My oldest German wirehair, Chara, was ten this past summer. When I stroke her whiskers back I notice cloudiness in her eyes that wasn’t there before. Her spirit is still strong, maybe stronger than mine, but she is quite content to curl up on a rug and wait for something to happen. Yet on walks she still hunts for mice and points song birds for her own entertainment, and physically she is muscular and strong. She still runs for the back door, excited as a young pup, at the sound of the bell on her hunting collar.
Chara’s colors are white and liver, so the new white hairs aren’t as noticeable as if she were darker, but I do see white flecks where solid liver used to be. Aging catches us all.
Inside her head are ten seasons of experience, starting with her first season when she pointed quail at five months of age. I don’t remember if she retrieved them, but I know I killed quail over her points that first fall. The following season we hunted woodcock and ruffed grouse, and I can remember every detail of her first wild bird, a woodcock shot in Randolph, New Hampshire, at the end of a very long day afield.
I remember her first duck hunt and how she retrieved a mallard as if she’d done it a hundred times before. And the first pheasant she pointed, in a field of low cut grass, where I was so convinced that she was false pointing that I never even raised my gun when the big squawking cock finally flew.
Last season was her best ever, pointing grouse after grouse, almost never bumping a bird. Certain days stick in my mind and I hope they always will. Pointing side by side with our younger dog, she never looked better. With tremendous luck I killed the first partridge of the season, on opening day, while the two dogs pointed shoulder to shoulder. The retrieve was a bit contentious and they each somehow ended up with a wing, but remembering it makes me smile.
So I have to wonder how much longer Chara will hunt. This season looks like a sure thing, which is good because the bird numbers are up. Our two year old GWP, Colby, learns much hunting with Chara and hopefully will continue to absorb the older dog’s wisdom. At times Chara appears impatient with the younger dog, but more often seems oblivious to the youngster’s presence. Colby honors easily, almost never interrupting one of Chara’s points, obviously respecting the older dog’s rank. Twice last season Colby pointed partridge on her own, along with dozens of woodcock, none of which I’m not sure would have happened without Chara’s example.
Now Chara dreams on the rug by my feet. I see her feet twitch and hear muffled barks or chirps, and sometimes even a low growl. I wonder if she recalls the same events I do, and, if so, what her favorite memories are.
Chara will remain top dog until the day she is done, and I plan to make certain she knows it. We have a long history together.