COPYRIGHT RAMSEY RUSSELL GETDUCKS.COM
Years ago, soon after my preschool-aged sons wrestled her from a litter of squirming black pups, I'd told myself she was just a retriever. But a very good one she turned out to be. At 9 years old, and with 7-and-a-half seasons under her belt, she delivered to hand many thousands of documented birds to hand. I can remember Delta Retrieves Number 5,000 like it was yesterday. Ducks and geese from across North America mostly, but also a fair share of doves, snipes, pheasants. One summer we'd pulled down the water in a slough to broadcast jap millet in knee-deep mud. That was the day she proudly brought to hand a large, frog-green bowfin she'd found in the murkey tailwater. Among the lifetime tally were countless firsts: ducks, limits, species and leg bands for my children who have hunted their entire lifetimes with a black dog named Delta.
Second only to the report of a shotgun, she loved the sound of aluminum bats hitting baseballs. She was tireless in her job to retrieve baseballs during backyard batting practices. She subsequently developed a penchant for round objects, and the back yard remains littered with dozens of round balls every size and color imaginable. I'm sure we'll find them while working in the gardens for many years to come.
I learned over the years to let her out to do her business well in advance of cranking the 4 wheeler. As soon as the 4 wheeler was cranked, she loaded up, ready for the day's adventure. More than once she finished her business during our drive to the blind. It became especially problemmatic as the boys grew old enough to share that space with her!
She lost her hearing about 2 seasons ago, rendering a whistle moot. We worked it out, like the team we were, and it was actually alot more relaxing without having to blow a whistle. She'd take a line and hunt the spot, looking to me for a hand signal only if she lost confidence in the area. She rarely came back without the retrieve, proving time and again that her nose and hunting ability were far superior to my marking skills.
She seldom came inside until we were traveling. If we stayed in a hotel while hunting somewhere, she'd find a sofa or bed on which to stretch out. She'd usually earned it. I woke up more than once being pushed off the bed as she made herself more comfortable. Left unattended, she'd sometimes sneak onto a couch at home even though she knew better.
A week ago she climbed onto my bed at camp. It was a first. Walked in and caught her red-handed, sound asleep and softly snoring. Lacking her hearing, she was oblivious until I reached down and stroked her soft, gray-muzzled head. I couldn't help but grin and she couldn't help but slowly wag her guilty tail. I had no idea at the time that cancer had completely eaten her insides.