The Dog Days of Spring in Nova Scotia

Today I was pried out of my office chair by Mike who insisted I needed to go for a walk! The truth is, I DO need the exercise. Winter has been long and hard on me this year! Mike told me to get a flu shot, I didn't, and guess what … need I say more. After 10 weeks I am now feeling human again, and the warmth in the sun and the slow miracle of life outside the window that is Spring has been calling to me.

It was a glorious day here in Nova Scotia, the snow has almost all gone, and our favorite walking trail, which was once a railway line, is now ice free and full of spectacular vistas. There are great granite outcrops and hills deposited during the last ice age, now covered in trees and lichen, babbling brooks and roaring rivers and many fabulous fishing lakes. The railway line was cut into this landscape back around 1910 and it was no easy task. The tracks were ripped up about 90 years later when the line had become abandoned and turned into a walking trail. It is also a great place to exercise our two energetic English Springer Spaniels!

Our dogs named Hunter and Britney, are brother and sister, born in a cozy den in our basement 10 years ago to a mother and a grandmother before them, also born in our basement. We do not bred dogs to sell, but bred only to propagate our own line of cherished pets.

Hunter is a rambunctious lad with a heart of gold. For a Springer, he is very calm and would have made a wonderful hospice dog. He's a big lad with huge feathered feet, a perfect blaze down his nose and a penchant for running. As a pheasant hunting dog he's a disaster as he is always a number of counties over from where he should be, and no good to the hunter at all. He also will go where 'no other dog has gone before'. Head shaking really!

Britney is the timid one and was slated as the family non-hunting pet. A beautiful petite dog with a big heart, delicate paws and a breathing problem – she snorts. In fact, she sounds just like a pig! She also seemed on the down side of the scale when God dished out intellect. Lack of luster is what we called it! But both dogs were trained to follow voice, hand and whistle commands and she did quite well.

When Hunter was officially retired in disgrace for disobedience from hunting at the tender age of 5, Mike decided to take Britney with him in Hunter's stead – more to give 'Little Missy' some exercise than anything else. Who would have thought that she would excel in the field – certainly not us! The light switch was flicked on in her brain, her eyes started to shine, and Britney suddenly realized there was a lot more to life than being the pampered pooch. She yipped with delighted excitement and became the almost perfect little huntress, perhaps the best hunting dog Mike has ever had.

How dogs know they are going for a walk is beyond me! You can walk out of the house to the car 10 times and they will be quite happy to go with you and settle on the deck. But the moment you leave the house to go for a walk, they start yipping / snorting with excitement and roiling around your feet. Once in the car they squirm with excitement and constantly 'talk'. Little squeaks and whines – yes, and snorts – which increase in volume the closer we get to the walking trail. They know each and every bump on the road and should we not turn into the designated parking lot, there is total consternation!

The doggy crowd of hikers seems to walk mid afternoon and we have got to know many other pets by their first names. Their owners on the other hand, go nameless as probably do we. Most dogs are allowed the luxury of running loose and are only leashed when other dogs or people are coming their way.

Hunter loves to run and once given the command will take off at a high rate of speed down the banks and into the countryside hoping to flush a pheasant. If he's successful he will follow it, tree it and then get very frustrated when the bird sits there on the branch mocking him. Britney on the other hand, will walk at heel and does not venture far. Should she pick up the scent of a pheasant, her nose will go down and she starts to track it, yipping and snorting as she goes. There is a great deal of excitement all around and it is wonderful to see these dogs work. They are absolutely and completely in their element.

At this time of year the little streams and ponds are still ice covered, but the ice is rotten and crumbling away. One of our biggest fears with the dogs is that they will go running out on the ice and fall through. When there is dense bush around, the recovery would not be easy, if not impossible, so we tend not to let the dogs range too far and are constantly calling Hunter back.

You can just see him plotting his escape as he walks along the trail and although told to go left or right, he leans in the direction he'd like to take, giving us his unintended warning. He will eye the escape route and then pretend to ignore it hoping we have not noticed, then before you can blink an eye, he's gone!

Down the bank he goes like a bullet into the undergrowth, all you can hear is the breaking of twigs, branches and the tinkling of a bell. Hunter now has a bell attached to his collar so that we can monitor his movements – kinda! If he is in pursuit of a pheasant, nothing on this green and rocky earth will stop him. Dad pipping on his whistle is totally ignored. This is considered very bad doggy behavior and unfortunately now becoming a fairly regular thing.

This afternoon he did just that. Mike and I were watching him knowing that he was going to try and bolt and then the moment we let our guard down, he was gone. All we could hear was the breaking of branches and the tinkle of the bell which grew fainter as the distance got farther. Then we heard the ice break!

The countryside stood silent, Mike and I looked horrified, and Britney stood at our feet wanting to get on with the walk. What started as little pips ended up being frantic blows on the whistle – but to no avail. There was nothing we could do but listen as the vegetation was too thick to follow the dog. Silence reigned!

Then, out in the far woods, in a totally different direction came the sound of a bell. It was a long way off but coming in our direction. A couple of minutes later Hunter appeared on the trail a hundred yards away looking very pleased with himself. He was literally smiling from ear to ear! Stern words were uttered to the pooch by both Mike and I. I must admit to having been overjoyed that he was safe and sound and my stern words did really mean much. Hunter was put on a leash and his venturing was over for the day.

Once home and settled in the kitchen on his nice warm bed with his sister. A very tired Hunter still smiled!

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