Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Remembering Duke

No this isn't about the Duke, John Wayne, but a lost companion of mine who was named after the actor and Brother. Many don't realize that I grew up with many dogs. We always had 3 dogs at one time growing up. The second dog I owned was a German Short Hair that I named Duke. I had him during my teen years well into adulthood and his death really hurt and I still miss him dearly, even after 5-years. This is the eulogy of my friend I wrote when he died: 
Throughout my life I have always had a dog. At the age of 5, I got my own dog; a black lab who lived to be 11-years old and died when I was 13. He was a protective dog and even though I was 11 I knew he wouldn't be around forever.
In the summer before my 12th birthday I walked by a garage full of yipping German Short-hair puppies. The house was owned by a long-time family friend and he asked me to come see his new pups. I fell in love with them and I wanted one. I convinced my parents to get me one in hopes that Duke would help alleviate some of the pain when Beauford (the black lab) died.
The owner said he would sell me the pups for $50 which is a great deal for a pure-bread. Part of the deal though was to neuter him so I couldn't create my own litter; it was fair enough, I wasn't interested in breeding.
I chose Duke out of the litter by a strange chance (or rather he chose me). I stuck my hand in to move Duke out of the way to look at his brother and Duke bit me. For some reason I said, "I want that one." "That one?" "That one. He'll be a great dog." Duke never bit once after that day. I took him home and set him in front of the other dogs (Buford and Packard ). Buford took to him, but Packard went tearing after him. Duke turned and ran for cover which took the shape of my dad's cop car. Unlike Duke, who was able to dive under the front bumper, Packard collided headlong into the steel bumper and split his head open. My younger sister freaked out as Packard walked around like a drunkard while my dad and I were rolling on the ground; all the while Duke yipping from underneath the car.
We kept great care of Duke and he grew as any other German Short-hair would. We did observe though he always had his stubbed tail moving. It almost seemed that if it stopped he wouldn't know what to do. 
Once he was about 6-months old, my dad and I started in on his training to be a bird dog. We trained him by tying bird wings to a fishing pole and would drag it through high grass. After some time we took him hunting. Up at my grandparent's ranch we hunted the backside. His first strike was a tiny little bush and my dad and I thought Duke was messing up so we started yelling for him to keep going, but he stayed pointing. I took a step forward and 5 Pheasant shot out. My dad and I were so amazed at Duke we forgot to shoot. From that moment we never doubted him. He dazzled us time after time until we discovered...well learned...Duke doesn't like water. HOW CAN A BIRD DOG NOT LIKE WATER!? As much as you can to a dog, we taunted him, but he stood his ground. The funny thing was that if you picked him up and carried him in with you and let him go, he would swim.
I had trained him so well to respond to verbal as well as a non-verbal commands that I never worried about him running away or running out into the road. The only time I came close to losing him was by a crazy mishap with my dad's yellow lab. Duke and Chief (the yellow lab) loved to wrestle and fight (as dogs do), but one time Duke's dog collar got wrapped around Chief's lower jaw and it was choking Duke. I was fortunate that night to hear Duke yelp. I went running out there and saw what was happening. Chief freaking about what was happening started to run, dragging Duke by his throat. I had a pocket knife and was able to cut Duke's collar. He never wore a collar after that unless we had to keep him on a leash.
Once I had my license, Duke would often ride with me to various places. It was cute to see him sit upright in the passenger seat. He was a very mellow dog and never really tried to jump around the vehicle like some dogs do.
For the most part, Duke was an outside dog, but during the cold Idaho winters all dogs would stay inside. Duke slept in my bed next to me and usually took up 3/4 of the space. To Duke, my bed was his bed. If any of the other dogs were there he would often chase them off. 
To him the "what's his is mine" mentality also meant my food. If I got up and left my food unattended it was not out of the scope of reality to come back to either an empty plate or Duke chowing down. You could also tell if Duke was trying to get to food on the counter because you would hear his paws hitting the surfaces of either the counter or the floor. 
Duke was very affectionate, but he didn't lick, well, not like other dogs. If he did lick he would only stick out the very tip of his tongue and I had to put my nose right to his mouth. Only then would he very slightly lick my nose; that was his kiss. He would also hug me. When I was younger I was much shorter and he was able to jump on his hind legs and put his front legs on my shoulders. 
One of my favorite memories was a Summer night walk at the local park. My family and I regularly took the dogs to the park just down the road to let them run and have fun. At night no one was there so they had free reign. We tied glow sticks to them so we always knew where they were. In the park there is a tennis court with a chain-link fence surrounding it. Duke was running around enjoying life. I ran to a corner of the court and yelled his name. Instead of running around the corner to me, he didn't see the fence and ran full steam into it. He hit that fence; spread eagled across it, and fell backwards. I was laughing so hard it hurt. I stumbled over to him and collapsed next to him. I checked him out and found that only his doggy pride was harmed. He jumped back up and we went home; I made sure he got an extra doggy treat.

He lived a good life of bird hunting. Even as he got older he kept his puppy endurance and vitality. Duke's lifelong buddy, Chief, died last year and Duke was very confused for a bit after Chief disappeared from the house. This was a turning point in his life I noticed. He discovered he wasn't as young as he once was, his joints were stiffening, and he was becoming more content with just lying about. 
Last weekend I went home to see my nephew and my precious friend. To my horror, he was coughing and very thin. I questioned my dad and he said he had "Kennel Cough", but not to worry, the Vet appointment a few days later would sort out how to cure him. In that visit I petted him on his head and went with my nephew to breakfast. I had just finished a 12-hour night shift before going to breakfast so I was tired and I decided to go back to my house without going by my parents first. I worked all this week and my father called me this last Wednesday (the 22nd) to tell me Duke had died. 
(This part is hard to write) It was like something had stolen my breath. I felt hollow, empty. At the time I was at the barracks, I just got up and left-ignoring calls from my supervisor. I got in my truck and just drove. I couldn't think, I was numb. What was worse is that the last time I saw Duke I didn't say a proper goodbye, not knowing it was the last time. I know this hurts so bad because I had him for 2nd half of my life. I just really miss my boy.
Rest in Peace Duke '96 - '09
The Boston Bull Terrier, Bell, on the right side of the last photo is still alive. She is 15-years old and still going.

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