The first time I saw "Hack" was many years ago when he was just a young dog. At about the age of five months I watched as a struggling German shorthaired pointer pup was being led, and at times, even pulled from the field. The word was that Hackett the dog was gun-shy, and that he would soon see his maker in the happy hunting ground. After a brief conversation I was allowed to take him under my wing to see if there was any hope of rehabilitating the scared young dog.
After my initial evaluation I could see that the pup was indeed on the spooky side when it came to gun fire. I began my usual program of conditioning a gun-shy dog, and within a short period of time I could see good results. One of the things that I found necessary to do was to allow Hack to catch, and then play with the bird that was used in his training. He would point, I would flush without shooting, and Hack would run down the bird and play with it just like a cat would play with a mouse. He would never kill the bird, but I am sure that some of the birds wished that he would, because after a few minutes of being batted around and wallowed around in his mouth, the bird became a sorry sight to behold.
Ahh, but sacrifices have to be made in order for the final outcome to be a good one. The plan worked. Hack soon forgot about the gunshot as long as he could play with the bird in the end. Unfortunately this last ditch method of bringing dogs out of gun-shyness can sometimes lead to other problems in the dogs training. In Hackett's case, the gun-shy problem was resolved, but now a new problem appeared. Hack would not pick the bird up and bring it back. All he wanted to do was play with the bird. Force fetching was started and soon the retrieving problem began to disappear.
Shortly after the dog was showing good improvement, his owner, an NFL All-Pro Nose tackle and Defensive End for the Kansas City Chiefs, along with a group of others, arrived to see how the dog was doing. The original problem with the dog had started when the somewhat inexperienced owner and a group of hunters had fired multiple shots over the inexperienced dog which basically scared the tar out of the young dog. I explained how that it would be necessary from now on that the dog point any birds that were shot, or at least the birds should be shot only if the dog had seen them and was chasing them. I explained that as a dog is chasing a bird he is not bothered by the shot as much as he would be if he was unaware that a shot was going to be fired. As luck would have it the spot that the group chose to hunt that day had chest-high weeds in it and the dog could barely see where it was going on, let alone see any birds. Well the birds came up and the guns went off in rapid succession and we had a new - old problem to deal with.
I have repaired many gun shy dogs in the past, but repairing the same dog more than twice can be very tricky. To make a long story short, the pup was cured and even went on to place second in the first field trial that he was put in. He then went on to collect many trophies and ribbons over the next several years.
Many of the radio shows that I was a guest for wanted to hear the story, of Hackett the gun shy dog, and how you should not give up too soon on a dog. I didn't mind telling the same story many times, as long as it could help some struggling dog owner to have faith, and not give up on a dog that they were having a problem with.
Many years have passed and Hackett had a hard life, but compared to the average dog, he also got to do a lot of things, and hunt in many different places, with many different hunters, so he never really complained much. He would always greet me at his pen with his famous sea lion- type of bark and a wiggling tail. Both the owner's children, and my children, grew up with Hackett, so he really had several families to love.
For the last few years, as my daughters grew up, they were given the chore of feeding and taking care of all of the dogs. Last Wednesday night my middle daughter told me that Hackett would not come out of his barrel. In an instant I knew what that meant. I quietly told her as matter- of- factly as I could that he probably never would. I didn't really say the words that she was afraid to hear, but then again I didn't want to hear them either. I took my high powered flashlight out to his pen and there he was, all curled up with his head on his paws in a very peaceful sleep.
I arose on the morning of Thursday, October 31st and cut the top off of his dog barrel so that he could stay sleeping right where he was, in a place that would be familiar to him. I buried him in his barrel under the shadow of a large cottonwood tree in the corner of the training field where he had spent many days pointing and retrieving birds, and showing younger dogs just how things should be done. Before I began to cover him with soil, I carefully laid my old Bill Maas Celebrity hunt insulated hunting vest on top of him; to keep him warm on the cold nights ahead. I also placed a hunter orange Bill Maas hat, along with a Dave Szott Celebrity Hunt, and an American Outdoorsman All-Star Hunt hat in the barrel with him; so that his new owners would know some of the events that he had hunted in. The last thing that I placed in his barrel was the tail feather from a pheasant, just incase he needed to have something to play with in his new home. Hack had always enjoyed playing with tail feathers. As you can imagine the tears were rolling as I shoveled the last few scoops of earth on top of him and said my final goodbye. The only thing that I could think of to say was said in a muffled and choked voice; "Good bye Hackie… you were a good dog".
I had known that he probably would not last through one more winter, so his passing had not come as a huge surprise, but it was a little more traumatic than even I had expected. I finished patting down the loose soil on his grave, and as I put the shovel up in the back of the truck, I thought I saw a snowflake falling. I turned around to face the little mound of earth behind me, and sure enough it was snowing the first snow of winter. It was as if the Angels were shedding some tears along with me. How very fitting for the close of Hackett's story.
Somewhere down the road, if for whatever reason someone should be digging in the corner of that field, they may find a blue plastic barrel containing a few bones and a brass name plate from a dog collar. There may even be a few shreds of orange material inside as well. I pray that they will just fill in the hole and know that there lies a dog that was loved, and will never be forgotten.
Hackett was a good dog and I will miss him very much.
I am thankful for the opportunity to have known him.
Sincerely, Jon Cerda
Sachem "Dog runner"
Mighty tribe of