KEVIN GRINDE: Rhythm Of The Trail — Dog And Master Learn To Live With Age

Brother Brett Grinde pauses for sandwiches and a break with dogs Kea and cousin Maggie at a secret upland bird hunting location somewhere north of Iowa and south of Ontario.
Brother Brett Grinde pauses for sandwiches and a break with dogs Kea and cousin Maggie at a secret upland bird hunting location somewhere north of Iowa and south of Ontario.

Kea snarled at her Master when he tried to get into bed last night.

Yes, the dog was occupying His space, which sometimes is shared territory, until he needs to sleep, which is far less than the dog’s requirement these days.

At least the spot her hairy body vacates is warm, a good thing when the temp is set at 65.

She’s slept in our bed since she was a pup and always will as long as she’s alive.

The notion of how much time she might have in this life occupies the Master’s thoughts more and more these days.

The springer spaniel’s 11 years of doing what she was born to do — hunt game birds — has caught up with her. Him, too, during the tough days.

Kea’s left hip is the source of a woods and water war wound, not atypical for a hunting dog.

She’s sore and supersensitive, especially at night. And she can get owly when she’s in her Master’s bed and it’s time for her to move.

Bed entry is a nightly challenge requiring, first, the notification that the Master wants to go to sleep (Move!) and, second, using the blankets to gently lift and nudge her to the other side. Twenty-nine nights out of the month, the process is routine. If she’s deep asleep, the Master provides some oral encouragement (Get the hell over there!). Sometimes, her position on the bed prevents the lift and nudge technique from motivating her to move. That’s what prompts the rare snarl or growl. It’s not nice to growl at your Master. She knows that.

And during her waking hours she tries to make up for it by laying half on, half off his slippers that are attached to his feet while he drinks morning coffee. Drives Master nuts.

She knows that, too. Springers, you see, have attitude. Of course, Kea has had a most excellent instructor on the psychological and behavioral aspects of what makes a good dog good.

Eleven years old, multiplied by 7 or whatever number the dog-to-human age converter is, puts her in that mid-70 something range. That grumpy, owly age. Remember, Kea’s instinct to vocally warn anybody when she’s having a rough day with pain happens less than 1 percent of her waking moments.

She’s proven to be a favorite canine among the five grandkids, and the neighbors and their kids. Her owners have nothing negative to say about her domestic performance, other than she enjoys retrieving tennis balls a little too much.

When she’s in her element, the woods, she behaves, works closely, finds birds and flushes them. She also eats well and wants to share the sleeping bag with the Master’s brother. Master, who is smarter than his brother, sleeps in the top bunk. So all in all, Kea is a darn good dog.

Her Master can relate to her gnarly episodes with feeling lousy, even though he hasn’t scraped 60 yet. He lives with pain, too. (Who doesn’t?)

Bombing around woods, rocks, water and prairie is a young creature’s game, dog or another inferior animal.

Master and Kea have shared many, many outdoor adventures the last decade, but not all of them were spent together. Even they have appreciated their time apart once in a while.

Late summers and fall often found them plowing through Dakota grass and wetland cattails, busting through northern Minnesota brush, navigating over and around windfalls and swamps, dragging watercraft up and down banks to fish trout lakes; paddling hundreds of miles in a canoe to hunt muskies; humping 45-pound backpacks up and down the West’s vertical relief.

Add those activities up and the sum is stress, strained or fractured muscles and bones. Add to that the Master’s catastrophic health event that resulted in him a wearing a scar in the form of a very large Mercedes Benz logo on his abdomen, and there’s enough pain for each to share and talk about over coffee in the morning.

Their wounds are visible both in behavior and mobility.

The torso area is a source of disability. The back can lift only half what it used to. Worn teeth reveal thousands of meals of red meat. The muzzle is grayer. Eyesight requires corrective vision. Hearing is most excellent. What? Huh? You said something didn’t you.

Now let’s talk about Kea.

Her rear left hip generates a gimp when she walks. She shoots a threatening look (“the Kea look,” we call it) if one’s petting hand wanders toward her rear end. Her tail is arthritic. Don’t even think of touching around its base. Her teeth are worn by thousands of meals of crunchy dog food. Her muzzle is gray. Her eyes show signs of glaucoma. Her hearing is just this side of deaf. Plus the Master knows for a fact that she’s mastered the art of selective listening. She’s had a most excellent instructor, after all.

