In Oct of 2008 I was invited to go to one of the local bird farms and chase some quail not having hunted them since the late 80's. Walking with the guide and watching his young pointer work, memories of weekends spent hunting with friends and family came flooding back to me. When I got back home the idea of getting back into upland hunting would not go away and I knew the bug had again bitten me. So I started thinking about getting a dog. I began exploring the options of getting a puppy versus a started or maybe even a finished dog. I knew I wanted a housedog/pet as well as a hunting dog. The idea of a puppy was not that appealing. I am not sure how I came across the idea of a rescue dog during that search but I ended up looking at a website that listed rescue dogs by breed and distance from my zip code. Putting in the various breeds and looking at the photos I suddenly came across one of a German Shorthair Pointer with the name of Orivus that was located at a shelter in my area. Everyone's best guess put his age at about 18 months. So loading up my old Lab/Chow mix Bear that I had ended up with years ago after he flunked out of the puppies in prison program and headed off to Parkville to meet what could be my new pet/hunting buddy. I learned he had been found wondering along the Missouri river starving and scared and turned into the shelter by animal control. No collar or microchip to lead back to his owners. He was fairly mellow it seemed to get along well with my other dog. Talking to the man that had been fostering him I found out he was house broken and somewhat leash trained. I decided that he fit the part of the housedog/pet and looked to have some potential as a hunter. So loading up Bear and finally getting him to let Orivus in the car I headed home with my new bird dog. Little did I know the long journey that lay ahead to make this Shorthair a true hunter.
Not liking the name Orivus my first task was to find a new name for him. That afternoon while standing in line at Petco with him, two ladies behind me decided he looked like a Murphy. Taking a good look at him I thought they were right and the name stuck. Little did I know the new name foretold the tale. Murphy's Law was about to come into play. Spending the next week with Murphy I discovered many things about him. First he seemed shy and skittish by nature. He appeared to have been house broken but had no idea how to climb up or down a set of stairs. Lacking any social skills he seemed very unsure how to act in almost every situation. But due to his calm and somewhat shy nature he was always well behaved. After a couple weeks of the two of us spending time together and letting him get settled in his new house. I felt the big moment had come. I took Murphy out and see what he could do on quail. Saturday morning arrived and my son and his stepfather and I unloaded Murphy and started walking into the field at one of the local bird farms. Murphy was beautiful as he started to work the field circling first the tree line surrounding it in his long graceful strides he then returned to me and start working the area in front of us as we walked. Soon I saw him lock up on point standing like a statue waiting for us to catch up. The flushing quail took off with Murphy following behind. Jim my sons step dad had the shot, pointing the gun and firing the quail fell. Murphy hearing the shot stopped instantly tucking his tail between his legs running back to me shaking like a leaf his hunting done for the day. Standing next to me looking up I could see the fear the sound of the shot had caused in his eyes. I knew instantly the long road that lay ahead and how ill prepared; I was to go down it. So with that shot began the next stage of my adventure with Murphy.
Setting back at my computer again I started reading up on how to cure a gun shy dog it did not take me long to realize I did not have the knowledge to fix this problem myself. The next few months were spent with me trying to get a better understand of Murphy and what I could do to make him the hunting partner I truly believed he could be. Step one I felt was he needed to get some confidence in himself along with exercise to keep him in shape. So began our trips to the local dog park where he could run and socialise with other dogs not always being at the bottom of the pack order. At first he would hide behind me unsure it seemed to know how to interact with the other dogs becoming instantly submissive if one approached. Slowly over time that started to change though never aggressive he began not to cower but instead play with the other dogs, his confidence creeping up ever so slowly with each trip. As summer approached I decided it was time to find a trainer to work with him on the gun-shy problem since I felt he was starting to gain enough confidence to overcome that challenge. The first couple I contacted after assessing Murphy told me the same thing several of my friends had said. Take him home and make him a pet cause he will never be a hunter. But something told me they were wrong that somewhere inside this dog was the heart of a hunter. Finally a friend gave me the name of a trainer that he had used for his dog. I called Jon setting up an appointment for him to take a look at Murphy. Jon told me he would take Murphy and see what he could do. Even though when I think about it he did not sound hopefully. So Murphy went off for 8 weeks of bird dog school with me going down every couple of weeks to check out his progress. Slowly he started to learn the skills he needed. With each trip I saw a little more of the hunting dog I believed he could to be emerging. After the 8 weeks I brought him home with more training scheduled for late summer and early fall to hopefully get him ready for hunting season. After his second stay with Jon this time for 6 weeks and as the weather turned cooler I prepared to hunt Murphy for his first season even though at this point he was around 2 1/2 yrs old. That season was rough with days when he hunted, and days when he showed little or no interest in birds, days when the sound of the gun left him nervous and or shaking again with fear. But I never lost faith in him. I saw his moments of being a true hunter in the field. Towards the end of the season they started to come more frequently. Slowly I began to know for sure he could become the hunter I always believed he would be. So as the winter ended and the bird farms closed Murphy and I put up the gun and again spent evening at the dog park where he never failed to impress people with the grace of his running or wore the arms off anyone willing to throw him a ball.
