Thinking about a dog that didn't hunt, another dog that does and the price of elevating the spirit

Posted by Kevin Woster on
Rosie hustles along a ridge line at the Oral GPA

Midway through a relatively uneventful pheasant hunt — which means no shots were fired — on the Oral Game Production Area, I paused to consider Ted McBride.

In case you don’t know Ted, he’s a former U.S. attorney and long-time federal prosecutor here in Rapid City with a dapper taste in attire and a powerful affection for the arts.

Oh, and dogs. Let’s not forget dogs. Ted never does.

Like others who know and admire Ted, I also have great affection for his delightfully dignified poodle, Manley. Anyone who walks the grass of West Boulevard here in Rapid City, or cruises past on the asphalt, knows Manley. He’s about the coolest of the many boulevard critters that canter along with their owners.

He’s dapper himself, in a doggie sort of way.

But it was another McBride pooch I was thinking of last week as I paused in my amble through the outback to watch Rosie charge into an intermingled mass of switchgrass and bluestem and dried-sweet-clover clusters. I was thinking how much I love to watch her attack a complicated piece of upland habitat. And it reminded me of Ted and how he loved to watch another dog, Bert, gallop across the landscape.

It’s not a hunting story. Bert was not a hunting dog. He was a Dalmatian, one of a breed best known, perhaps, as firehouse dogs. But they have a more storied history, one that got a barking boost by the mid-1950s novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians and the two Walt Disney movies that followed.

Good story. But I’m more inspired by the tales of Dalmatians going back to the dog’s country of origin, Croatia, in the 1700s and its responsibilities in guarding stables and stylishly accompanying horse-drawn carriages.

They can hunt if trained to, and they certainly did centuries ago. But you might know them today as Busch beer dogs. Or maybe you’ve seen them in the circus.

Ted McBride knew them as canine buddies with good lungs and strong legs. And one of McBride’s great joys was watching Bert and his sister, Maud, cover some real estate, a joy that faded when Bert blew out his ACL.

OK, it’s not really an ACL. It’s a CCL — a cranial cruciate ligament, sort of the doggie version of an ACL, since they aren’t actually built much like us.

But the ACL and CCL problems are much the same, and often require surgery. In dogs, a traditional CCL surgery can run you $1,000 to $2,000. But if you opt for the TPLO — or tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy, which actually involves reshaping the tibia — the bill starts running, upward, from $2,000.

And it might end up over $5,000.

I know, because for a while last summer, I feared Rosie had blown her CCL somewhere during a 12-mile hike in the Black Elk Wilderness with Mary and some friends. A wrong turn made the hike about twice as long as planned. And Rosie never just walks on a hike. She thrashes. So she was exploring most of the way.

When I met the group just a ways in on the trail from a trailhead, Rosie was limping badly. Next day she was carrying her right hind leg. A few days after that, I took her to the vet. X-rays and physical exams were inconclusive, but the vet suspected a CCL tear.

I was advised on the possibility of surgery, and my vet suggested canine surgeons at Colorado State University, who were recommended as being among the best. I was also checking out less-expensive possibilities here in South Dakota. And I opened a discussion on the injury and the options on Facebook.

Those who think social-media exchanges are all bile and invective should have followed that one. It was helpful and comforting and educational and entertaining.

Suggestions ranged from limiting Rosie’s movement for a few weeks and treating her with anti-inflammatory drugs to the TPLO surgery.

At some point Ted McBride jumped into the conversation, saying that Bert had that TPLO surgery. And he was back running again a year later. Full speed. Then Maud cut in front of him during a race and Bert blew out his other knee. Back to CSU for another expensive surgery.

McBride wrote in my Facebook discussion about the injuries, the surgery and the results.

“This, of course, was a poor business proposition,” he wrote. “But so is most hunting, wine collecting and patronizing the arts. My retirement fund is lower. The grandkids might have gotten a little nicer graduation gift. But I sure loved to watch that dog run.”

Which is where one guy’s love for a dog that didn’t hunt at all intersected with another guy’s love for a dog that hunts relentlessly. McBride’s closing argument was effective. I had all but decided that, if necessary, I would reach into my own retirement fund and spend the money needed to watch Rosie run — headlong into the thick environs where roosters like to hide.

What price is there on such an elevation of the spirit, for both man and beast? I never had to find out, this time at least. For now, at least.

With lots of kennel time and weeks of rest — no easy task with a high-energy hunting machine  — and 10 days or so of anti-inflammatories, Rosie seemed to heal up just fine. In a couple weeks she quit carrying the hind leg. A week or two more and the limp went away.

A couple months after the injury, the grouse season opened in Wyoming. I spent my usual $100 or so — non-resident license, conservation stamp, voluntary walk-in-hunting donation, subscription to Wyoming Wildlife Magazine — for the opportunity to cross the line and hit the high aspen in pursuit of ruffed grouse six weeks before pheasant hunting starts here.

I hunted Rosie carefully at first, only an hour a day and never two days in a row. Then I went to a couple of hours a day, then three, then four. Then, occasionally, two days in a row. But I was still cautious and watched her closely during the early part of the pheasant season, beginning in mid-October.

She is, however, running at full speed these days, which is just what she was doing down at the Oral GPA a few days back when I paused to watch her work her muscular magic in the rough stuff.

And also to think about a dog named Bert that didn’t hunt and a guy named Ted who simply loved to watch him run.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of SDPB, Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, or the State of South Dakota.