Riverview’s 2017-2018 hunting season officially ended yesterday at 5:00 pm. Those last three hours of the last afternoon fit my definition of eternity to a T. It was a very successful season, both occupancy and quality wise. However, as I have grown older, my definition of a successful season is that it is a safe season. I am so pleased to report that we had a 100% safe season. We did not have a single dog shot even by a ricochet pellet off of a tree. As many of you know, my mom and dad started this business in 1957. I am not absolutely positive, but I believe this will be only our third zero defect safety season in all of those years. The total credit for that goes to safety minded guests, management and good guides. I want to thank our guests, the best folks in the world, for both their business and their attention to safety.
This will be short, but I do want to close with just a few random thoughts. I feel sorry for anyone who has never known the love of a good dog. I always said that I wished that I could be the person that my dog thought I was. Although Riverview owns well over 200 dogs, I have only personally owned four dogs in my life. I am not going to argue theology with preachers any more, but I am going to choose to believe that I will see those four dogs in heaven. The first dog I owned was a pointer named Bimbo. Now I was not even a teenager, but Pop gave me some training tips, and this was the first hunting dog that I trained from start to finish by myself. Pop always kept a couple of hundred acres near our home that guests did not hunt on. I would jump off the school bus, whistle up Bimbo, and we knew exactly where the four coveys on that piece of land was. I may have trained him, or he may have trained me because he had a few quirks of character that I could never change. If I killed a bird on open ground, he refused to retrieve. However if I downed a bird in thick cover, he would dash in to fetch it every time. I think that he was telling me that I could pick up my own bird if it was down in the wide open spaces. Bimbo’s most infuriating habit convinced me that he could count. If I missed the first four shots, he would turn on his tail and head back to the house. No amount of screaming or pleading could make him return to the field that day.
Our second dog was a blonde American Cocker. I plucked my bride out of a small town in middle Georgia, and our first home was smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Martha taught school then, but I hardly ever got home from work at night during hunting season before 9:00 pm, and that was six days a week. One night when I got home my beautiful little bride’s lips were trembling. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “It gets real lonesome out here all by myself at night. I want a dog.” So we purchased Taffy, a blonde Cocker. Since we had no children at that time, Taffy became our child. I can still remember us smugly telling my mom when Martha got pregnant that there was no way that we could love a baby any more than we loved Taffy. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! However, she occupied a very special place in our lives for 14 years, and I cried like a baby when we buried her just as I did when I buried Bimbo many years prior to that.
My third dog was a small black Lab named Josie. She was very special to me because of who gave her to me, but I will not get into that. I had never trained a retriever, but I purchased the book, Water Dog, and had her just about trained. However my children had different ideas as they loved to play with her every day. They would throw a ball to her, and then try to chase her down. As anyone who has ever trained a retriever knows, that is NOT how you train one. I decided that it was more important for the children to have a pet than for me to have a retriever. When Josie got old, I would not allow her to jog with me as she was too fat and old. On more than one occasion, I had to pick her up and jog back to the river with her on my shoulder to resuscitate her. I sneaked out the front house one day to jog while she was on the back porch asleep, and she was also mostly deaf by then. Somehow she smelled me, and started trying to catch me. I had no idea that she was behind me, and I was jogging six miles in the heat and humidity of an August afternoon. When we couldn’t find her anywhere the next day, I called Pop who was one of the best trackers I ever knew. He found her stone cold dead just a few yards off to the side of my jogging route and about three miles out. I carried not only grief and tears when we buried Josie, but I toted a fair amount of guilt also.
My last Lab, Sugar, was a big chocolate Lab. She was my first dog that completely belonged to me as all of our children were grown and gone. I trained her from start to finish, and she was the smartest dog I ever owned. She was a great retriever, and she was also one of the sweetest dogs that I ever owned. In her prime, she weighed 85 pounds of muscle and bone. When we went on a dove shoot, I spent the slow part of the hunt trying to convince her that she was no longer a puppy and could not crawl up in my lap without knocking me off of my dove stool. One of the funniest things about Sugar was that, if Martha gave her a command, she would whip her head around toward me with an expression that plainly said, “Do I have to do what SHE says?” If I nodded my head, she would obey Martha, which drove Martha crazy. Sugar has only been gone two years, and that hurt is still too fresh to describe. Suffice it to say that the last thing she ever did was try to lick the tears out of my eyes before closing hers for eternity.
These few stories about my dogs are written as a tribute to my best friend, Jud, who lost his beloved Betsy of 14 years this week. I feel your pain, Brother!
Now, let’s not close on a morbid note about dogs. I read this quote from Jerry Seinfeld recently. “Dogs have no money. Isn’t that amazing? They’re broke their entire lives, but they get through. You know why dogs have no money? They have no pockets.”
Thanks again to all of you for a wonderful hunting season. May God bless you and your families, and all of the folks at Riverview wish you a great spring and summer!