Best Damn Fishing Dog Ever | Hatch magazine

We drove in silence to the farming village of the Snake River Plain. It was Memorial Day and we were supposed to go to a family cemetery to meet Toni’s parents at the grave of her younger brother, now in his 30s.

But plans change. We had gone from remembering a tragedy of the past to being in the grip of a new one. My oldest daughter, Phoebe, a wire-haired mix of dubious parentage, curled up in her dog bed at the foot of the dining room table that morning and never got up. So instead of driving to a cemetery to mourn Tony’s long lost brother, we cried as we drove across the cool, green fields of an Idaho spring to a pet crematorium. Phoebe lay lifeless in the back of the car, wrapped in her favorite blanket. We didn’t talk through the tears.

I’ve lost dogs before. All of us who take on the responsibilities of owning a dog understand that, one day, we will have to say goodbye. All we can do, really, is ensure that these animals who often become family have a life worth living and protect our hearts when that short life is over. And that’s a really short life.

Phoebe was a childcare project at first. A young couple living in a cramped apartment in Rigby, Idaho, adopted him. The problem was that they hadn’t bothered with a pet deposit and didn’t know the rules – Phoebe would be quite a large dog, albeit tall and skinny. It was too big for an apartment.

So the couple brought Phoebe into our home, then just a very active puppy. After resisting for an hour or so, I agreed to take her for a few months while the couple paid rent and bought a house. But I knew it would be a permanent thing—the husband was tackling classes at BYU-Idaho and the wife was working as an office clerk at her father’s real estate firm. Buying a home was likely not in the cards.

Phoebe was full of energy and, as friendly as the new couple had been when they adopted her, she had no training. None. Like … she walked into our living room with muddy feet and peed on the white carpet. Then she jumped on the new couch. My kids were excited.

But, I’ll be honest. I didn’t like her. We already had a dog – a really good dog. Hannah was a black lab-springer spaniel mix with a grouse nose. She loved to walk with me to the trout streams and was an expert at carp fishing. She didn’t jump on the furniture. And she peed outside.

Phoebe had a terribly annoying habit of jumping on people and putting her nose on theirs, and not in a subtle way. I’ve been taking left hooks with less vigor. Once, she nailed my 8-year-old son so hard that he fell to the floor, dazed. Try as I might, I couldn’t get him out of this horrible habit and finally resorted to calling a dog trainer. She arrived one afternoon and, of course, the first thing Phoebe did was jump and make the coach’s nose bleed.

“Damn it, dog!” she said, holding her nostrils shut to prevent blood from going anywhere. We stuffed our nostrils with paper and went outside. This time, when Phoebe tried to pounce on him, the trainer stuck out her knee and caught the dog in the chest. Phoebe whimpered as the air left her lungs, and that was it. She never jumped on anyone again.

She got the peeing under control in no time – and we eventually ditched the white carpet and exposed some pretty classy hardwood floors. Win-win.

But it took time for Phoebe and I to really bond. Like I said, I didn’t really like it. I didn’t like the puppy’s enthusiasm. I didn’t like her constantly getting up on the furniture (or that my wife and kids didn’t do much to discourage her). I was kind of alone on an island – they thought Phoebe was the cat’s meow, and I thought Phoebe was some kind of donkey.

But luckily, they work mysteriously. As it turns out, Phoebe wasn’t so much dumped on us by some naive newlyweds. I realized that Phoebe had given up on me. When all was said and done, she was gifted upon me by a higher power that knew that, in the years to come, I would need it. In the tough times that followed our rough start, if I hadn’t had Phoebe, I might not have made it.

First, there was the divorce and all the drama surrounding it. It’s never pretty, not even in the friendliest of situations. But with endings come beginnings. And the dog I never wanted became the dog I honestly couldn’t live without. She was my constant. She saw it all. I’m sure, in her world, the changes in scenery were confusing. The changes in the people around her were sad. But I was also her constant.

Second, over time, she became the best damn fishing dog I’ve ever owned. She would walk a trout stream with me with just the right amount of enthusiasm and restraint. If she started to wander a little forward, a quick snap of her fingers would bring her back. She never knew a chain—she didn’t need one. She was intuitive, which I think came from studying how we did things in the water, over and over. Hundreds of times. Thousands of fish.

And she loved him. She lived for it.

By the time the pandemic hit and we had all been working together for a very long time, Phoebe was an 11-year-old bat. We spent most of that summer camped in the Caribou National Forest, as far away from other people as we could but within reliable cell coverage so we could work and still be productive.

