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Outdoor Corner: It's a Dog's Life

Lyle Johnson

As an outdoorsman, dogs are just a part of the equation. If you enjoy hunting, at some point, interaction with dogs is inevitable, and it’s usually pleasurable. On the other hand, most dogs are kept as pets or companions, and whatever category they fall in, they take on lots of responsibility.

Nellie finishing up a retrieve of a snow goose after a successful shot by a hunter.

“Man’s best friend” is a moniker that’s been around for a long time and is said to have its origin in a courtroom speech by George Graham Vest in Warrensburg, Mo., in 1870.

Vest stated, “The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.” Vest’s speech came at the closing of a trial in which he was representing a farmer who was suing for damages after his dog was shot by a neighbor.

Dogs take these responsibilities very seriously and perform them with all their hearts. My first memories of dogs are certainly the pets we had as kids. They provided companionship for eight siblings and our parents. Their time was spread a little thin due to the large number of folks they had to deal with, but they gave it their all.

My introduction to hunting dogs came very early in life as my dad’s uncle Bernard (pronounced Been-ard) owned a squirrel-hunting dog. Many an afternoon was spent with the Nickens family in the woods following that dog as she used her keen nose to sniff out the furry creatures.

We’d listen for that familiar bark when she first hit the trail and all it took was a little encouragement from the hunters in the form of a hoot or holler or the proverbial “Speak to him” would be shouted from someone. That’s all it took for her to ramp up her effort. Whitey would soon have the squirrel up a tree and the hunters took care of the rest.

The most popular breeds used today for squirrel hunting are different strains of Curs, Feist and Terriers. Ascension Parish has a recognized breed as Carlton Savoy of St. Amant has developed the “Cajun Squirrel Dog” breed using a combination of Cur and Feist that has won many championships.

But Whitey was mostly what I call a biscuit eater; no recognizable breed at all. She probably wouldn’t qualify for a first-class squirrel dog as she would trail other species of small game as well. I remember an afternoon hunt in Frost where our game bag was filled with 17 squirrels, two coons, one rabbit and a possum.

James Gerald (his son) lived next door to Uncle Bernard and he had a pack of rabbit dogs that were a big part in my affection process for dogs that provided lots of fun for a young boy. This hunting differs in the fact that the beagles use their noses to locate a sitting rabbit and jump it out of its nest, and the chase is on!

World Champions are among this pack of coon dogs getting ready to hunt.

Beagles are born with a flaming desire to hunt and chase rabbits, but encouraging the pack with hoots and hollers is a good thing as well. Some of the phrases one might hear is, “Look for him” or “Get him up” and other such vernacular that is unique to the particular group of hunters you might be with that day.

My uncle “Nepo” Marchand had hog dogs back in the day before hog hunting was as popular as it is now. He used Redbones to trail the wild beasts and corner them up so the hunters could walk up and shoot them in the head with a .22 rifle or pistol. That was a little too close quarters for me when I was young, so I never took him up on his invitations, which I regret to this day.

I’ve enjoyed duck hunting, so interaction with Labrador retrievers came next in line. These dogs have fetching and water in their veins, so their natural instinct lends to being a duck hunters dream come true. It’s not much fun to trudge through muck and mire going after a downed duck, so having someone that actually likes to do that is quite the pleasure.

Coon hunting is pretty popular in the South as well, and I’ve had the opportunity to partake in that adventure as well. These dogs trail the coons and run them up a tree much like squirrels, but at a much faster pace. They like to run wide open, and you have to walk a lot or have four-wheelers to keep up with the fast-paced pack of dogs.

The “hero” dogs are in a class of their own, and memory brings these names to mind; Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Old Yeller. You probably have some of your own. Although their stories weren’t based on true life adventures, they were bigger than life to me.

But we do have a segment of dogs that are modern day heroes. Some dedicate their lives to the physically challenged, such as seeing eye dogs. Others bring cheer to those in hospitals or have challenging illness and of course some give their lives in working with law enforcement or our military.

The ever popular Iditarod Race in Alaska commemorates the life-saving efforts in 1925 of dog sled teams that became a life saving highway for epidemic-stricken town of Nome, Alaska.

Diphtheria threatened the lives of the whole town and serum had to be brought in by intrepid dog mushers and their faithful hard-driving dogs. The Iditarod is a commemoration of those yesterdays, a not-so-distant past that Alaskans honor and are proud of.

“It’s a Dog’s Life”; I don’t think they can quite appreciate how much they actually do as “Man’s best friend” but a little love and encouragement goes a long way. So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe in the outdoors and may God truly bless you!