Mike and I liked to think we were hunters. We had made bows from willow sticks, bowstrings from kite string, and arrows from a pile of old bent dowel rods we found in the trash behind the hardware store. We sharpened the dowel rods and cut notches in the other end and called them ‘arrows.’ Good enough.
The hunting instinct runs deep in some dogs and people. In others, well, it just isn’t there. Mike and I were hunter wannabees, and over time we became real hunters, but this dog had no concept of hunting anything more than his feed bowl and a place to nap. This dog knew the difference between opening a can of dog food and a can of corned beef hash. Essentially they look and smell the same, but the dog knew the difference by sound. What a dog.
This dog had a name. It was ‘Mutt’, and we usually called him that, but he answered only the to sound of a can opener. He was big, shaggy (probably a sheepdog mix), and was about 3 years old when Mike decided to train him to hunt, and he had never done anything but eat and sleep. We borrowed some books on dog training from the local library, and in a few days had fashioned Mutt a dog collar and leash from a long piece of old rope we picked up somewhere. Neither one made Mutt very happy.
We took turns trying to get Mutt to ‘heel, sit, come, and stay.’ ‘Stay’ was the only command Mutt would obey, and only because he was too lazy to get up to do anything at all. Finally Mike tied the rope to his bicycle handlebars to take Mutt for a walk. The ride was a short one. In fact Mutt never moved. Mike reached the end of the rope, and the rope tightened as Mutt was still lying down. Mutt never moved in the slightest, but the handlebars on the bike were twisted to the side, and Mike took a hard fall. End of the first training lesson.
Over a few weeks, we managed to get Mutt to understand that when the rope was tied to the bicycle, it was time for a walk. Slowly Mutt would get to his feet, and slowly he would walk behind the bike, and slowly the bike would be peddled, because if the rope grew tight, Mutt would lie down and not move until he heard the sound of a can opener. This was working well enough until the day Mutt crossed paths with a cat.
It was my turn to walk Mutt. I had learned to tie the rope to my seat post rather than my handlebars since this gave me a bit more stability if Mutt suddenly stopped. We had gone about two houses distance down the sidewalk when a big fuzzy white cat walked in front of us. I heard a hiss from the cat, a whimper from the dog, and the next thing I knew I was lying in someone’s yard. I sat up to see that the cat was still where I remembered it, but Mutt and my bike were not to be seen.
I looked down the sidewalk and saw Mike chasing Mutt while my bicycle was bouncing along behind him as though he didn’t know it was there. The chase ended when Mutt jumped a low fence and the bike didn’t make it over. Mike caught up with his dog and untied the rope from his neck. Then he picked up my bicycle and started to carry it back to me, but Mutt picked up the rope dangling from the seat and took the lead in returning my bike. Mike and I just stared at the dog for a moment simply not believing he actually did something on his own. Maybe something had changed. We were going to find out.
The next day Mike had the honors of taking Mutt for a walk, besides, my bike needed some repair. It was nothing serious, but the handlebars and seat were twisted, and the rear fender was smashed. When Mike tried to tie the rope onto Mutt’s collar, Mutt growled and bared his teeth. Wisely Mike backed off, but when he got on his bike to ride over to where I lived, Mutt followed along on his own. Unbelievable.
We decided it was time for Mutt to go hunting. When my bike was repaired enough to ride, we gathered up our bows and arrows and rode over to the field near the railroad tracks where cottontail rabbits were everywhere. Mutt just followed along. We rode at our normal speed, and the dog kept up with us. When we reached the field, we dropped our bikes, grabbed our bows, and began our hunt. Rabbits were jumping everywhere, arrows were flying everywhere, and Mutt was guarding our bikes and watching the show.
Mutt was right. He didn’t need to be trained to be a hunting dog. It was Mike and I who needed to be trained as hunters. We gathered our arrows and tried again. The rabbits had nothing to worry about. Our unfletched crooked dowel rods couldn’t shoot straight under any circumstances. I don’t remember how many times we gathered up our arrows and tried to hit a rabbit. It must have been at least seven or eight times and could easily have been many more. But no rabbit went home with us that day—or for several more years.