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In This Corner, Wearing the Red Collar…

Click here to read the complete article
228 – September 2019

By Chris Robinson

Back in the early days of television, before pay-per-view, one of the more popular programs was the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports also known as the Friday Night Fights. For many of the title fights, Arthur Mercante was the third man in the ring as the referee and, in those days, the referee always wore a black bow tie. On way too many occasions, it seemed like I should have been wearing that same black bow tie because for some strange reason, throughout my life as a hunter, dog owner and dog trainer, I’ve been nearby when two dogs have decided to try tearing each other limb from limb. Males and females alike are all too frequently more than willing to settle disputes whether it be over territory, food, toys or, in the case of sporting breeds, birds, with a frenzy of teeth.

The problem is that when the dogs resort to mouth-to-flesh combat, they’re not about to abide by the rules set forth by John Douglas, the 9th Marquess o Queensberry, so you have no choice but to separate the combatants unless you want to pay, yet again, for another trip to the French Riviera for the veterinarian. After one such bout several years ago, by the time the combatants and I had arrived at the vet clinic, I’m dead certain the principal had booked the grand suite on the next ship leaving for southern France. Unfortunately for his and his wife’s travel plans, the injuries were mainly superficial requiring only a stitch or two which meant it was going to be necessary to downgrade their accommodations to a mere balcony cabin.

Breaking up a dog fight requires the agility of a figure skater combined with the strength of a defensive tackle. In the middle of a fight, Sweetie Pie has all the instincts of a saltwater crocodile defending its territory. They will happily bite the hand the feeds them and, having done so, display roughly the same level of contrition for their crime as a serial killer. Many is the time I’ve done an imitation of a gymnast doing an iron cross on the still rings as I attempted to keep the quarreling canines far enough apart to stop them from inflicting further damage on each other and subsequently on my bank balance.

There are a lot of ways to break up a dog fight. But the tricky part is doing so without winding up shedding your own blood in the process. I recall one fight between Sparky, my old Brittany who fancied herself the canine incarnation of the Queen of Hearts from “Alice in Wonderland” (“Off with their heads!”), and Casey, a really affable Chesapeake Bay Retriever female who hadn’t an aggressive bone in her body but who nonetheless would defend herself if attacked. When I finally managed to pry Sparky away from Casey, who had in some way displeased her imperial majesty and thus merited being put on notice, once again, that offending the queen had consequences, both Sparky and I were bleeding. Casey, fortunately, had only a couple of superficial scrapes but Sparky needed sutures. So did I, as it turned out, and since the fight occurred on a Sunday–try finding a doctor on Sunday!–the vet took care of both casualties, probably in violation of the state laws, but he was a practical individual who fortunately deemed it his duty to alleviate suffering wherever it occurred.

When it came to taking offense, Sparky was the undisputed champ. The only time she ever met her match with a dog as easily offended as she was Amy, my late hunting partner Bill Baxter’s Brittany. Amy and Sparky were a formidable pair when both were hunting together and they got along perfectly with each other when they were doing their jobs. In fact, their performances were positively lyrical when they were using their great talents as bird dogs to cut off and finally pin a wily old pheasant rooster. However, when they had turned in one of their gold medal performances, you, by God, had better not miss when the rooster finally flushed because both were intolerant of failure and they were quick to let you know that, in their view, failure to kill a pointed bird was not an acceptable outcome. In the field, Sparky and Amy were the souls of cooperation but that sweet teamwork vanished the second both arrived back at the truck at the conclusion of the hunt. Instantly they’d begin growling, posturing and threatening each other with snarls, raised ruff fur and semaphore white-of-the-eye messages. They’d stand facing each other mouthing the most vicious canine threats possible. While it never came to physical combat between the two–they were like two diplomats rattling their sabers in front of the United Nations’ General Assembly–it didn’t take more than a couple of these preliminaries, like two fighters trash-talking, flexing and posing at the weigh-in, to convince Bill and I to immediately grab both dogs the nanosecond they arrived at the truck and stuff them into their respective crates with no pats, no “good girls” or even a treat or a drink until they were securely separated from each other, and under no circumstances would we ever take birds out of our vests until there was no possible way for Sparky and Amy to mix it up.

While almost all my Chesapeakes have been amiable sorts around other dogs, my last two females who were not only sisters but littermates absolutely hated each other although both got along just fine with dogs other than their sibling. They could coexist peacefully side-by-side if both were in their separate crates, but if they somehow got out of those crates at the same time, it was instantly World War III and they weren’t fooling. Sibling rivalry is a ferocious thing. There is a lesson to be learned in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. One time, when I thought Tee’s crate was safely latched but wasn’t and I let Genny out, Tee somehow sensed that her crate wasn’t properly secured and she came boiling out instantly ready to do battle with Gen who was equally ready for a fight. I managed to break this one up before either could do any damage to the other by smacking them over the head with a flat-bladed shovel that was nearby thus sending both scurrying into the same crate, their fury at each other totally extinguished in the face of a much greater threat along with an even higher level of fury from an irate owner wielding a shovel.