Sometime during that winter a friend had commented to me that he and his brother were in search of a dog to replace their old one who had passed away, asking if I ever saw a rescue that looked good to call him. Looking on the Internet every now and then I searched for them a dog. In late July I came across one I thought might be what he was looking for so I called the shelter and got more information one her. Listed as a German wirehaired pointer she had been found stray outside of a small town in Nebraska and turned into the shelter like Murphy with no id or microchip to help them find her owner. I called my friend and he informed me they had just bought a puppy a couple of weeks before and he apologized for not telling me, thinking I had forgotten his request and not been looking. Something about this dog hunted me and I could not put her out of my mind so finally I called the shelter and set up a time to go see her. Filling out an adoption application online, they called me the next day to tell me I was approved for adoption and they would see me that next Saturday. Early Saturday morning a friend of mine and I loaded up Murphy and took off for the 3 hour drive to go look at this dog that had so interested me. I was really not sure what to expect but what I saw bouncing towards me when they brought this young supposed German wirehaired pointer towards me was not it. She had a coat that looked like it was styled by a blender, crooked front teeth, and a look in her eye that spoke of both intelligence and mischief is equal amounts. After Murphy I thought about if I ever adopted a second dog what I would look for. In my mind making a list of things to judge my next bird dog on to hopefully avoid some of the problems I encountered with him. Then looking at Gretal I laughed and forgot that list completely knowing instantly that I had found my next dog and Murphy's new hunting buddy. The head of the shelter told me that a couple of other people had looked at her and decided that since they could not be sure she was a pure bred Wirehair she was to risky to adopt as a hunting dog. Taking her for a walk something told me that they had been wrong in their assessment of her. With her nose to the ground she dragged me around the block as if she was the embodiment of prey drive on 4 legs. Perhaps the warning flags should have gone up but instead I just followed her impressed by the power and focus of this young dog. Up on arriving home and a couple of tense moments when Bear found out he had a new roommate I let Gretal out in the back yard. In a moment I found out how possibly she had become a stray. In the time it takes to type this she found a hole in the fence just big enough for her to wiggle through and was off. After chasing her down the block and finally getting a leash on her I managed to get her back to the house. I was off to the hardware store to get something to patch the fence. An hour later the fence patched I let her out again watching her run strait to were she got out the first time and when seeing the hole no longer there she simply jumped the fence and the chase was on again. After finally for the second time that day getting her back into the house I had just time enough to get to the store for a stake and yard chain so I could stop sprinting around the neighbourhood after her. Dropping the l from her name my new furry kid Greta settled into the house and then promptly turned mine and the other dog’s life’s upside down. Keeping up with her was a challenge as was socializing her with other dogs. She still had a lot of puppy in her and at times pushed me to my limits. As she settled in I started to find out more about her. She whoa'd on command and was a wonderful little retriever on both land and water so it looked as though she had some training. So I called Jon and set up a time to run them down so he could work with her and Murphy for a couple of weeks in late Sept. To get Murphy ready for fall hunting and to see what it would take to do the same with Greta. Two weeks later when I went to pick them up he told me the bad news. He thought she had the makings of an excellent hunting dog if anyone could control her in the field and to him that was a big if. Loading them up and driving home I was wondering how I was going to try and solve this problem. I use an e collar with Murphy although very seldom did I ever need it and then I could simply hit the tone button and he would recall to me. I figured time to try and train Greta to one also, seeing if she could be controlled with it. So retrieving it from the closet and charging it up. I put it on Greta and suddenly the whole world changed, instead of the Tasmanians devil setting before me was a well behaved little girl waiting for my next command. All I could do was shake my head and laugh seems along with yard training someone had also e collar trained her. And so buying a second collar the furry kids and I start our adventures of chasing quail for this year.
