By Glenn Pabody
If you are a lifelong dog lover, you’ve had that one dog that always stands out. The one dog that exceeds all your expectations. That dog for us was Mack.
On April 1st of 2019 I lost a friend and hunting partner of 16 years and Maryetta lost a friend and Lifetime-movie-watching, snuggle buddy. It would be easy to say nothing more and move on, but it wouldn’t be fair to not acknowledge one of God’s creatures who gave so much unconditional love to me and Maryetta. A buddy and hunting partner who willingly broke ice and swam in frigid water to pick up a downed duck or goose, or who stayed by my side in a blisteringly hot dove field waiting for that next flight of white-wing doves to come screaming through in the hopes that he’d get to pick up just one more dove before day’s end, or who was just as happy to lie next to me while I read, or tried desperately to catch that big elusive catfish in our tank.
This is Mack’s story. Maybe a little long, but he deserves this and more . . .
We named him Mack, as in truck, because as a pup he resembled that famous big-rig hood ornament. He wandered away from his littermates and into our lives at about 6 weeks of age on a wet, raw February morning in 2003. I had burned some trash in our burn barrel the night before and, as I was leaving for work at the clinic, I happened to look down and saw a steel-grey fuzz ball huddled up next to the barrel. He kind of growled a little as if to say, “I’m a big dog, buddy; don’t mess with me.” I ignored the puppy growls, dried him off, gave him a little something to eat, put him in a crate with a heat lamp in our shop, and left for work after calling Maryetta and telling her we had a very small guest staying with us.
When I came home at lunch, I let the little guy out to pee, stretch his legs a little, and get a drink of water. While we were both in the back yard, bonding by watering the grass, Maryetta called and asked how he was doing. I told her that he was just fine and we were doing the guy bonding thing. She said, “Good. I think I’ve found him a home.” I paused at that and told her that I wasn’t sure I wanted to let the little guy go ‘cause he was kind of cute. Well, you could have heard a pin drop over the phone. The reason was that Maryetta used to joke that I was a snob concerning only two things: I only shot Beretta shotguns and I trained and ran only pedigreed Lab females. I’d been training retrievers since my teens and they were always Labs, and always females. I had never trained a male, much less owned and trained a mixed-breed dog. A male mutt, no way.
Well when my bride came home from work that evening, she found Mack and me lying on the living room floor. When she laid eyes on the little guy, I knew he was staying. It was love at first sight. (Parenthetical note here: shortly before we were married, Maryetta asked me about adjusting puppies to their new home. I told her I usually let them sleep with me for a day or so, then transitioned them to a crate next to the bed, then—when potty trained—I’d let them out of the crate. She told me in no uncertain terms that if we got a pup, there would be no puppies in the bed). Fast forward to our first night with Mack and I wake up to very rapid breaths near my left ear. I roll over to see that the woman who wouldn’t allow puppies to sleep with us has Mack snuggled up next to her neck. “He was cold honey !”…)
While Mack was my hunting partner, he was also, just as importantly, “mama’s boy.” Between the end of February and August 30th he had eyes mostly for Maryetta. He could usually be found next to her while watching a television program; he seemed to prefer cooking shows, or wandering around the property with her. We have 8 acres of trees and there always seemed to be at least one tree that needed pushing over. Maryetta would encourage him and he’d start ripping at rotting bark while Maryetta pushed on the tree. Before long the dead tree would be pushed over between their two efforts and he always seemed inordinately satisfied when the tree hit the ground. He could also be found helping mom weed the garden. Maryetta would point to something and say, “WEED !” and, bless his heart, he’d grab the offending plant, yank it up, and shake it like a terrier going after a rat!
One of his special skills involved toilet paper. While we were building our home we lived in a small rental a few miles away from our property. The bathroom was set up such that if you were sitting on the commode and needed a fresh roll of toilet paper, you couldn’t reach it where it was stored under the sink. Maryetta taught Mack to reach in and grab a roll and give it to her. Very handy when you’re in an “in extremis “ situation. One spring day while I was training Mack in our back yard, I heard Maryetta call for him through the bathroom window. He ran into the house and came back out just a minute or so later. Maryetta later told me he ran in, thinking mom was in our bedroom, turned around saw her in the bath room, realized what was needed, reached in and fairly tossed the roll of TP at her with a look Maryetta described as, “Mom! Dad and I are training, please don’t disturb us !” God I loved that boy.
At that time I was on the road fairly regularly, running our Lab Vader in hunting retriever tests, so it was ideal for Maryetta to have a companion when she didn’t go with me. There was a problem though: it seemed “mom’s companion” had developed an interest in retrieving while watching me train Vader. So, I started working with Mack after I was done training Vader and he took to it like a duck to water. Because of his seemingly natural inclination to retrieve, we wondered if there was any retriever of any breed in him. We had a canine DNA test done on him, twice. Both times it came back Mastiff, Rottweiller and Chow. There was no retriever in him, anywhere. He just really liked to retrieve and in time was skilled enough to do multiple retrieves, tracking of crippled birds, and blind retrieves. So much for staying at home with mom ‘cause the big guy quickly got hooked on wingshooting and retrieving for me. Now I had to take two dogs with me when I went hunting!
When you’ve hunted with a partner for as long as Mack and I hunted together, there are always lots of memorable hunting stories, far too many for this recitation. There was a time in Kansas he caught a jack rabbit and got into a tug of war with a friend’s Springer Spaniel over whose rabbit it was, or the first time he attempted to pick up a Sandhill crane and ended up dragging it back to me by the wing for 50 yards, or the time in Uvalde when he first encountered MOJO type dove decoys. We were hunting in a small field right on the edge of town and the birds were just piling in to escape from a neighboring field filled with dove hunters. This was the year the motion dove decoys first came out and everybody in our group but Mack and I had one. They were working like a charm. Despite not having one Mack and I got our limit pretty fast and walked over to retrieve for Louie, the oldest guy in our group in a remote corner of the field. He was using a MOJO decoy and 5 other folks in our group who’d limited out contributed their decoys for the morning to Louie, as well. He was positively awash in decoys! The doves must have thought the mother lode of seed was on the ground because the decoys were drawing them in like crazy. Louie shot a Ruger 28 ga. and couldn’t keep it loaded fast enough. When Mack and I got there, we picked up a few outlying birds then settled in next to Louie to pick up the remainder of his limit. As I said, I didn’t own a motion decoy so Mack had no idea what they were. Louie would knock a dove down on the far side of the decoys and Mack would plow through ‘em like a 110 pound grey furry bowling ball, at which time I’d go out, re-set the decoys only to have them knocked down again the next time a bird was dropped. It took several more birds before Mack figured out he could get the same results by going around, rather than through, the decoy “spread.”
The male mutt that had wandered into our lives 16 years ago turned into one of the two best dogs I’d ever trained and hunted over and he became a lifelong friend and companion. By the time he crossed over the bridge this dog, who shouldn’t have been a retriever, had picked up untold hundreds of ducks, pheasants, quail, chukar, snow geese, and Canada geese in west Texas peanut fields (boy, is that a great story), Sandhill cranes, and untold hundreds of doves for me and my hunting partners. Plus, he gave unconditional love to me and Maryetta. Keep a warm spot in the blind for me, bubba. See you on the other side.