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Putting down a four-legged friend

Whether it is our faithful hunting dog, or a lap animal that is always there for us, the day will come when a four-legged friend should be put down or euthanized.

A decision must be made.

Take the suffering animal to the vet, or put it down yourself. Is there a right or wrong way to handle this? Perhaps there is if children are involved, but I'm not even sure about that. I like what Hamlet said: "Nothing is right or wrong but the mind makes it so."

When the time came for Brown -- my Chesapeake hunting partner of 14 years -- her hips were arthritic, and she could barely get up.

I took her to the vet. If I could do that over again, I'd do it differently. This has nothing to do with our vet, Dr. Dressler. He is as good around animals as anyone I have ever known. Brown was my problem.

Let me explain.

During Brown's prime, I had to take her to the vet because she had completely ripped open her underside on a barbed-wire fence. The doctor did an awesome job cleaning up her exposed entrails and sewing her up, and she made a complete recovery.

On the fateful day seven years later when I carried her into doc's office, Brown recognized the building before we made it to the door. She went out of control. It was all the doctor and I could do to restrain her. I'm still sorry it ended that way.

Instead, a "last hunt" out in our shelter belt with a merciful bullet to the back of her head would have been the way to handle it.

Never mind how I would have felt. I had been there before.

When we were first married, we had a black lab cross pup named Falstaff -- Falsie for short. Falsie was the ultimate character. He'd follow my pickup to town in the morning, and of course one of the kids would open the school house door for him.

He'd then run up the stairs and take a seat in study hall. Then I'd show him the door and send him home. He especially loved Saturday mornings. He would again follow our pickup to town, and then he would cover Main Street by jumping from hood to hood of the vehicles parked along it.

Falstaff loved to hunt. When he was still a pup, I took him to Spirit Lake north of De Smet. I guessed right that morning and dropped a goose. I sent Falsie after it, and the wounded goose clamped down on his nose. He came back whining without the goose. I bet you can guess who stripped naked and made the retrieve.

One night, Betsy and I didn't get home until late. We heard the sheep bleating, but we didn't know why. There was a knock on the back door the following morning. Thirteen sheep had been killed. Had we seen anything? Was our Falstaff a part of the blood-thirsty pack of ruthless murderers? No, our dog couldn't do such a thing. Besides, we kept him in a shed at night.

Two mornings later, we had company again -- two very angry farmers. Falstaff had been positively identified as one of the killers. A close inspection showed how he was getting in and out of the shed at night. The message was right to the point: "You kill your dog today, or we'll do it for you right now."

I told them that I take care of my own problems. I did.

Ernest Hemingway tells a story I'll never forget of putting a faithful friend down. Only he took it a step further and made use of the carcass. It comes from one of his lesser novels "True at First Light."

In the story he led his horse, Old Kite, up the mountain and dropped the halter. When he stroked him on the blaze where the gray hairs showed, Kite nipped him on the neck with his lips.

Kite knew Hemingway couldn't ride him because of his split hoof, but he anticipated some kind of new game. Hemingway remembered how wonderfully Kite had always seen in the dark, and how he had hung onto his tail as Kite carried a bear hide or elk packed on his back.

When it was too dark for a human to see, Old Kite was always right as he led him numerous times along the treacherous rim rock and back to camp.

He had brought him up here because someone had to do it. The horse gave him another rubber-lipped kiss and checked the position of the other horse.

"Good-bye, Old Kite. I know you'd do the same for me."

Kite saw the gun come up. Hemingway didn't want him to see it. His eyes knew what it was, and he stood trembling as Hemingway shot him below the ear. Hemingway would always feel strongly about Old Kite, and he would never have closure with his sorrow.

Now, as he looked at Old Kite, the horse's lips were not there because the eagles had eaten them. The bears had opened him up and Kite was sunken now as Hemingway waited in the bush for the eagles with his .22 Winchester.

Hemingway had taken two grizzlies over an old friend who had been reduced to bear bait. Now he served as eagle bait.

Since they were condemned, he let the eagles eat for awhile before he brought up the rifle. He shot one carefully in the head and another twice in the body. Other birds or beasts run downhill when wounded, but the eagle runs uphill. He had to run the wounded bird down. He had never seen hate in the eyes like he had seen in that eagle.

In Lame Deer Hemingway sat on a mule deer hide in front of a teepee with the two eagle hides spread out.

To the Cheyenne, who wanted them, an eagle was unapproachable. Sometimes they could be found and killed in blizzards when they sat against a rock in the driving snow, but for this man, that knowledge and the necessary skills were gone.

Hemingway took the long cured grizzly claws out of his shirt pocket and laid them next to the eagles. There had been no grizzly claws for many years, and he made a good trade.

*See you next week.