My Dog Fred
At the break of day on September 26, 2005, I went to the garden to dig a hole. Not just any hole, it was a grave. My partner for almost 10 years, Fred D. Dog, had passed away suddenly the night before.
He was a yellow Chesapeake/Labrador cross I picked out of a litter of seven. A bigheaded, big-footed pup that kept coming back for attention, until he finally convinced me that he was the one I came for.
Fred grew fast and learned faster than I could teach him. Swimming and retrieving came naturally. By his second season, he was a pro at hunting almost everything: ducks, geese, rabbits, squirrel, quail, pheasant and dove. If I did my job (shooting the game), he would do his (finding and bringing it back).
Fred loved fishing just about as much as hunting. He would sit in the boat, as close to me as possible, showing great interest in every cast. He was more excited about a catch than I was, and gave each landed fish a good bark, or me a disgusted look if I failed to get it into the boat.
He was also crazy about box turtles. If one was in the area, he'd smell it and bring it back to the house and play with it for hours.
I bought stuffed toys for Fred at garage sales, and he would destroy most of them within a few days. For some reason, a stuffed moose became his favorite and he loved to play with it without tearing it up. We'd play "Moose" together almost every evening.
Fred had one of the largest vocabularies of any dog I've never known. He knew a lot of people by name and could even recognize the names of their dogs. When my wife, Linda, called out, "Lunch time!" Fred was the first one at the door. Of course, he didn't need us to open it for him.
He could tell me where the dog biscuits were and that the milk was in the refrigerator ... if I wouldn't mind opening it for him. I wanted to tie a towel to the refrigerator handle so that Fred could open that too, but Linda decided that was a going a bit too far. We understood each other, he'd listen to every word I said, and if I didn't quite understand what Fred wanted, he'd tap his food bowl or grab my hand and lead me to whatever it was.
Fred would straddle the seat of my ATV and ride with his paws on the handlebars in front of me. Sometimes I'd let him take over. He'd sit across my lap when I drove my old van, with is head out the driver side window, making onlookers do a double take.
For all the people that Fred knew by name, there were hundred's more that knew Fred. He appeared several times on Fox4 News, the Outdoor Channel and Missouri Outback features on KCEN. He was featured in news articles in the Independence Examiner and Kansas City Star. Photos of him graced the pages of Cabelas catalogs, outdoor magazines and product advertisements. I guess he thought I was his agent.
When Fred was four years old, another dog came to live with us. Her name was Nellie, and she was a beautiful black lab. Fred was all google-eyed in love at first sight, and after about six months of courtship, we let them unite.
Nellie and Fred had eight pups, six yellow and two black. Six were adopted out to other families. I kept two yellow males, Bud Lite and Mic Dundee.
Bud developed an incurable disease and had to be put down. It was a very sad loss. Mic grew into the perfect picture of a bigheaded lab.
Fred was a big, sturdy-built dog, but he had a few health problems. He suffered from epilepsy and had to take daily medication. In his later years he pulled the Achilles tendon in one of his back legs, and spent a couple of months in a cast. But, no matter how much pain he was in, he never complained.
I had no right to complain either, on that morning in the garden, digging that grave. Fred had given me many years of love and companionship. He was always there for me, always by my side.
I laid Fred on his side facing the sporting clays range and placed the moose toy between his paws. As I slowly covered him with the loose dirt, a Canada goose passed overhead and honked as if in tribute. On top of the mound I placed an empty, bleached white, turtle shell with Fred's name and dates on it.
He was a beautiful dog. He was my dog Fred.