Large hounds are rare. But you don’t need to be a great hound to be a great companion.

“Good morning, Rigby, I’ll get you right away,” said the barista’s coffee holder to the 110-pound Chocolate Labrador Retriever sitting on my lap with his big bear head sticking out the window. Kristen and I looked at each other, always delighted with the joy that this little hippopotamus pup seems to bring wherever he goes.

For most of my life, people and I have grown up around dogs that have been measured by performance in the feathered yard that their ancestors have driven them to. Dog stories revolve around displays of hunting prowess by these lovable partners, friendly banter, and hilarity that includes great accomplishments told with tongue in cheek.

A year or so before moving to Alaska, we inherited a female Chesapeake Bay retriever from a neighbor who died and his family didn’t want the dog. She was christened Peggy as a puppy, and by the time she came to live with us, she looked more like Peggy.

A huge dog whose surroundings suggests that she can’t get out of her way, let alone find and retrieve a bird. My first memory of how judging a book by its cover will backfire on you. She lay around the house, basically cut off, until a gun appeared. She hops, her tail goes in circles, and she runs to the truck where who knows how, she jumps straight onto the bed.

The first time I fished with Peggy, we went to a soil bank field for the ring-necked pheasant. While we were getting our guns and gear ready for the hunt, Dad dropped Peggy’s back door. He turned towards me and said, “Just wait, this will take a few minutes.”

I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I waited patiently what “he” was. I could see Biggie’s tail over the low brush as she was working maybe 50 yards in the field. She paused for a moment with her head down, then turned towards where we were standing and rushed back. I broke out of the brush and ran to my father, and squashed a very still-lived hen she was holding in her mouth in his outstretched hand.

My father held the bird for a minute and then threw it into the air. When the bird flew away, he told me this was how Peggy showed everyone she knew what she was doing and didn’t really need a gun, but would go ahead and play with us if that was what we wanted. it was amazing.

She was also a rude dog that didn’t care much about anything but birds and my dad. My pet crow, whose name was Bill and who could utter a few words, was sitting on a clothesline pole and squabbling at Peggy. Suddenly, the crow was diving toward her and pulling just as Peggy’s jaws were blasting at his tail feathers.

Crows are among the smartest creatures in nature. But Bill became so conceited that he didn’t realize Peggy was planning to assassinate him until it was too late. I watched and timed him, and one sunny afternoon, nailing him into a ball of black feathers, forever silenced Bell. Forgiving a great hound.

When I talk about “once in a lifetime” hounds, it’s usually while bragging about the Winchester, the English bulldog that broke into our lives. Born from a group of wonderful fire dogs, the making of which took centuries, took us places we’d never gone, let us into the arena for the greatest show on Earth, and kept us young while we were falling behind. It remains in our eyes, goats – the greatest of all time.

Having one in a lifetime is a blessing, and having two is a utopia that only occurs when all things converge precisely in time. Leaving early, Cheyenne came into our lives and like Winchester in his upland world of experience, passed on to her marvelously watering hound breed.

People ask when fishing with us who trained him or her? We’d smile and say, “Well, they trained us really well.” It took me a while to understand that no one can train a dog to be a hunter, not really. You can teach them to do what you ask, but that’s a different thing. The greats do just what they do while you help align the subtleties of the line between wild and domestic that all the greats have.

There are no guarantees in the world of armed dogs. One can research bloodlines, talk to others experienced in a particular breed and choose a puppy. After doing this, most will achieve at least the bare minimum, and in fact, this is all most people need in a gun dog. But a great person comes from pure good fortune.

Winchester and Cheyenne came in as nature hunters and made us sound like great dog trainers. Our main contribution to them was to allow them to rise to their own level.

Rigby didn’t rush into our lives when we brought him home, he simply poked his massive puppy feet into the house and took over. Labrador’s Chocolate Rolly Polly of British descent came to live with us at five weeks old. early on, but we can be with him all the time, and we were delighted to discover that the bond between him and his people is quite solid.

Our expectations were high on the opening day of the 2021 waterfowl season. Just a look alone suggests it’s going to be great, but you never know. On the banks of an inland lake, Rigby waited patiently at our side with his comedic appearance. On the duck’s first shot and subsequent fall, Rigby hit the water and put the duck back, meeting the bottom line.

After a season with him, we know it won’t be Cheyenne or Winchester. But, perhaps this is due to age and the drive of prey, it does not matter because Rigby’s best quality is to be our companion.

He has no filters and he drops around the house, plays everything, and throws his toys around. One game, a heavy piece of antler he had thrown two days ago, broke my toe. His personality, his facial expressions, and the pure joy of just being alive is the daily treat.

When the coffee maker came to the window with Rigby’s “puppy cup”—a paper cup of whipped cream and dog biscuits—he poked his big head out, grabbed the cup completely in his mouth and trailed him to the back seat. Post not displayed.

The actions and companions of this large Labrador make me believe that there must be another class of heroes in the canine world. The hero friend, because in the end, isn’t that what their presence really means?

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