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by Ted Jennings | Sep 9, 2021 | GUNDOGS, HUNTING

Cloud Sky Plant Ecoregion People in nature

Winter Flush by Brett James Smith.

The story of how a boy found a stray puppy that went on to be a great pheasant dog for him and his dad.

A dog surprised us the spring of my 10th birthday when Aunt Helen banged the screen door behind her. As she shuffled in the dark of dawn toward the Sunday paper, a ball of fur shot like a bat out of hell across the porch, exorcising the bejesus out of her. Enough so that Uncle Harry, hearing her shriek, grabbed his double from behind the door and rushed outside in his bathrobe. By the time I poked my head out the door, a composed Aunt Helen was scolding him for holding a howling puppy five feet off the ground by the scruff of his neck.

“Howard Pogat, you put that dog down this minute. And go put some clothes on before the neighbors see you! You look like a scarecrow.”

“You weren’t so fond of him a minute ago, Helen,” he countered.

After he got a glare that would wipe a smile off a Cheshire cat, he sheepishly set the dog down on the porch and ducked inside to change. When I called the pup, he came to me and I grabbed him up and held his squirming potbelly to my chest while he licked my face and peed on my pajama tops.

Although a hint of hunter lurked in his markings, his pedigree was suspect. Body brushstroked with black, liver and roan on a canvas of white, he wasn’t exactly a Picasso.

A dab of Lab, pinch of shorthair, spoonful of springer…he was a mess of a mix even for a mongrel. It didn’t help that his ears and tail were loaded with burrs, the round brown ones hard to remove without scissors. Plus, he was skinny as a rail with greasy, slick fur, like he’d been caught in a Louisiana oil spill.

While I held him, several fleas trapezed onto my arm, setting Uncle Harry to snickers when he dubbed him the “Flea-Ringed Circus.”

I didn’t care. I just wanted a dog of my own and knew I had a chance with Aunt Helen. Years before marrying Uncle Harry, she had to give away her Lab and move from the country into an apartment, no place for her “Pretty Boy,” as she called him. It broke her heart and for as long as she owned her car, she refused to wash his life-marks, nose smudges and paw prints from the windows or seats.



Making all the promises kids do to own a pet, I “begged like a starving man for the last ham sandwich on earth,” according to Uncle Harry’s retelling of the story. I’d do anything, he said I said, including shoveling out cow stalls and pig sties, cleaning chicken coops, weeding gardens and flowerbeds and even attending church without a fuss. Maybe I did. All I remember is that Uncle Harry hesitated long enough for my pleading eyes to persuade Aunt Helen to intervene.

“We can try it for a time, can’t we, Harry, and see how it goes?” she asked, winking at me on the sly and speaking in that tone women use to get their way. “Knowing how much he’s wanted a dog, it’d be a nice early birthday present from the two of us. Maybe this little fella will help you flush some of those pheasants you can’t seem to find on your own,” she added knowingly.

Her comment certainly flushed embarrassment from my uncle’s face, coloring his cheeks rose red.

“See, there’s one already,” she laughed. With that, she patted my new dog on the head and went in the house.

Resigned, Uncle Harry frowned, shook his head in disbelief and begrudged the outcome of a battle already lost.

“Like this muttonhead will amount to a hill of beans,” he groused. “I bet I could hide a rooster under his collar and he wouldn’t find it for a month of Sundays.”

Then he turned to me and smiled with meaning. “I don’t know how you pulled that one off, but I’m holding you to what you said. If I have to remind you even once about your chores, he goes to the pound. Is it a deal?”

“Deal!” I shouted, not sure of what I’d promised but shaking Uncle Harry’s extended hand anyway.
 
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