“I have sometimes thought of the final cause of dogs having such short lives, and I am satisfied it is in compassion to the human race: for if we suffer so much in losing a dog after an acquaintance of ten or twelve years, what would it be if they were to double that time?”
Sir Walter Scott
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part column.
Born in the rolling hills of Calhoun County, she was the product of the Sievers Kennel near the hamlet of Meppen. Ironically, Todd’s first yellow Lab, Turner Island Buck, was the chosen stud dog that helped to begin the still-existing kennel.
It’s quite possible Sophie never realized she was a dog. A gift from Gary Sievers, Todd and Amy selected her from many yelping, begging prospects in July 1992. At their new home in Lemont, Ill., not far from the skyscrapers of Chicago, Todd, having been raised with Labrador retrievers, and Amy, herself having dogs, started Sophie on her life of canine royalty.
As Sophie matured, Todd naturally began training her to be a hunter; Amy schooled her to be their “first together dog.” With a natural desire and blessed with a strong sense of smell, she appeared to be well on the way to fulfilling Lab stardom.
Sophie’s first hunt may well be an indication of her overall intelligence. An early November snow arrived at the Carlyle Lake walk-in area on opening day of the 1992 duck season as the 6-month-old dog accompanied her master, Mike Kaliban, Mike and Don Jones, Doug Lane and myself (Todd’s dad). Walking down the levee, Todd was determined to hunt the south wooded point of the Otter Pond, a knee to waist-deep walk through water for hunters, a swim of 200 yards for the first-time yellow pup. If memory serves; after Todd, Sophie, Kally (and maybe Mike) arrived at their destination, they either found the spot occupied or not to their liking. Placing a tired, shivering Sophie on a downed tree trunk for a rest; I’m quite sure the shocked pup uttered her first song, “No Way to Treat a Lady.” With sad brown eyes saying to Todd, “No way can I duplicate that trek,” she convinced her master to carry her back to the levee 200 yards through 3 feet of water. (Smart dog.) Todd even returned Sophie to the warm, comparatively speaking, truck before rejoining the hunting party, now a mile away. From that day on the yellow dog had ol’ Todd right where she wanted him. (Poor Todd.)
Life was good for Sophie and her first retrieve of a wild duck was doubly impressive, close to unbelievable. True, though, I was there and played a part in that first duck. The scene, Carlyle Lake, largest man-made reservoir in Illinois. On the day after Thanksgiving, ‘92, Todd, yours truly, Sophie and Illinois wildlife biologist Deck Major launched the hunting boat at pre-dawn from the West Access ramp. Sophie seemed to enjoy the boat ride, a big improvement over swimming to the hunting spot. Decoys were strange but didn’t bite back. The duck calls seemed louder and more serious than Todd’s practice sessions. Some time during the morning hunt, a mallard drake fell to the blast of one of the hunter’s guns, probably Todd’s — time to put the training and hours of hard work to the test. Reluctant to jump from the boat, Todd got out and coaxed Sophie to follow, toward the downed duck. Spotting the crippled bird, Sophie swam for the retrieve. “Good job, Soph,” “good dog,” “atta girl,” rang out as the yellow pup, duck in mouth, returned to the boat. Sophie released the duck to Dad for placement in back of the rig. As things settled down and hunting continued, suddenly a commotion sternward caused everyone, Sophie included, to jump in amazement as the stunned mallard drake gained new life and flew out the back of the boat. Fortunately, Dad was able to grab his gun and end the drake’s misery some 20 yards from the boat. Sophie jumped into the water, retrieved the duck (the second time) and as Todd helped her back into the boat, probably said in dog language, “So this is duck hunting; man, these birds are tough.” I’ve hunted waterfowl over 50 years and Sophie’s first retrieve is the only time I’ve ever seen what happened that morning.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The second part of this column will appear in next week’s AdVantage News.
Larry Reid is host of “Outdoors with Larry Reid,” which airs at noon Sundays on WBGZ Radio, 1570 AM/94.3 FM.