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An old dog's last lap

I am saying goodbye to an old yellow dog. Her death is not imminent, at least as near as I can determine. But the other day, we hit another painful point in the long downward spiral.

I am saying goodbye to an old yellow dog. Her death is not imminent, at least as near as I can determine. But the other day, we hit another painful point in the long downward spiral.

Banjo is the first real hunting dog I have owned. She is 14½ years old, white of face and gimpy of hindquarters.

I had headed out on a trail run Saturday morning. The young yellow dog always comes along, but lately I had been leaving Banjo in the kennel. She would get so far behind on runs that often I'd have to wait for her. And it complicates matters that she is deaf.

Leaving her in the kennel wasn't easy, so this time I had taken her along.

Within a half-mile, though, I could see this wouldn't work. The young dog and I stopped to let Banjo catch up, and she never came. When I ran back and found her, she was befuddled and trotting in the other direction. I knew that if she kept running with us, she probably would get lost. I didn't want that.

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So, we ran slowly back to the car, where I put her in her travel kennel. Then the young dog and I got back to our run.

I knew this was it for Banjo. She might live another couple of years and make a lot of walks, but this was her last run. We have run countless miles together over the past 14 years, to say nothing of all the pheasant and grouse and duck hunts. We know each other as all old dogs know their masters. I can read her every move, and she can read all of mine.

When we went west to hunt pheasants this fall, I took Banjo along. Her hunting days are behind her, but I took her out for a walk one afternoon. She stopped to inspect a scent at the edge of a grassy cover. Without hesitating, she began following the scent into the grass, working it deliberately but efficiently. She broke into a light trot, and I knew she was on the trail of a pheasant.

At about the same time, a rooster broke from the cover well beyond Banjo. She neither heard nor saw it flush. I let her keep working the scent, and she followed it directly to where the bird had flushed. Failing to find any more scent, she looked back at me. I patted my leg, using the signal that has replaced the "come" command. She came walking back to me, and we continued on to the farm house.

That was a poignant moment for me, watching her try to track down the rooster. I wish he would have waited for her, flushing right off her nose.

Banjo's hunting days are behind her, and now her running days, too.

I stood atop a rock outcrop during Saturday's run, thinking about all of that and about what lies ahead for her. And for me. I must have been there quite a while. The young dog, sitting at my side, tapped me on the leg with her nose, as if to make sure I was OK. I told her I'd be ready to go in just a minute.

SAM COOK can be reached at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com . For previous columns, go to www.duluthnewstribune.com .

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