My answers are many and are all over the map, which suggests to me that none of them are exactly what I mean to say. The bottom line is that I am afraid for her safety on the one hand, and she is more trouble than she’s worth, on the other.
Don’t misunderstand. Rina is indispensable to me—here. She flushes birds daily for my hawks, points, chases, catches, and generally provides extra fun and good company in the field. The hawks like her and trust her judgment. She rarely lets us down, and never on purpose.
But up on the high plains, her services are less in need and the inherent dangers of a fast, highly reactionary dog begin to outweigh the benefits. Amarillo, Texas is a blasted land of hard ground, exposed rebar, piles of concrete, irrigation pipes, cholla cactus, rattlesnakes, coyotes, eighteen wheelers, bone-numbing cold and great distances. Into this mix place a fast dog with thin skin and no brakes, and you have a disaster in the oven.
Last year, when Rina was new and (frankly) still proving herself, the dangers were the same but the perceived liabilities smaller. I had the benefit of ignorance, both of how good she is for what I do—here–and how quickly she could be hurt or killed doing what she does up there.
This is not to say that she could not be killed here by a snake (we have plenty) or a car or any number of other things. But her job here is to flush birds in fenced pastures in moderate weather. She is slowed down by the tall grass and soft earth, and we are unlikely to flush anything that will take her far away; there are no black tailed jacks in Louisiana. All else equal, she’s much safer at home. The dangers natural to a hunting dog here are the same ones I face and the hawk faces, and we accept that or else need to quit.
I can no longer claim ignorance about the situation up there. It’s a harsh land best weathered by natives. One week a year is not enough time to teach a dog how to operate within such tight margins; in fact, you can’t teach that. They learn it by living it. Perhaps a big dog, tough skinned and slower afoot would do better, and of course many hunters’ dogs do fine. But Rina is herself: a nutcase whirlwind and unstoppable when in high pursuit.
As for being more trouble than she’s worth, in Texas last year she spent more time in the truck than on the ground. We hawked too many places too dangerous to use her. Yet, we had to bring her along in case a good opportunity presented itself. On a hawking trip far from base camp, you take with you everything you might need.
On several occasions I noted to myself that my hawking and coursing trips ought to be kept separate. To use Rina with justice, I should concentrate on her and let the day follow her schedule. Last year she had to follow our schedule, and it was hard on her. She’s accustomed to working with the hawks, and could not understand why we left her behind; so she watched, barking mad, as we walked off in plain sight and hundreds of yards away. It was nearly as tough on me as on her. When rabbits flushed she could see them clearly, and we could hear her wailing rise to fever pitch.
Why do that to my good dog?
Finally, there was no relief to worrying at the end of the day. That’s a joy killer. Rina wanted to be with us as the day wound down, but even romping in Jimmy’s fenced acres with the other dogs left me wondering from minute to minute where she was. Rabbits were everywhere, and Rina hit fences full speed several times just chasing bunnies in the backyard. Thinking of her crumpled at the base of a fencepost, broken in some awful way out there in the dark, sucks all the fun out of sipping beer on the back porch.
Trust me, that’s true.