It was probably the best summer ever. And until then, Phoebe and I had a third trusty fishing and camping buddy. Tony had come into our lives and she began what turned out to be the rapid repatriation of my old fishing dog. In Tony, old Phoebe found someone who would help her up on the sofa and someone who would wipe a few cakes off her dinner plate and someone who would never turn down a chance to run her fingers through that corduroy coat. She loved Tony and, in the end, it might be fair to say that Phoebe was Tony’s dog.

But she was still a fishing dog, and if I snapped my fingers and came up from the basement holding a fishing tackle or a fishing holster, she’d be at the front door with an ear-to-ear smile and that chopper blade. one tail would hit the wall so hard I was sure it would go through the drywall. She knew we were going fishing and she wouldn’t miss it.

Then, near the end of that pandemic summer, she and I went north to the St. Joe in the Idaho Panhandle. It was a trip I’d wanted to take for years, and the pandemic surprisingly offered the perfect opportunity. I had more vacation time than I knew what to do with, and the remote work situation, thanks to the explosion, kept everyone calm. It was a good time to get away and reset.

I set up my little camp and together we drove north. We spent the night at Missoula, and by 10 o’clock the next morning, we had crossed the top of the cliffs near St. Regis, Mont., and we had dropped into the upper St. Joe. Over the next week, we walked miles on the river and caught our fair share of native West Slope walleye and bull trout. Every night, we ate something delicious grilled over an open flame and slept with the windows open to let in the cold. It was a magical week. It was me and my dog ​​doing what we both loved most in the world.

best damn fishing dog ever

Photo: Chris Hunt

And then, reluctantly, after a week of long days spent hiking, exploring, and fishing in some of the state’s most beautiful places, we drove the truck south and, in about eight hours, made it home.

When we got home and I turned off the engine and opened the driver’s door to begin the unpacking process, old Phoebe just looked at me from the passenger seat, a small scowl on her face.

“Are you okay, Poop?” I asked. It was an inglorious nickname for such a royal beast, but it was years ago and she didn’t mind. Her tail lifted off the seat and she tried to stand but just couldn’t. The look on her face was one of sorrow and regret. It was a profoundly false expression. She knew, then, I think, that maybe this was it … that we had come home from our last fishing trip together.

I walked around the truck and opened the door. I went inside and pulled 70 pounds of wirehaired sheep out of the truck and slowly lowered it to the ground. She stood shakily, looked up at me, again with that “sorry” expression, and slowly began to limp toward the front door, where Tony was waiting.

In a week, Phoebe was old.

Two days ago, she walked ahead of me on a footpath that meandered over the deep bends and emerald green pools of the river, pausing and waiting for me to catch up, only to take off again. She took in all the scents of the forest and chased the squirrels in the trees at every opportunity. She jumped and jumped as I marched purposefully down the path.

And she did this for days. There was no resignation. There was no sign that her miles were running out. She just glided along the path stopping only to wait for me. And when we returned to the truck at the end of each day’s fishing, she would run forward again. By the time I got to the truck, she was waiting and had been for several minutes.

The truth is, she was always ready for what was coming next. Over the years, we had hiked many trout streams and wandered many trails not knowing what we would see at the end of the day. And she never left. Not once.

But that last trip to St. Joe, it was for my old fishing dog. It was the beginning of her retirement. In the span of a week, she went from taking two steps every now and then to climbing her way up in the dog bed. And walking down the stairs was just painful to watch. It got so bad that, about a year after that trip to the Panhandle, I began to wonder if it wasn’t time, if she wasn’t in too much constant pain to make the life she wanted worthwhile.

But Tony… no, Tony wouldn’t hear of it. She still helped the old girl up on the couch to watch TV with us at night, and she would follow her up the stairs, just in case she tripped. And Phoebe took more table scraps and continued to smile at us whenever she could.

But I knew time was short and my heart was breaking. And then, not even two years after she’d suddenly transformed from that eager, happy fishing dog to a spirited senior citizen, she came downstairs, ate her breakfast, and then collapsed on the dog bed.

I have known heartache. I have lost dear relatives. A few years ago, I lost my little brother to ALS. But this… this hurt. The loss of this, the constant in my life that helped me as much as I helped her, still boils in my soul. I still picture it at the foot of the bed. Or beside me in the trout stream. Or sitting in the passenger seat, nose out the window looking for breezes.

I still miss the old Phoebe. And, yes, it’s true that when the end came, Tony’s pain was as deep as mine. She had been patient, dear. If Phoebe wasn’t Tony’s dog, Tony would most likely be Phoebe’s person. And I was okay with that. Tony has that ability to offer comfort, to give hope. And my oldest daughter was the beneficiary.

But from now until the day I collapse on my dog ​​bed and never get up, I will know this. No matter what, Phoebe was my fishing dog.

She was the best damn fishing dog ever.

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