Today I wanted to give you a very personal story, but as I began penning my thoughts, I realized it’s not only my story, but it’s a story I share with my wife, Pam. So today, you’ll get my thoughts, and tomorrow, she will share her perspective. You see, we’re “dog people”. And for those of you who can relate, I hope you enjoy our memories.
Besides being an artist, I have grown up with a passion for bird hunting. September and Dove Season is almost a spiritual occasion in Texas. And I know a lot of dog men. They run the gamut from cowboys with trained stock dogs, to men who trail wounded game, and include hog hunters, mountain lion hunters, and bird dog men. They’ve all had many good dogs over their years of hunting and ranch work, and they’ve had a relationship with each dog they’ve owned. But every single one of these guys will tell you of that one “special” dog. I stand proudly with this group.
Eleven years ago, my good friend and fine dog man Tim Barziza gifted me with a female Lab pup that we named Jewel. Jewel came from exceptional parents with strong hunting genes. I immediately started her on a training program. I have never “field trialed” a dog … ever.
A field trial is a competitive event at which hunting dogs compete against one another, but in my opinion, it has very little to do with actual hunting. I like my dogs to enjoy the sport of hunting, and Jewel took to it with purpose.
Jewel was exceptional from the time she was a pup until Pam and I moved to Sabinal, TX in 2001. It was the move to Sabinal where Jewel hit her stride. Moving from Austin to a small 130-acre “ranchette”, proved to be a paradise for both Jewel and me. We hunted mourning doves, white wings, Eurasian doves, quail and pen-raised chukars. Our place became a hunting destination for most of my buddies and Jewel had the ability to park herself right in the middle of all of it.
My art career was growing and my time with Jewel behind the gun was a great stress reliever. We spent so much time together that she would react and key off of me. This is a special connection that every hunter will recognize. A dog that knows what you’re thinking and what you’re going to do before you do it, becomes an important and efficient hunting partner.
Jewel was locked onto both Pam and I, and was so well mannered and trained, we could take her anywhere. She would spend her days with us in the studio, patiently lying on her bed, waiting and watching for me to grab a gun or indicate that we were about to go hunting. She traveled with us to Montana when I taught workshops, and was just happy to be wherever we were.
She became adept at skills most Labs never have the time to develop. She excelled at blind retrieves; she would “whoa” like a pointing dog; she would back my Elhew pointer and point quail, imitating the pointer’s stance. She could blood trail a wounded animal; she loved a good coon fight; she could “rat” in the barn; I could use her for a decoy dog when hunting coyotes, and she even got in on a couple of hog hunts. She was a real multi-tasker.
As much as I would like to take credit for Jewel’s exceptional hunting instinct (due to my outstanding dog training abilities), it’s just simply not the case. Jewel got her “hunt” from one of my other dogs. She was taught by one of the best; a little registered German hunting terrier (Duestche Jagdterrier) named “Bodie” (more to come on this little monster later). Bodie taught Jewel the one thing a dog must have: HUNT. They hunted crickets and mice and lizards incessantly. So all that was required of me was instilling some manners and basic obedience.
But as so often happens, with the exceptional ones, Jewel was a short-timer for me. She only lived to be 10 years old. Cancer started working on her when she was 9 and she faded fast. Her final days were spent here in my studio in Yorktown, slowly fading from the effects of the disease.
We let her sleep the cold nights of her last Fall, listening to the Watercolors Jazz station on XM radio. It seemed to ease her pain. I had a scheduled trip to the O RO Ranch in Arizona. It had taken a year of networking and planning, and I couldn’t cancel, although I feared Jewel wouldn’t last until I returned home.
And two days after leaving Texas, Jewel decided her time on earth was done. Pam bore the brunt of the pain of watching her go. But the upside of having dogs is accompanied with the downside of letting them go. Pam and I mark our 23 years of marriage by the dogs that have blessed our life: Pearl, Gonzo, Blue, Bodie, Punkin, Quattro, Bunkie, Echo, Emmy, and now Sookie. But I will always proclaim that the best damn one of ‘em all was Jewel. See ya’ on the other side, girl!
All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.