the birds seemed to stop flying. One or two stragglers would fly by and we'd nail 'em. My last shot was a doozy. I caught a glimpse of three dove low over the mequite brush. They were darting back and forth, and I hoped they were going to fly near us. They zigged at the last minute and came straight for me. Two broke left and I tracked the right one (he was closer). They were still at tree top level and booking it for water. I was locked onto this bird and fired when he was close. My first shot was on and I saw feathers, but the dove kept racing on. I didn't know it, but the wings had locked up and he was in a power glide. My second shot tumbled him and the damn bird righted itself and kept gliding. I racked the action and let loose with number three from my Browning BPS 20ga.

It was at that point that all the cosmic "Oh Shit" forces came together and I knew I was suckered into Mr. Murphy's world. As I drew a bead on shot number three, I heard dad cry out "DON'T SHOOT!!!" *BLAM* "Fuck!" I said. *Thwapita-thwap* went the bird shot off my dad's hunting jacket. Cody barked at me from between dad's legs. He walked...actually walked instead of ran over to my bird. He picked it up in his mouth, looked at me with this "You Dumbass!" look and shook the remains of that bird into hamburger. He spit the bird out and walked back to dad. That was the first bird I ever had to pick up myself.

Right now, he's looking down from Doggie Heaven and laughing at me for what happened. If that bird flew a bit higher, I would have missed dad and the dog. As it was, we were situated just right for an accidental shooting to occur. Dad and I are always muzzle conscious when hunting. It just so happens that I was scope locked on a bird my brain was telling me was still flying. My first triple on a single bird.

People always talk about pets and their personality. Cody had it in spades. He wore his emotions on his paw. He loved his family with all his heart, and hated cows with a passion. Cody knew the difference between work and play. He also knew when to protect his pack. When it came to cattle, I think it was a combination of work, play, and outright hatred. Never knew I had a bovine bigot for a dog.

If we wanted to hunt a spot that had cattle around, Cody would actually herd them into a corner of the field. All of them. He wouldn't just chase them around the field. No, Cody was smarter than that. He would find the biggest bull or steer in the group. If the field was full of heifers, he'd find the biggest and meanest one there. This was always entertaining in a David and Goliath trainwreck kind of way. You didn't want to watch, but you couldn't help but notice the outcome. Cody would get the cattle all running one direction and single out the bull/steer/heifer and clamp onto their tail for all his worth. Not just the tip, but the base of the tail. If I knew any better, I would swear he was trying to get himself a new chew toy. Cody lasted longer than any professional bull rider I watched. The 'cow-cum-chewtoy' would eventually kick Cody into the brush and he'd come running back out like he just rode the Texas Cyclone rollercoaster. Cattle learned to stay away after that and if they started grazing into our hunt, the chase was on again. I really wish I had video of his antics in the field.

You couldn't get much better for a family pet than Cody. I miss having him around, even after all these years. Always up to playing with the kids. Never letting us get into too much trouble. Usually, just a bark or two to warn us that we were acting up and headed for trouble. I actually watched as he physically blocked my little sister's path when he detected a snake nearby. She tried to go around him and he forced her back. The snake didn't like all the commotion and slithered out from a shrub into a path and then my sis realized what Cody did for her.

He's saved our lives a couple of times. Most notably, he saved dad from a home invasion. Dad went home sick from work one day. A rarity with that man. He was curled up on the couch watching daytime tee vee and Cody was curled up in his favorite spot by the front door. Years before, my dad re-tiled the entryway and a spare room by the garage in this cool spanish clay tile. I always loved walking barefoot over it in summer. Nice and cool. Cody would curl up by the door and catch the imperceptible draft from a crack under the door and the cool tile. Nothing short of tipping over dad's Heineken could move him from that spot.

So dad's home sick, and the dog is sprawled out by the front door. Dad has a direct line of sight from the back of the living room, where he was, to the front door. He watched Cody get up and sniff by the door. Next thing dad knows, Cody's hackles are up and ears are flat. That was the thing about Cody, he'd never get vocal when he was mad. Two guys were on the other side of the door when dad came to it with his pistol in hand. Dad didn't dare open the door and confront these guys, but he egged Cody on and dad swears he's never heard a more vicious bark from any dog. We never painted over the claw marks in the door after we moved out of that house. Dad also got a new crowbar that day.

Mom and I watched him 'tree' a vagrant trying to sneak into our backyard once. Mom and I just came home from school and Cody was barking up a storm. We also heard some wierd screaming from the backyard, too. As we made our way into the kitchen, Mom and I saw Cody underneath the vagrant who was straddling the fence and a whisky barrel planter. I am sure the 'he' vagrant would have become a 'she' vagrant if one foot touched mother earth. Cody must have heard the guy coming and sat between the planter and the fence in ambush. He was good like that.

Two things that really make me laugh about Cody. Obedient as the day is long. Didn't matter who was talking to him...my lil' sis, me, mom, dad or big sis. He'd listen. Lil' sis was the one who trained him to balance a cracker on his nose. We passed that trick down to Gussie, his niece who came to our family some years later. You could actually walk out of the room for five minutes with a cracker on his nose and he'd wait for you to give the command. "Paid for!" Worked every time. He was so disciplined that if you were NOT the one who set that cracker on his nose, he'd outright ignore you. You were not the one he was working for.

He even ate on command. "Paid For!" was his special command to eat. Like I said, you could get him to sit in the corner with his food just inches from his paws, walk out the room, take a shit, and come back after the sports page was read and say "Paid For!" He'd eat. Cody wouldn't move until you gave the command.

