Warbonnet Brittanys


Dusty - Ears A Flappin'
    Dusty was our first Brittany.  We moved to Cheney, Washington in 1961 and in the late '60's I was old enough to hunt.  My father had been bird hunting with local friends and had seen a number of different breeds hunt.  After I hit 12 years old and could carry a gun, we started to borrow a lab from some friends down the block to go bird hunting.  He was a real nice lab who hunted close and obeyed us despite the fact that we were not his owners.  His owners who did not hunt, liked the fact that he received a good bit of exercise and felt good that they were providing their neighbors a service.
    Now out hunting, this was one of those labs that not only flushed the birds, he often pointed.  However, his pointing stance was nothing near classic.  As we would be hunting on each side of a thick brushy draw in the golden Eastern Washington wheat fields, we would stay even with each other for safety (always know where your fellow hunters are) and paid close attention to the dog.  Often only one or neither of us could actually see the lab hunting, we were following the action by sound as he crunched through the thick brush.  Then there would be a sudden silence and we would stop.  One of us would ask the the other the all important question 'Hey, what's he doing, poop or point?'  It was often hard to tell unless you were quite close to the "action" as it were.  Many's the time I forced my way into the thick brush hoping to flush a big cock rooster that the lab was pointing only to find that old lab all hunched over just finishing a massive dooly.  He sort of had a half a smile on his face like 'ha ha, I fooled you' and the other half of his expression was the longing of every bird dog to 'get back to the hunt!'  Quite disappointing.
    We did much hunting with this old lab until one Thanks Giving holiday he encountered a porcupine.  We now always carry a pair of needle nosed pliers with us out hunting because of this....  He had quills in his cheek, mouth, neck and legs.  It was not a pretty sight.  We ended up pulling the vet away from is turkey dinner and bringing home to our neighbors that evening, a very sore lab that was still coming out of the anesthesia, falling and drooling all over himself.  It was then we resolved to purchase a hunting dog of our own.
    So, we started the search for a breed and a dog.  My Father had really liked the Brittanys he had hunted with and considered the fact that we wanted a smaller dog that I could do things with and would be good in the house around my 10 and 2 year old sisters.  I had asked for and received a mutt when I was eight and with my Mom's help had trained it into a local and Spokane County prize winning "trick dog."  So, I liked dogs and liked messing with them. 
    We made the mistake that many first time hunting dog owners make, we purchased a Brittany from a back yard breeder for thirty five bucks and named him Dusty.  The Mom (dam) had "papers" and the Dad (sire) came from the pound.  When you purchase a dog in this manner you have a lower probability that the dog will be a good one.  This is because you do not have an accurate history of what the dogs parents, grand parents and great grand parents and so on, were like.  Some of the pups ancestors could have genetic health problems or bad temperament and your pup may inherit these bad genes.  With dogs at least, a surprising amount of behavior is genetic.  'Makes you wonder about people doesn't it....  I would not purchase a dog from any one unless they know about the grandparents or could point me to who did....
    Despite the fact that Dusty came from a back yard breeder, he turned out real well.  We had purchased and read several books on how to train a hunting dog and followed these closely.  The biggest thing we thought about was 'What do we want this dog to do for us in the field?' and tried to make all his training apply to that goal.  As with most Brittanys, he was a good family dog and with experience, he became an outstanding pheasant dog.  He could really dig them out of heavy cover and was tenacious when tracking a specific bird, especially a rooster in the snow.  But, this story isn't about Dusty's training or how good of a hunting dog he ended up being despite us, it is about one incident I had with him while exercising him.
    We have always believed in keeping our dogs in good to great physical condition all year around.  This prevents such things as sore pads on their feet, to killing your dog of heat stroke on the opening of the season.  Plus, an in shape dog is happy, calm, the correct weight and can hunt all day for you with the right care and constant watering.  Besides walking, training, jogging and biking our dogs, one of the ways we keep them in shape is running them with a motorcycle.  At that time we were on the edge of town with a series of dirt roads in the fields behind town that consisted of University owned waste land and farm field roads.  The University land had numerous piles of dirt that the construction and grounds crews stored for various purposes, some quite large.  These were laced with numerous bicycle and motorcycle trails that many a kid including myself, had learned (and gone well beyond) the limits of what his bike could do.
    Now on this particular day, I was running Dusty on the Honda 70.  It was a small motorcycle that we used for various things such as leaving it at the down stream side of a river float and driving it back to get the car we left on the upstream side of the float.  The Honda was also great for running the dog.  I would start from home with the dog leashed in heal and when we were out of town, release the dog and we would roar off together at top dog speed for 3-5 miles of hard running.  Dusty loved it!  I also kind of liked buzzing about on all these trails myself, in a high schoolish sort of way...  So, off we zoomed on a warm and clear late spring afternoon.  As we neared the first large pile of dirt, I for some reason chose to stay on the road rather than zipping up and over that dirt pile.  Dusty however, ran hell-bent-for-leather up the path that ran along the top of this large almost rectangular shaped 30 foot high pile of dirt.  The path took off from the right side of the dirt road, went up the narrow south side of the pile, along the narrow top, descended steeply down the northern side and angled back onto the road.  The road took a gentle loop around the left side of this particular dirt pile.
    As I looped around this dirt pile, I gunned the bike a bit to get ahead of Dusty so we did not collide as he zipped down the trail on the north side and back onto the road.  I suddenly noticed a larger expanse of blue sky to my right than there should have been.  The whole north half of the dirt mound had been taken away as fill dirt for some University project.  This was not good!  Dusty came flying off that newly created 30' cliff at full speed, not forty feet away.  Isn't it funny how, when things are happening fast, they seem to happen in slow motion?  I remember hitting the breaks and laying the bike down in the road on its right side all the while watching the dog over my right shoulder.  I some how ended up unhurt, standing in the road facing the dog with my left foot on the bike seat and my right on the ground.  While this fairly awesome motor cycle maneuver occurred, I was watching the unstoppable descent of my dog, expecting the worse.  Dusty came off the cliff at full speed and I will forever have this picture of him in my mind, front paws reaching forward carefully almost tenderly pawing the air, back legs gathering under him in anticipation of the impact, eyes rather large and focused on the ground, mouth wide open with his tongue lawling out, and ears a flappin' in the wind of his descent.
    I did not see the actual moment of impact as my view was blocked by some left over dirt mounds just in front of me.  I remember being almost glad that I couldn't because I did not want to see the gruesome results.  Dusty descended oh so slowly out of my field of vision and I distinctly heard the 'ka-wap' of him hitting the ground.  By this time the bike and I were about stopped and I was thinking about trying to take a step in his direction.  A small cloud of dust came poofing over the mounds from where Dusty had landed.  Time regained its normal speed.
    I ran up the mounds and there he was lying in the dust twitching, either dead or out cold.  I slid to a stop by him and tried to hold the dog still.  I felt his legs which were fine but, figured his back had to be injured or broken.  I had just decided to roar home on the bike to get help when, Dusty opened his eyes.  They slowly came into focus on me, and he sat up and licked me!  This was an interesting development so I hugged him as much to keep him still as to show him how happy I was that he was alive.  After a few joyful moments I decided to zip home and get the station wagon to haul him in.  He would have none of my leaving him and hobbled off after me, pretty much carrying his right rear leg.  So, I picked up the motor bike and we very slowly started walking home.  By the time we had gone the 1/2 mile home he was hardly limping at all.  Dusty was surprisingly, completely recovered within a few weeks and lived to the ripe old age of 12, hunting hard all the time.  But, when ever I saw his ears a flappin' in the wind, I always remembered that fateful descent.

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