We are all journeying down the same road of life, and along the way, we find ourselves at a crossroads wondering what path to take. Life is really a series of the choices we make, or don’t make. Tough choices on which house to buy, should I take this job, or is she really the one on want to marry are all life-changing choices. As hunters, we also choose to take the life of the animals we pursue. I consider this a tough choice. There is a completely different choice that is the dread of nearly every hunter. The toughest choice with no good solution and no happy ending. The decision to put your dog down.
Whenever a buddy tells me they had to put their dog down, it immediately invokes a kind of sympathy that only somebody who has walked that road can understand. There is something about dogs, our companions, our friends, our partners and the moments afield we shared. No matter what kind of day I have had, when my dog greets me at the door there is a brief respite the world around me. Your dog wants only affection and attention, and no matter what miserable condition you are in, nor character you are, they stand by you. In my dog’s mind, I can do no wrong. All of my dogs trust me completely and give themselves over to me, and that is why it is so painful to take that loyalty and put him down. We cannot as humans help to wonder if our dog felt betrayed at the end, if we did the right thing, or if they knew what was happening.
I was 17 when I put my beagle down. I shot her in the rabbit patch behind the barn that she loved so much. She had been riddled with cancer and could barely walk. My parents took her to the vet but couldn’t afford the treatments, and I had refused to let the vet put her down. I had her for ten years and grew up with her and her pup. One day in June I grabbed a .22 from the house and walked back to the big timber and do some scouting. She couldn’t come anymore but tried to bark as I walked by. After I hiked into the timber I was returning home down a small road in a cornfield about a mile from the house. I caught movement in the grass ahead of me, and out popped the head of my cancer-ridden little beagle. She had tried her best to follow me but had laid down after not making it. I stopped and asked God what to do, if I saw a sign of life I would put her down I prayed. I walked a few more steps and looked to my left, and there in the grass next to the road lay a brand new whitetail fawn. I cried.
I know I did the right thing that day, but 30 years later it still weighs on my mind, blurry now, but not forgotten. When I returned to our house I burnt her dog house down, and I remember carrying her limp body back to the house with tears streaming the whole time. I remember petting her and holding her and begging her forgiveness there in the rabbit patch under the hot June sun. We grew up together, hunted together, loved each other, and spent many hours together. She loved and trusted me with all her heart, and I killed her. That is the reality of tough choices. I often think of that old dog, and that June day in the rabbit patch. As the years roll by I have learned to give more thought to the many adventures we had growing up together, and less to that June day, and perhaps, that is all we ever really get. RIP Pumpkin, 1976-1987.