A friend of mine contends that he once broke up a dog fight with beer which he poured on the noses of the two pugilists. Most dogs like beer, but not poured on their noses. Actually, my pal wasn’t sure if the fight broke up because the dogs were wheezing and snorting from the beer in their noses or because they were anxious to lap up what had spilled on their paws and the ground. Another friend didn’t have to lift a finger to separate the combatants when his dog and his hunting partner’s dog decided to dispute the ownership of a mallard in the bottom of the duck boat. What’s more, he said, the duck was his but try telling that to a dog! These two idiots had just spent the day together in the same duck blind without so much as a raised hackle. They came together amidships to fight over the duck which happened to be where my friend’s leg was at the time. As they started snarling at each other under his leg, he grabbed both but lost his balance and he and the dogs pitched overboard into some really gunky, foul-smelling marsh muck and water. He said it was amazing how quickly the fight went out of both dogs being submerged in that godawful duck marsh beneath a 200 pound guy who was trying his damnedest to get back in the boat and avoid being totally soaked with that odious mix of foul water, muck and what all hunters refer to as loons***.

Actually, water is as good a means as any to break up a canine donnybrook. I once used a five gallon jug of it to break up a spontaneous brawl that erupted between one of my Chessies and my hunting partner’s Golden Retriever with the Golden, surprisingly, being the one who apparently was insulted by something Mike, the Ches, must have said to him in passing–“Your mother wears dog boots,” maybe or perhaps, “Real dogs don’t wear vests”–who knows? Whatever it was, it was enough for the Golden to take serious umbrage and attempt to duke it out with a Chesapeake that was 20 pounds heavier and three years younger. Needless to say, things weren’t exactly going the Golden’s way although he may have thought he was ahead on points since Mike’s ear was bleeding from the Golden’s initial attack. All the same, the Golden’s opinion of the outcome notwithstanding, the ref (me) was about to declare a TKO for Mike because the Golden was definitely losing. Five gallons of cold water dumped over the pair magically separated both and definitely cooled their ardor for any additional combat.

Dog fights aren’t funny until they are over but I did witness one that made me laugh so hard while it was occurring that it nearly caused me to do something I haven’t done since I was a mere toddler. The clash was between pair of Labradors and that probably enhanced my mirth level since I didn’t have a dog in the fight so I wasn’t expected to intervene nor could I–had I wished to–because I was laughing too hard to do anything except struggle to control my bladder.

One of the dogs was known to be testy around other dogs. In fact, his entire temperament could be best described as akin to that of a just-out-of-hibernation bear with a thorn in its paw. The other combatant wasn’t much more benign. Indeed, for a breed known for its warmth and affection, these two must have been behind the door when the genes for these traits were being handed out. Anyway, the arena for this contest was a muddy wheat field. When I say “muddy,” I mean the kind of slick, gooey stuff you encounter from Nebraska north through the central Canadian provinces. It’s the sort of mud that NASA could cut into tiles and use on space vehicles to protect them on re-entry because it sticks tighter than any glue and when it dries would outclass diamonds on the Mohs scale for hardness. As for its slickness, aside from personal experience, I got the full picture many years ago when, in Saskatchewan, I watched a school bus coming sideways up a hill after a rainstorm.

The Labradors were headed for the same downed goose when their paths intersected. When the owners arrived at the scene, the fracas was already in full snarl and while one of the owners managed to get a hand on his dog’s collar, the fight action knocked the legs out from under both owners before they could get the dogs separated and all four went down in a massive tangle of arms, legs, dogs, mud, growling, slashing teeth and only half-coherent yells from the dogs’ owners. Both owners were as helpless as turtles turned on their back in the mud. The owner who had managed to grab his dog’s collar had his hand trapped between the collar and the dog’s neck and the pile kept rolling over and over as the dogs stomped their owners into the mud. Anything the owners tried to say was muffled in the mud which was probably just as well since I doubt what they said would be suitable for a family publication. I enjoyed the melee as long as I could but it finally became apparent that if I didn’t do something to put an end to it, I’d either have to call 911 or drag the owners out of the field myself because it was clear they were losing.

I managed to grab the collar of the one whose owner’s hand wasn’t trapped by it and twist it until it turned the dog’s attention from trying to kill his opponent to trying to breathe. When his owner finally was able to regain his feet, he reclaimed the dog from me and proceeded to address the dog on various aspects of the dog’s ancestry that I’m sure are not found in the American Kennel Club’s Labrador standard. I suspect the other owner may have made similar comments about my ancestry when, still laughing, I suggested that if he ever got tired of hunting, he might want to try mud runs for recreation but I’m not sure as it’s difficult to determine what someone is saying when they have a mouthful of mud.

Click here to read the complete article
228 – September 2019

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