A Hunting Dog's New Leash on Life

7748b7b9-bc98-4867-b099-2d73d540dae0 By Marissa Jensen

It began with a conversation I’ve heard one too many times: “This isn’t the right dog for us, and we don’t have the time, would you be interested?” With two dogs already at home, and no plans to add another, I declined; not once, not twice, but three times, with the last call holding a more desperate tone. 

“We can’t keep her; the family doesn’t like dogs and I don’t have time to work with her. She’s not house-trained, but otherwise a great puppy, will you just take her?”
 
The alternative of her landing behind the cold and sterile concrete walls of a shelter caused my resolution to cave, and knowing her bloodlines, I was optimistic that in no time at all she would be off roaming little bluestem fields alongside the perfect owner.
 
For years, rescuing has been a part of my identity; perhaps this comes from my previous work as a veterinarian technician, watching owner after owner surrender their pet when the going got tough. Regardless, I developed a habit of taking in those that were cast aside and rejected, in hopes of finding them a family where they could flourish.
 
The plan started no different with this puppy; but I was foolishly unprepared for a tumultuous six-month-old with zero training whom life had left to her own demise. Presented with a multitude of negative behaviors and health concerns, I resolved to work with her and get her healthy until I felt confident that she was prepared for a new home, to ensure both her and the new owner were set up for success.

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She learned quickly; anything and everything thrown her way was absorbed. She was eager for attention, and soaked up any opportunity to please. She began to grow on me, but my decision to find a suitable home remained unyielding.
 
Kennels and isolation remained our biggest hurdle, and we suffered through many obstreperous nights before I caved. My exhaustion peaked at newborn infant level, resulting in a decision to allow her in the bedroom one night. The idea of sleep was a pro worth its weight in cons, and it paid off. That night would be a pivotal moment for us both, as if we echoed a collective sigh of relief, and she decided long ahead of me that she was home.
  
The next step was birds. The genes were there, but with no previous introduction I kept any expectations in check. With help from a good friend and trainer, we exposed her to her roots to see what she was made of. Within ten days she was steady to the wing and flush, and almost steady to shot. Her nose was remarkable, and any trace of anxiety was gone in the field, her body radiating pure joy. It was clear she had found her purpose.
   
Upon returning home, she jumped on the bed, refusing to leave until morning. The name she arrived with seemed to fall upon deaf ears, and we decided to mark this as a fresh start. My son’s love of Sasquatch was fitting, as she was truly something wild to behold; and it was then that we decided: Yeti had found her home.

Every dog provides challenges and levels of expectations that must be worked through; that’s part of the experience and the bond. Both of our hunting companions come from excellent bloodlines and fill me with pride in the field, however, neither one could call our family their initial home.

Reese, our six-year-old German shorthaired pointer, landed back with her breeder when the first home fell through. I didn’t expect to start with an older hunting dog, she was three at the time, but when I stumbled across her, I knew on a visceral level she was the right dog for me.

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The transition with Reese provided a different narrative. From day one she altered my views on the breed. Reese was calm in the house, to the point of being lazy, but fervent in the field, with a powerful and unyielding nose. We waded through the depths of our first two seasons, learning each other’s expectations. Her previous handler was a man, so she naturally gravitated and worked in front of men when we found ourselves amidst a group. 

After many solo hunts, our favored way of exploring the uplands, we’ve developed a rhythm and understanding. I’ve learned a lot with Reese; I continue to do so, and I believe the same to be true for her. There have been days when my inability to read her has led her to go off and hunt on her own, and other times when my skepticism resulted in missed opportunities to harvest a bird. We’ve stumbled through a variety of new species together, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to take her training to new heights.
 
I often look fondly on my colleagues and friends who share 8-week-old puppy pictures, envying the relationship they’ve developed from the beginning, and knowing I won’t have the memories of puppy breath, teething, or carrying a lump of fur that fits neatly in my arms. I won’t experience the thrill of looking upon a litter with excitement, or given the opportunity to pick ‘the one.’
 
Instead, I experience a trust that I work hard to earn, and a satisfaction when I look upon my dogs and recognize the moment when my house becomes their home. Every milestone that perhaps wasn’t their first, but their first with me, is significant and cherished beyond words.
 
We aren’t perfect in the field; we will continue to struggle, to move beyond expectations buried deep from their past, but when it clicks there is nothing greater. Sure, that can be said for any owner and their bird dog, but for me it’s even sweeter knowing we’ve worked beyond other’s apprehensions and frustrations and found the moments that are ours alone to revere. 

Marissa Jensen is Education and Outreach Program Manager for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Quail Forever Journal. If you'd like to read more stories like this, become a member at the link below.