I decided this year what the dogs needed more then anything was to hunt birds as much as possible so starting the first week of Oct. that is what we did. Going to bird farms until quail season open, then hunting a combination of wild and preserve birds till season closed then back to the bird farms. Murphy started out the season just were he left off last year sometimes hunting like an old pro and other times stopping and looking at me or following me around as if unsure or confused as to what to do. This season I felt was make or break time for him. He would either prove those that said make him a pet right, or show me the Murphy I always believed was there just waiting to be unlocked. I will never know what it was. Did finally all the pieces just click into place for him, or perhaps it was because of rivalry with Greta. On the 4th time out this year the magic happened. The Murphy that emerged from the car that day was one I had never seen. Filled with a confidence and style beyond what I dreamed he possessed his performance that day far beyond anything I could have hoped for. The old Murphy was gone and has yet to return. And my little Greta, slowly she is learning control, hunting for me and instead of her self. It seems much of her problem was age and inexperience, now as she matures and is settling down she is a delight to be with. Hunting hard and efficiently with a style all her own. Seems that the people that looked at Greta before me were right she is not a pure bred German wirehaired pointer. Curiosity got the best of me and I ordered a DNA kit from a company on line, in an attempt to unlock the mystery of just what she was. My little girl turned out to be a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon a breed I had never even heard of until this fall. After seeing the results and reading up on the breed. The description fit her to a tee from hunting style; to physical characteristic to personality she is Griffon through and through.
As I look back at my decision to adopt from a shelter I only wish now I had known then what I have learned in the two and half year of my hunting with rescues so far. Seems you often heard that shelter dogs are a risk to adopt for hunting and in many cases that is correct. But I have learned there are ways of reducing that risk and find a great pet/weekend hunter. Below I have listed a few of the things I have learned so far I am sure there well be many more in time.
1. The most important decided what it is you really want in a pet/hunting dog and do not get in a hurry. Spend time researching the different breeds till you find one that is a good fit with you and your family, and remember the dog will be a pet 365 days a year and a hunting partner many less. With the number of dog’s coming into rescues and shelters everyday it is only a matter of time before one that matches what you are looking for shows up. I used the website Petfinders that lists dogs by breed and distance from your zip code so you do not have to sift through several thousand dogs. Also check local sources such as Craigslist or others that list people needing to rehome a dog. All the different AKC breed clubs have rescue programs set up around the country for their breed contact them and let them know what you are looking for they may know of dogs available. A quick search of the internet will turn up even more organizations and resources to check.
2. Do not hesitate to call or email the shelter or rescue for more information. Most are great about responding very quickly. Remember the first priority of most of the people that work in the shelters and rescues is to find the dog a good home. If it seems some are leery of adopting to hunters it may be because they feel that if dog does not live up to being a good hunter it will end up right back in a rescue or worse. So always adopt the dog as a pet first and remember if it hunts that is a bonus.
3. Focus on a breed that is still used mainly for hunting and does not have a large demand for the dogs in the family pet market. You stand a much better chance of finding an English pointer that comes from hunting stock then you do an Irish setter at a shelter or rescue. It is estimated that 25 percent of all dogs in shelters and rescues are pure bred and even though there are many mix breed dogs that are excellent hunters your risk is reduced by trying to find a pure breed. In some cases of owner surrender the shelter or rescue might have the papers but even if they do not there are things to look for. In the case of some breeds that have docked tails very few mixed breed dogs have it done. Dew claws are another clue again very few mix breed dogs have them removed as do many of the pure bred hunting dogs.
4. Do not be afraid to commit a day and a few dollars in gas to drive somewhere to look at a dog especially if you are looking for a breed that is not common. If planning a trip fill out the adoption papers and email them to the rescue or shelter so that if approved you do not have to make a second trip. Also if they do not have an adoption form most shelter will not hold a dog so it could be a long trip to find the dog got adopted earlier that day.
5. When you find that dog you are looking for do not rush it. Plan on training it just like you would a puppy it never hurts to error on the side of caution. Take time for the dog to get use to its new surrounding and to be able to bond with you. Always assume the dog is going to be gun shy or never conditioned to gun fire. Many of the shelter and rescues have a trial period for adoptions if this is the case take the dog to a trainer for him to evaluate and give you an idea of what he thinks the dogs potential is. A small investment in doing this could save you lots of problems down the road.
Adoption is not for everyone nor will it ever be. All of us want something different from our dogs. But for some of us that are looking for that pet/weekend hunting partner it is one option. I know I smile every time I load up my recycled dogs after a day in the field chasing quail, because I got to spend a few hours with two of my best friends doing what the three of us love most.