How a partnership of the canine-human kind puts life in perspective

I watched my 8-year-old Brittany dog Bullet as he lithely maneuvered through the woods in one of my favorite bird hunting spots, weaving in and out among trees and brush and easily scaling rock walls while never losing sight of his main objective — finding birds.

We had just had snow the day before, so the woods and trees were coated with an inch and a half of new powder. Bullet is mostly white, which is an advantage in October and early November when the woods is all brown and orange and yellow, but not so much once there’s snow.

I debated putting his orange coat on him to make it easier for me to see him, but I could still hear his bell attached to his collar around his neck and that was good enough. He would have been too warm working in his coat.

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Heading back to the truck.

 

Bullet is close-working, trustworthy and a well-seasoned hunting companion. He also is generally obedient. If he found a bird, he would stay pointing at it until I could locate him, and I would know approximately where he was from his bell sound I listen to constantly while he’s working.

We have become a team, he and I. We have worked together many hours over the years, and we’re comfortable together. Bullet — whose nickname since early puppyhood is Bullet Man — is a bit of an “old soul.” His eyes carry depth and knowledge beyond his species, and his intuition often makes me wonder about the validity of some of the “scientific” findings about canine intelligence.

He is my friend, hunting companion, protector, comforter in the wee hours when life overwhelms me, dog sports buddy, patriarch of my pack of four Brittany dogs, and an important link to my late husband Jim, who died six years ago on Dec. 7. Bullet has a quiet countenance from which he observes the world, and I take comfort and a sense of stability from his presence.

But it was not planned to be that way. I was to show Bullet in conformation (think scaled down Westminster), and Bullet — named by Jim — was to be Jim’s hunting dog. He was. Jim had recently retired when Bullet became a Harris so Jim did the housebreaking, manners training, and initial bonding. We did puppy classes together with Bullet, and we did the foundation work in his field training.

Bullet was destined to be Jim’s hunting dog, but was only 2 years old when Jim died. Just coming into an age when he could be taught the more advanced skills he would need to be a reliable gun dog.

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Bullet insisted there was something of interest in the tree, but I didn’t find it. That doesn’t mean he was wrong.

 

 

After Jim died, I added my friend and breeder John — who owns Bullet’s father — as a co-owner of Bullet, and John took Bullet for a few months each year to teach him more advanced field skills. They bonded as a team. John and Bullet earned a Junior Hunter title, and then a Senior Hunter title in hunting competitions. I helped with the Senior Hunter level because John also was training me to work with Bullet.

John also would take Bullet hunting in the fall on one of his trips with his friends into the woods, along with Bullet’s father Jack and other dogs. I would hunt with Bullet some too, laying the foundation for a more permanent bond.

Bullet missed a season of training with John due to a severe ear infection, and although the two still have a very strong bond, Bullet became my dog during that period on a level he hadn’t been before.

I was both proud and sad the day I realized that. And it put a new burden on my shoulders because Bullet and John were working on Bullet’s Master Hunter title. John worked with us, and we’ve competed a few times, but our physical distance from John and our inability to get into the field very often to practice is hampering those efforts.

But Bullet plays flyball (dog relay racing) and he and I hunt birds together. He’s my once in a lifetime hunting dog — just like his father Jack is to John. His easy pace fits my own, and we trust each other implicitly. I don’t have to be anyone but who I am when I am with Bullet, and we hunt together, perfectly at ease and in tune with each other.

So as Bullet and I navigated through the woods on this recent sunny wintry day, I marveled at the paths that led us to be a team, and how having Bullet as friend and hunting companion is yet another special gift Jim left to me.

Somehow those times of hunting with Bullet soothe my soul, and bring all of the thoughts that trip over each other in my head constantly in my busy life into some kind of perspective. “Simplify Life” the sign my best friend gave me says.

It doesn’t get any simpler than two friends comfortably enjoying an afternoon in the Maine woods after a new fallen snow.

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JULIE HARRIS

About JULIE HARRIS

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.