Lab Tales by John Arrington

Retriever owners are sure to get a chuckle out of these two short stories by writer John Arrington, who has long been inspired by the Labs in his life.

We're pleased to feature two short stories by writer John Arrington, who has long been inspired by the Labrador Retrievers in his life: A Year Ago Today and Saturday Morning Duck Hunt. You can read more of John's work in the book Labrador Tales, which is available in bookstores and from LABMED. Proceeds from this book go to help Labs in need of emergency medical care. Pictured is John's best girl, Chamois.

by John Arrington

The narrow strip of land between the river and the railroad tracks is less than a half a mile from a busy highway, but it is wild and mostly unknown. Here the muddy waters of the Elk River flow into Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean. In the fall, the estuary is home to a variety of ducks, Canada Geese and Brant. In the summer formations of brown Pelicans ride on invisible currents of air and swoop low over the water. Cormorants, gulls, big white Egrets, Snipe and host of small shore birds make a living here. At low tide a Great Blue Heron rules the mud flats. A gray bearded man and his dog often come to visit. It is a safe place for the dog to run and play.

Today is a rare sunny day on the northcoast of California. The man sits on the river bank and rests his back against an old Redwood log. The Heron fishes on the far bank. He watches the huge bird with binoculars. An ocean breeze ruffles the water and stirs the pungent organic aromas of the estuary. The dog, a year old yellow Lab named Chamois, plays in the mud and brackish water. She hunts imaginary prey and runs from imaginary demons and swims to retrieve imaginary ducks.

The man closes his eyes, rests his head on the log and begins to smile. He is remembering another yellow Lab named Cheddar. Cheddar came into his life as an 8 week old puppy from a litter bred on a Kansas farm. She was his best friend through a lifetime of adventures. They shared backpacking trips in the High Sierra, beach romps and car camping on the Oregon coast, and long days exploring ancient Redwood forests. They swam together in lakes and bays, and in the ocean. Cheddar loved to ride in his truck and put nose prints on the windows and sleep with her head in his lap. A year ago today he stroked her head for the last time. She was nearly 16 years old. It was her time.

The sound of panting and the merry jingle of dog tags warn of the approach of his new friend. Hit and run tactics are her forte. She mugs him with slobbery sandy kiss and sprints away butt tucking and cavorting as only a Lab pup can.

He stands and begins the mile long walk back to his truck ... the old red truck with Chamois' nose prints on the windows.

Copyright © 1998 by John Arrington.

by John Arrington

Dark shapes move through the pre-dawn stillness of the marsh. They carry guns and are dressed in camouflage. The shapes move into a blind concealed among willows and reeds at the water's edge. Preparations are made. Decoys carefully arranged. Guns loaded. A thermos of strong black coffee passes among the duck hunters. A black Lab and a Chessie settle into their assigned places in front of the blind. As the cold gray dawn breaks, the wind freshens and rustles through the reeds. In the distance a pair of geese honk as they fly upriver and away from the hunters. The soft murmur of men's voices drift to our location.

Chamois, my 10 month old yellow Lab, and I watch and listen to the sights and sounds of a duck hunt. It will be her first exposure to the job for which she and her progenitors are bred.

"Here they come," one of the men whispers. A big flight of ducks, black flapping silhouettes against the cold gray of dawn, beat their way toward the men hiding in the marsh. Soon the sounds of the duck's quacking conversation is heard. One of the men raises a call to his lips and lures the ducks with man made duck noises. It works. The flock turns and descends towards the decoys and the friendly exhortations of the duck call.

Chamois begins to quiver, all senses alert. She peers intently at the birds as we watch the ambush develop and unfold. "Steady," I whisper to the young pup, "steady!"

"Here they come, boys, here they come, NOW!" The deep stillness of the morning erupts with the sound of 12 Ga. shot shells exploding in steel barrels. The ducks flair, frantically scratching the air to gain altitude and escape. Three birds fall from the sky and splash down among the cat tails.

The Chessie and the Lab are sent to retrieve the downed birds. "Honor," I command the pup.

The hunters chuckle and congratulate each other for "great shots" and chide one another for the ones they missed. The dogs return and each delivers a bird to hand. The third bird is down in heavy cover opposite the blind. The Lab goes after it. Whistle blasts, hand and voice signals are used to handle the eager dog to the downed bird. The superbly trained dog follows the directions of his handler with precision and style.

Chamois stands at my side keenly observing the retrieve. The hunter blows a single blast on his whistle. Chamois responds with a perfect sit. The black dog also responds. He stops swimming and turns towards the hunter who raises his right hand above his head at the 2 o'clock position. He shouts, "Over!" The dog turns and swims in the new direction until he reaches the bird. The hunter signals recall with a "tweet-tweet, tweet-tweet," series on the whistle. The dog emerges from the cat tails with a big mallard in its mouth. Chamois stands again and looks at me for directions. She can't seem to figure out why she hears a recall signal when she is already at my side.

When the black dog returns to the blind, up beat music fades in and the announcer says, "Please stay tuned for Part II of Hunting The Northwest, we'll be right back." I fluff the pillows and pull the comforter close about my neck. Chamois lays down with her head resting on my chest. An advertisement on the TV blares the virtues of Chevrolet trucks. I rub Chamois' ear and say softly, "Yeah, you're a retrievin' dog! Just like those dogs on TV." She wags her tail, moans, and snuggles a little closer.

Copyright © 1998 by John Arrington.

John Arrington has been owned by Labs since he got his first, a black female named Swamp, in 1969. John's Labs have been his companions, backpacking and camping partners, and best buddies. "Having a Lab at my side has become on of the few constant things in my life," he says. "Relationships come and go, but you can always count on a Lab to cheer you when you're down or to keep you company when you're lonely. I just can't imagine living without a lab to love.

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