Grateful for Gabe the golden

Dave Mull’s golden retriever Gabe awaits geese during a field hunt about a decade ago.

Did you ever notice how gratitude and sadness can go hand-in-hand?

As Thanksgiving week winds to a close, I want to express gratitude for having had a really swell dog as part of my life for almost 13 years.

I had to have the vet put down my golden retriever Gabe in mid-October. There can be no worse day in a dog lover’s life, and it will take a while to get over the loss of my best bud. I know Gabe wouldn’t want me to be sad, though. For him, life was all about having fun.

I got Gabe back in 2007, progeny of Adirondack Goldens in New York, one of a few breeders that produce goldens for field trials and bird hunting. These days, goldens are mainly known as fun-loving family pets, service dogs and movie stars that play basketball.

I was late getting in line for a pup so Jeff Lantiegne, son of Adirondack founder Carol Lantiegne and owner of Gabe’s mother, picked him out for me. Jeff, a bird hunter, selected one he thought showed the best traits to be a good hunting dog.

I was living in Buffalo, New York at the time, and met Jeff and Jeff’s young daughter in March at a Bass Pro Shops megastore. Almost immediately, the 7-week-old pup slipped from Jeff’s daughter’s grasp and went for a joyous galavant through the aisles of Bass Pro.

We got him back fairly quickly, but that kind of set the tone for his goofiness.

Gabe was simple to house-break and train. He knew how to sit, lie down and stay within a few days.

I used the Richard Wolter’s book “Water Dog” as my training handbook—and I’d recommend it to anyone getting a hunting retriever. It didn’t take long to teach Gabe to bring the throw-dummy right back to hand and then give it to me without a tug-of-war.

When Gabe was about 5 months old in June, I got invited with my writer/editor pal Tom Carney to a hunt club in northern Michigan. Although Gabe hadn’t been around live birds before, he caught on right away.

He smelled and then spotted some quail on the ground, ran up and flushed them. I killed one, he bounded over, picked it up and trotted right back to me with it. Just as he got close enough to give it to me, he “huffed” and ran. I got up from my squatting position and, as Wolters suggested, ran the other way. As if Gabe had read the book, he ran after me and when he got close I stopped, squatted and he gave me the bird.

Wow, what a cool moment.

Later that year I was trolling for walleyes with friends about five miles out on Lake Erie. Gabe was along — his first time in a boat. While we trolled along during an extended lull between catching fish, suddenly there was a splash and Gabe was in the water.

Fortunately, my bud Jeff Miller, who makes the popular Traxstech track-mount rod holders and other accessories, was close and quick enough to grab the knucklehead by his collar before he got behind the boat. The two of us hoisted him aboard, no harm done. It was the last time Gabe ever jumped out of a boat without permission. That year he also made his first duck and goose retrieves while field hunting.

Gabe was one of those dogs that really wanted to do what you wanted him to do, and tried hard to understand what you were trying to show him. However, I won’t fall victim to selective memory. I didn’t keep up a regular training regime. I expected Gabe to just remember stuff. But he didn’t.

He was especially bad about rushing out of his hiding place when ducks were circling through the decoy spread. And he tended to get out too far ahead of me in the grouse woods, flushing birds unseen up ahead. And for some reason, his nose never developed and he lost a few ducks that fell on land. One time in Wisconsin, I watched him walk right over a freshly downed grouse.

I lost my fervor for upland bird and waterfowl hunting, so for the past four years, Gabe hunted very little and didn’t seem to mind. He was plenty happy riding along in the boat while we fished.

On land, he was always ready to chase a stick, tennis ball or dog-training fender, and bring it right back so I could throw it for him again. Sure, on our farm he hunted buried cat poop like a French pig hunts truffles, and was always game for eating and/or rolling in many disgusting things. And he shed a lot, which drove wife Kathy pretty crazy.

But he was a mellow, thoroughly lovable dog. I am so grateful he was in my life.

Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at dave.sportfish.mull@gmail.com.