We went on a camping trip to Durango, Colorado one year. The whole family and the dog piled into the big Chevy van and traipsed all around Mesa Verde and fished near Gunison. On our way back into Texas, we spent a couple of days at a hotel in Durango. Just enough time to decompress and do some laundry. We all decided to ride the train to Silverton. This is the old steam locomotive for the tourists. Unfortunately, they didn't let us bring Cody. We boarded him for the day, making sure he had his 'woobie' (training boat bumper), blanket and dog dishes. It was kinda cool on the train. We actually passed by the kennel he was at and saw him in the dog run playing around. For whatever reason, mom thought it best to call and check up on Cody. I guess she was nervous that he may lash out around so many strangers. Nearly took the head off the new vet we went to the previous year. This was late afternoon and close to his dinner time. Mom calls and the staff is frantic. They can't get Cody to eat to save their lives. They are worried he is sick or something. They have their vet on the way over and are trying everything they can to make him eat. This had been going on for about two and a half hours according to the girl mom talked to. Mom is on this end of the extension laughing her head off. She realized right away what the problem is. We forgot to give the command. The staff was afraid to say it, so the girl held the phone up to the dog run where Cody was at and had mom yell it out over the phone. Cody gave Oreck Vacuums a run for their money. Poor boy had been staring at that food for over two hours and was dying of hunger by that time.

The second thing I laugh about most with Cody was his penchant for beer. Cody really wasn't a beer snob. He enjoyed it all, but his favorite ever since he was a pup has always been Heinie. That dog would salivate at the sight of the green Heiniken bottle. We learned of his beer palate when he was just a young pup, not even four months old. Lil' sis and I were playing little league soccer and dad was our coach. Mom would take us to the practice field to warm up and dad would race over from work and change in the back of the family van. Mom would bring him his jeans and a shirt, pack a sandwich and a beer and sit and do her homework (college stuff). Cody was content to putter around the van and sniff all the corners and crevices. Well, one day dad comes, changes in back, takes a bite of sandwich and swigs his beer. Puts everything back and goes to coach us kids in the finer points of soccer. About half an hour later, while the kids were taking a water break, dad ambles back to the van for the rest of his beer. "Well shit, honey! If you wanted your own damn beer, why didn't you bring one for yourself?" Mom is perplexed. She didn't know what he was talking about. She swears up and down that she has been reading her psych textbook and listening to the radio. Next thing you know, she asks where Cody was. Dad looks around the back and finds him in a drunken four month old puppy stupor under one of the bench seats. Cody had tipped the bottle over and lapped up 3/4 of a bottle of Heinie. Poor pup couldn't walk straight for days. After that, though, it was game on. Dad would even pour a half bottle in his water dish. I don't think a drop ever hit the bowl when Cody was next to it.

Cody was put down after 9 wonderful years with our family. We didn't know he was sick until his last trip to the deer lease. One of my friends wanted to pet Cody, but the dog just kept growling and barking at him for no reason. We thought it safest to keep him locked in the kennel overnight. After dinner, my friend really wanted to pet Cody and play fetch with him for a while. Dad agreed to a petting, but on his terms. He got Cody out of the kennel and sat him between his legs. Dad had a firm two-handed grip on his collar and was placing all his body weight on Cody's shoulders through his knees. The dog wasn't going anywhere. Dad scolded him as my friend Chris came up to pet him. We thought all was cool until Cody lunged and bit Chris in the face. The dog managed to bite him through the fleshy part of his cheek. To tell you the impressive strength of this dog, Chris was standing at least six feet away and was hesitantly walking up to Cody. Dad had all his weight on the dog. Cody took dad the six feet and was able to bite Chris like dad wasn't even there.

Poor Cody knew right away he made a mistake. Dad was in shock and Chris was crying like all get out. I immediately grabbed Cody who was lying down and obviously very sorry. You could tell he knew he did wrong by looking at him. Chris was fine, thankfully just a minor puncture that didn't need stitches. Cody remained in the kennel the rest of the trip.

Chris had a striking resemblance to a neighbor kid living behind me at the time. Greg had a Lassie dog who'd always try and crawl through a hole in our shared fence. Only once did that dog succeed, and Cody tore him a new asshole. After that, Greg did everything he could to torment my dog. I caught him doing it once and cleared the fence to pound on Greg. His mom actually turned the hose on me as I pounded her worthless son's ass. She didn't believe the truth when in all actuality she was watching her son poke sticks through the fence while the commercials to her soaps were on.

Cody, locked in the kennel, thought Chris was Greg getting ready to poke sticks at him. The vet said that cancer had invaded every organ from stem to stern on Cody. It affected his memory and olfactory senses, too. Just that image of a young blond boy walking up to him through a fence triggered the bad memory of Greg tormenting him. When Cody bit Chris, he knew by taste that Chris was not who he thought he was.

It took our family ten years to tell Chris we put Cody down after that hunting trip. The vet wanted to sedate Cody and send him to Texas A&M for testing. I say we should have done it. Cody would have ripped those vet students to shreds. Mom had the unfortunate task of putting Cody down and taking him to the funeral home to be cremated. It was the only way to insure that our dog would not be some pin cushion for a bunch of Aggie vet students. I cried and cried over that dog.

I miss him to this very day.

The best damn hunting dog ever.


Ambulance Driver said...

Amazing how those memories just come flooding back, isn't it?

At least in that way, our old companions are never far away.

HollyB said...

I saw your post over at Babs. R.N.
I love a good dawg story. This one was excellent.
While I was searching for this story, i read and left comments on several other blog entries. I like your stuff.