by Dan McMackin
Wildrose Kayla, my family’s dog of nearly 12 years, , recently passed away. The whole family grieved. Neighbors and co-workers sent sympathy cards. I’ve received dozens of emails from people who got to know her, mostly through hunting or competing. I’m still struggling mightily with her passing.
Kayla and I had a unique bond. We spent thousands of hours together training for retrieving competitions and hunting. We picked up birds and ran flush hunts at plantations and hunting preserves across the Southeast. We stayed together at hotels and motels, and drove thousands of miles together.
Because of Wildrose, I’ve become a student of animal behavior. I read all that I can about dogs and horses and their training. Animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, in her excellent book, “The Other End of the Leash,” wrote that she loved her own dogs so much that it hurt. I can relate.
Kayla cried whenever I left the house without her. My wife said that she would pout until I came home, waiting at the top of the stairs where she could see my car pulling in. She would pirouette whenever I asked, “Go for a walk?” Kayla would curl up below my shower door, my clothes closet – wherever I was, hoping I wouldn’t leave without her.
I suppose Wildrose clients are a separate class of pet owners because of their intense love and admiration for their animals. I may be in an upper percentile of that group.
Kayla sort of crawled up inside my heart. She had drive and confidence that she got from her dad, Bob. He was Mike Stewart’s only dog to win the International Field Trial Championship in Ireland several years ago.
Kayla took after Bob in several ways. She, like many Wildrose dogs, had a superlative nose. While on flush hunts, it wasn’t uncommon for her to find a dozen or more birds wounded or missed by previous hunters.
She could run a “frozen rope” over 200 yards on blind retrieves. In her prime, she was a marking machine. She was as good in a pheasant field as she was in a duck slough. As a game conservation tool, she was in a special class. After an amazing day of quail hunting, one of the hunters asked me if he could buy Kayla. I told him I was flattered but that she wasn’t for sale. He told me he would leave a blank check on the console of my SUV. Kayla was that good.
Like other Wildrose dogs I’ve met, Kayla was a proud animal. She carried herself with a regal air, and at the same time had a sweetness about her that was very endearing.
She also had a deep, almost insatiable curiosity. She was intrigued by new experiences, places and people.
But most of all she loved me. I used to take her in a shopping cart through the aisles of Home Depot. On one visit I walked away from the cart to talk with a clerk. A few seconds later a woman approached me and said, “Sir, your dog LOVES you!” I looked back and saw Kayla craning her neck keep me in her eye-sight.
I think her goal was never to let me out of her sight. In fact, she never ran away when off lead. She always wanted to be with me – to train, hunt, or visit the tailor lady (treats behind the counter), the dry cleaners or anywhere I was going.
How can a person not love an animal that’s so curious and engaged in everyday life? Heck, she was more interesting than most people I know.
Kayla also was a joyous creature. Her tail almost never stopped wagging. After a set of x-rays once, the vet told me she had some early arthritis at the base of her tail – from wagging it so much. A judge at a hunt test said to me, “Sir, you get bonus points for having the happiest dog in the world. She wagged her tail for all three marks and the blind.”
Neighbors would risk accidents when they drove past the pond where we trained, hitting the brakes to see her swim and take my casts. One woman would sit on her porch just to watch Kayla wag her tail while she swam. At a recent dove hunt she picked up 30 birds for a group of hunters, while, unbeknownst to me, she was deathly ill with hepatitis. And her tail never stopped wagging. That’s not just drive, or “birdieness,” that’s desire, God-given, Wildrose-bred desire.
Kayla and I picked up over a thousand birds a year. We became preferred “picker-uppers” at several preserves around Atlanta. She even got fan mail from one well-heeled client at a local plantation for her work at their dove hunts.
It’s fascinating to me that we can bond so closely with an animal that descended from wolves – a pair of wolves that took the risk of stepping inside the ring of human activity. Maybe it was for food, or maybe for simple contact with people.
Kayla had that intense desire for closeness. That’s a gift, isn’t it? With all the bad news in the world today, to have a joyous little partner to spend time with who asks for nothing more than to have her belly rubbed. I’m dropping tears on my keyboard as I write this. I love you little girl and I miss you. I’ll always miss you.