However, having said all that, Kea’s time on the planet has allowed her to become quite the drama queen. Nobody knows where she developed this most annoying trait.

For example, he just missed stepping on her left front paw as he walked down the hall the other day on his way to the recliner. As usual, she was in the middle of the trail. A few minutes later, Kea tracked him down and entered the room with a new limp, an exaggerated, practiced limp. Thing is, she was limping while favoring her right front paw. Ha. The Master is not making that up.

That same day, Kea displayed her fear of anything plastic or nylon appearing or moving unexepectedly in her vicinity. A ghost-like plastic grocery bag blowing through the yard will trigger a 15-minute barking fit and a series of bluff attacks and hearty growls that would impress an Alaskan brown bear.

Yesterday, her Master went outside to sweep snow when he heard the dog erupt into a barking frenzy. Know that she is extremely quiet for a dog and barking is unusual. This time, something scary inside the house was freaking Kea out. The Master was confused and investigated.

The first clue she was downstairs was obvious. She had brought a rawhide bone into the basement to hide it, her idea of hide-and-seek when cousin by marriage dogs visit. On this day, however, she entered a downstairs room and discovered a big, mean, red, ice fishing tent her Master had half strung up to dry. She barked and brayed almost like a hound, which ought to be embarrassing for all spaniels.

The tent now was erect with fear. In disgust, the Master left her puzzled and fearful and barking and returned outside. The tent occupied her time for another 30 minutes.

Come April, the two companions will head east and north to the cabin in the woods. At most, Kea will accompany him only one day on the trail. After that, she will be content to just hang around the yard. The smell of fallen leaves reminds her of fall. The smell of spring reinvigorates both souls.

During the last three years in the woods, they’ve spent fewer hours on the move, trading the time wandering on purpose for more time sitting around the campfire or cooking or telling stories. Some days, they hike back to secret places and just sit and watch and wait.

Inevitably, Kea will pass, joining Rylie and Shire and Frisbee.

And when she does, her Owners already have decided their dog days are over. They’re getting too old to raise the dogs the right way, to respect the dog enough to teach it the hunting way — to do the training necessary so the dog can perform what it’s born to do, above and beyond fulfilling the role strictly as human companion.

As has been stated, all of our springers have earned high praise as friends to neighbors and their kids, our kids, and our kids’ kids. But bring a springer to the woods and the companionship role slips to a distant second every time. A focus and perseverance for finding ruffed grouse becomes all consuming. Little else matters. Except when you miss an easy going away shot opportunity. That’s only happened twice in her 11 years.  But both times, she glared back at her Master and he thought he was dead.

So the couple has done their part for dog and country. He still has faith in dog. Not so much in country — the serious, bloody dog fights have just begun and they’re about to get way worse. Thank God, unlike a dog, Hope never sleeps.

In the year or more Kea has left on Earth, Master and dog will continue to do what they’ve enjoyed best. Maybe not as frequently and for sure not as intensely. He’s confident she can handle a wee bit more wear and tear. Just a little more. He can, too.

At home, Kea’s Master companions will continue to tolerate her dog drama, vacuuming her damn dog hair, the feeding, the watering, the exercise routine — the usual drills pets and humans need to survive in the bubble tunnel.

Except when it’s time for him to get into bed. The occasional snarls already are getting old.

7 thoughts on “KEVIN GRINDE: Rhythm Of The Trail — Dog And Master Learn To Live With Age”

  • marsha February 24, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Made me cry, Grinde. Of course, you probably expected that.

  • Naomi Dunavan February 24, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Kevin and Kea — a beautiful story. Loved it all. Naomi

  • Arin February 24, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Fantastic to finally read your writing again. Excellent read 🙂

    1. Arin February 24, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      …as Mr. B is lying on my feet right now. It’s a good thing his true age is a mystery to us.

  • tom February 24, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    Great job half wit

  • Therese February 24, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    Great “hearing” your voice again.

  • Sg February 24, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    I love love love to read your stuff. And a shout out to Frodo. 🙂


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