"An ode to Harry and to all good bird dogs that never live long enough"
“If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went”- Will Rogers
Our family was recently faced with the stark reality that our Harry the bird dog would no longer be with us anymore. It was a rough pill to swallow. You never want to lose a dog, but you certainly never want to lose them in their prime. Harry was in his prime. December 8, 2018 marked day one of the losing of Harry. Bo was getting ready to go to the store for the day and I was getting ready to take our daughter, Arden to pancakes with Santa. We had just gotten back from Kansas hunting 5 days prior. If you haven’t read about that adventure, you are missing out. I went to the laundry room to let the dogs outside. Puppy and Purdey came barreling out with their normal vigor. Harry did not. I told him to wake up and go outside. He got up and was obviously limping and had a knot on his shoulder. I thought, great you knucklehead….. You messed up your leg right before we leave to go to South Texas quail hunting. I made note to take him to the vet after we were done with pancakes with santa. Arden and I came back home and loaded him up to take to the vet. They looked at his leg, did x-rays and said it was a hematoma. Should go away in a few days.
A few days went by and the knot was not going away it was growing rapidly. Harry was quickly losing use of that leg. The next week I took him back in to the vet and asked them to drain it. Since we were in the middle of the busiest two weeks at Millers Point, I dropped him off and planned on picking him up when I left the store to get Arden from daycare. That afternoon I was in the back room wrapping and I got a call from the vet. All I really heard was that it was not a hematoma, probably cancer, aggressive hemangiosarcoma, and something about putting him under to do a biopsy. Cue the denial. Bo came into the backroom and I told him. Cue a second denial. Bo said he will be fine. It is not cancer. Harry was hunting in a blizzard two weeks ago.
Harry came home that evening with a few stitches in his shoulder from the biopsy and a bottle of pain pills. That weekend we had scheduled a day hunt with our friend Otis to go look for some elusive woodcock in East Texas. Harry seemed to be feeling ok that day and loaded himself in the truck. I thought, Great, he is feeling better and is ready to go hunting. Bo and I both agreed if he wanted to go hunting, then by gosh, he could go hunting. We got all the dogs collared up and loaded into the ranger to head out into the pines. About 10 minutes into the hunt as we were on foot, Harry just laid down in the middle of the woods. That was my first full realization that Harry may indeed have something awful wrong with him. You see Harry, never misses a hunt. One day Harry broke chain gang in South Texas and found the hunting party 3 miles away. Harry never did appreciate being left behind.
After woodcock hunting, Bo and I pretty much had a silent drive home. After seeing Harry just lay down like that, we knew. We knew that those biopsy results that we would get on Monday were not going to be good. As it turns out those results said he had stage 3 Hemangiosarcoma. The next 6 days his condition went from ok to bad. He was laboring to breathe and clearly in pain. We both knew that he would never live to see another hunt again, river trip, beach trip, or be the bird dog that Arden would be walking beside on her first hunt.
January 1, 2019 was the most beautiful sunny day we had had in several days. It was also going to be Harry’s last day with us. On New Years eve, Bo and I both agreed that we couldnt let him deteriorate anymore. We had a veterinarian come out to the house after lunch on New Years day to euthanize Harry. We spent that morning loving on Harry and telling him bye. We did our best to explain to Arden that Harry was very sick and was not going to get better. How do you explain to a three year old that her favorite dog was going to be put down? I’m still not sure that we explained it the right way. Parenting is hard, y’all.
Moments before Harry passed, I am pretty sure the final things I whispered to him was that he was the best boy and that I loved him so much. I also told him Thank You. I was truly thankful Harry found his way into our lives. We let Puppy and Purdey see him before we buried him. Puppy literally sat down beside him and put her paw on him and then rubbed her face. I’m not sure if there is any scientific evidence to prove or disprove that dogs grieve, but I am sure that they do. It has been a few days now and Puppy seems to still be lost at times.
I am not going to try to compare or relate losing a dog to the pain of losing a family member or loved one. But I do fully respect that the pain of losing a dog can be intense and be a sorrow that you carry around with you for a long time. We are mourning the loss of Harry, but we are also mourning the loss of all the future plans we had for him. Harry was for sure going to be the dog that was beside Arden on her first hunt in a year or so. He was also our most experienced dog. He taught the younger ones. Arden came home from school one evening last week and told me she was ready for Harry to come back home. I told her that he wasn’t, that he had died and she started to cry and ask why. Hell, I had to sit down with her and cry myself.
Harry came barreling into our lives from a simple phone call from the Lufkin Animal Shelter in 2013. They called me and said we are positive we have a hairy version of a GSP here. Can Texas GSP Rescue take him? I said sure, I would come down there tomorrow to pick him up. When I got to the shelter to get him for the rescue, I was shocked at what I saw in the kennel. This dog was clearly no GWP, but was certainly some sort of bird dog. He had the hairiest big body I had ever seen. He also had approximately 10 chewed up tennis balls in the kennel that he had conned some volunteer into giving him. The shelter told me they picked him up as a stray after he was at Taco Bell for 3 days conning unsuspecting diners to give him a taco.
I loaded him up in the back of my Yukon and headed home wondering what Bo was going to say when he saw this latest foster. The amount of foster GSP’s and GWP’s that Bo and I have fostered is a story for another blog post. Harry instantly became friends with our other dogs and showed to have some training. We were about 4 days into fostering him when we decided to get some pen birds to work our GSP, Maddie. We put Harry into a kennel outside so he wouldn’t run away if the gun shot scared him. When the first gun shot went off he did climb out of kennel, but it wasn’t to get away. He barreled his big body towards us to join in the fun. It was probably in that moment that whether we knew it or not, his last name became Miller.
Harry was literally the perfect bird dog. He was a family dog, a protector, and a good bird dog. He never complained. When Arden was born he seemed to be happy to have another family member. He was perfectly happy being up all night with a me and a crying infant. He welcomed numerous scared and anxious fosters into our home. He hunted in both Texas and Kansas. His species list includes quail, pheasants, prairie chickens, and dove. One hunting trip in Kansas he stopped hunting to go get a racoon that had jumped on a female GSP’s face. He quickly got it off of her and dispatched it in about 30 seconds. He then promptly went back to bird hunting. He hated cats with a passion. He was found guilty of 3 separate counts of cat murder throughout his life. He was the kind of dog that would try to prevent from you walking into a fire, but if he couldn’t stop you- he damn sure would walk into it with you. Harry loved a good sip of beer and would often help himself if you weren’t looking. I think the next hunt we go on, we will pour out a little in his honor.