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On The Trail

On the Trail: Old & eager

The swamps are sporting their royal, invasive purple, yellows are lining the edges, rose of Sharon’s in bloom, mud-splattered acorns are scattered underfoot, my favorite sweet-16 side-by-side is in the shop for repairs and — ah! — life is good. Yet, still, I find myself pondering the mortality of Lily, a dynamo gundog whose age hit double digits on my 35th wedding anniversary in April.

Of aristocratic springer spaniel pedigree, Lily is looking frisky these days, free-wheeling, a bounce in her step, fully recovered from a disastrous final litter more than three years ago. Yeah, it’s true that litter produced kennel-mate Chubby along with a bitch now enjoying pastoral splendor in the morning shadow of Catamount, but how can I forget the bad news; the two stillborns and expensive surgery to, in one fell swoop, spay Lily and retrieve the fifth pup stuck in the womb. Oh, I remember it well. Like yesterday in fact. No profits from that litter. Uh-uh. Chalk is up as an expense.

Later that fall, during the final week of pheasant season and just days before the death of my older son, another costly setback was brought on by a beaver-bog puncture wound to Lily’s ribcage that festered into an abscess requiring additional surgery and post-operative care. Yes sir, someone up there sure did put ole Lily-Butt through the ringer that year. I vividly recall longtime vet friend Doc Schmitt informing me with his wry trademark grin that she was a “tough bitch.” It was an astute observation. Yes, he hit the nail square on the head. And now the old gal is running strong, probably stronger than she should be given what she’s endured.

I pray I’m not jinxing her, am well aware that once a dog hits 10, things can unravel fast. I watched it happen to Ringo — Lily’s kennel-mate, friend, lover and protector — not long after wondering aloud in print how many good years he had left, then marveling at his determination and stamina in the field at age 12. The way he ran through heavy cover all day long that year gave me unfounded hope that he had at least a year left, maybe two, as a productive gundog with no quit. Then, out of nowhere, like a flash of lightning in a black sky, the old fella took gravely ill, deteriorated rapidly and pathetically before my eyes, and was gone. Just like that, a week after witnessing him blowing through fresh, deep snow off an old Indian trail through the Williamsburg/Conway woods, he went into rapid decline and had to be put out of his misery.

As for ole Lily-Butt, who knows? She seems to be a survivor, a bundle of swamp-inspired fury.

“Why do you call her Lily-Butt, Grampy?” asked younger grandson Arie, now 5, long ago, and that’s been a common question from youngsters over the years. I guess the nickname is catchy among kids.

“Well,” I respond to the query, “I can’t say for sure when or why I added the Butt, but it was probably because of the way she furiously wiggles her hind quarters when pursuing fresh scent. Plus, Lily-Butt just rolls off the tongue, and she responds to it with loyal affection.”

It’s funny. The last kid who questioned the nickname a few weeks back in my backyard brook was 3-year-old Saben from Cambridge. When he returned home from a long weekend in New York City, his mother wondered why he was calling one of their dogs Lily-Butt. I got a charge out of that one. Good thing she’s not the type that washes a kid’s mouth out with soap. No, not at all. Quite the contrary.

But why digress, back to Lily’s current geriatric enthusiasm. I truly believe I can credit her youthful vigor to a man named Jeff at the Greenfield Agway store. A reader and fellow springer owner from Leyden, the man recognized me at the till a few years ago when Chubby was a young pup and asked my why I fed my dogs a well-known high-end brand I was purchasing. When I told him I believed it to be a superior product and had had good luck with it over the years, he said, “Let me show you something,” and proceeded to introduce me a lesser-known food that was less advertised, thus cheaper, yet better for my dogs. Grain-, gluten- and filler-free, I tried it, the dogs loved it, the food agreed with them and over time I noticed a difference in their and overall health and zip.

I have now switched over to a similar cat food and have noticed a big difference in overall appearance and health in her, too. Though I must admit to being previously clueless to such pet foods, and have since discovered that my old preferred brand offers the same type of food (more expensive), I have stuck with my Agway source’s recommendations ever since. When the first brand he showed me was bought out by another company, then sold again, he showed me the new labels and others like it, which I have faithfully purchased.

I would recommend this type of pet food to anyone who desires peak health and performance from working pets. And while you’re at it, maybe you ought to investigate what you yourself are eating off big-box market shelves. I did, started making smarter choices and have reaped the benefits, dropping weight and even reducing irritation to my chronic left knee simply by adjusting to a less contaminated diet some would call “earthy-crunchy.”

That’s OK. Call it what you wish. I’m sold on it for my pets and me.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a longtime member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gary@oldtavernfarm.com.

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