Much thanks to ‘Pop’
This past week marked a year that one of the biggest influences in my life had been gone and to be quite honest it took me by surprise how time has both flown by and been a comfort. My grandfather, Olin Mahfouz of Bridge City, passed away a year ago but his love of all things outdoors is still present and I thank him for teaching me all of those things. Perhaps his greatest love in the world outside of his wife was watching good bird dogs and I can’t say as I blame him. The following story is one I wrote several years ago but at this time of the year it just seemed right to dust it off and share it again as a tribute to the man who helped me along the path that I enjoy today. It was called, “In Praise of Great Dogs.”
There are very few things in this world that are as beautiful to watch as a well trained dog, no matter what breed or what task they are bred to accomplish I love watching all of them. As a wide eyed 8-year-old with shotgun in hand I watched a pair of exceptional English Pointers scour the east Texas and southwest Louisiana landscape in search of quail and woodcock on a routine basis. The pointers were the pride and joy of my grandfather, Olin Mahfouz of Bridge City. The pair consisted of a large male named Buddy and a younger female named Sue. Both Pointers were adorned with black markings on their heads and various other smaller black patches on their predominately white coats. At the time I had no idea of just how fortunate I was to be in the company of these dogs and their owner, I was hunting over some the finest dogs in the business. Both Buddy and Sue had were descendants of bird dog royalty, Redwater Rex and Riggins White Knight were their respective grandfathers and at the time they stood as #1 and #3 on the all time field trial wins list.
Each November weekend was the same, my grandfather and I would load up in his truck with Buddy and Sue and head for parts unknown in search of another covey of quail which we almost always seem to find. At this particular time in my life I was given the “Barney Fife” treatment in the field, one shell at a time. Although frustrating as it was having only one shell to shoot it made me a better shot because I really had make each one count. After a season or two of this treatment I had shown I could handle my gun safely and finally graduated to fully loading my gun with 3 shells, I was in the big leagues now. As each hunt unfolded I began to understand and appreciate a little more the talent that these two dogs possessed. I was entirely too young to remember Buddy as a puppy, he had just always been there in the kennel ever since I could remember. Sue on the other hand was a different story altogether.
As a puppy she showed little promise and was actually traded by my grandfather to another hunter only to come back to him in another trade some time later. At the age of 3 she really came into her own and was now the solid backup dog that my grandfather needed. You see Buddy was a season or two past 10 and if you saw him in the kennel you would think there is no way he could go in the field. Buddy crept around slowly and looked like he couldn’t take another step until the tailgate dropped and that door on the dog carrier opened up, it was then that he looked like he had been drinking from the fountain of youth. In his younger days this magnificent dog could eat up some acreage, it was breathtaking to watch as he and my grandfather roamed the fields and communicated in their own special language.
Buddy hunted quail for nearly 14 seasons when he was finally retired, he lived out the rest of his life indoors at the foot of a kindly old man who needed a companion and spoiled him rotten.That first quail season without Buddy was met with some questions; questions Sue answered beyond the shadow of a doubt. Now the No. 1 dog in the kennel Sue performed at the highest level one could ever hope to imagine, she picked up right where Buddy left off. Sue did not run quite as big as Buddy, at times when she couldn’t see you she would circle back to check on “her” hunters and then take off again in search of the next covey. Her actions were animated, when she smelled birds her tail made a circular motion that resembled a helicopter, it was then that you knew she was hot on the trail. Before long she would freeze in that classic pointer pose as if to say, “They are right here boys, come get ‘em.”
Each time she would point I could see a smile cross my grandfathers face, a sense of accomplishment would wash over him as he watched the scene play out. Either my grandfather or myself would walk up and flush the birds into flight where if our aim was true there would be downed birds for Sue to retrieve.
The command to “hunt dead” was Sue’s signal to fetch the quail we had shot, a task she performed to perfection. On one particular retrieve Sue had just picked up a freshly shot quail and was on her way to bring it back to my grandfather when she stopped and pointed again. There she stood with the quail in her mouth pointing out another bird that did not fly with the others.
According to my grandfather, that may have been the finest thing he ever witnessed in the field over his 70-plus seasons.
Sue continued to amaze us for many years after that, I had the pleasure of taking her on my own for several hunts and she performed magnificently. I was also fortunate enough to capture some her exploits in the field on my camcorder, understandably these movies are priceless to me for several reasons. With each passing season new dogs were brought in to audition for the backup role as Sue grew older, one by one they tried to take her top spot but none were successful. Sue, that beautiful black and white female pointer, kept her top spot in the kennel until for health reasons she had to be put to sleep. Still to this day it is difficult to think of her without getting somewhat choked up by it all.
To some folks it may sound trivial or weird to be so attached to a good dog that you can get emotional, but to those of us who have been fortunate enough to have had good dogs it only seems natural.
The bond between a hunter or owner and their dog is nearly sacred, one that cannot be understood by those who have never experienced it. I can truly say that I have been fortunate enough to have been around some great dogs, all kinds of breeds that excel at different tasks. Each one is different yet they are all the same, beautiful to watch and a joy to behold.