Spaniel Journal Home Page

the twisted strands, weaving herself through tearing legs, chest and stomach flesh without seeming to feel anything. (I quickly learned to put a chest and stomach protector on the dog after the first few episodes, for I could see that she was not going to stop attacking those fences.) There are few barbed wire fences in Alaska to learn on, and there are some things that some dogs never seem to learn, anyway.

Murray declined my offer to take him on a hike the next afternoon, although I tempted him with a Parker 20 gauge, a box of shells, and the opportunity to watch a " real hunting dog" in action.

"I came to fish," he said, and I couldn't really blame him for staying on the river. World-class fly fishing for trout holds it's special appeal, even for bird hunters, so Woody Boyce, a guide we had hired for the summer, accepted my offer to come along.

Do you want to get away from it all? Try hunting ptarmigan, using a float-plane for transportation, in Alaska. Of the three million lakes of 40 plus acres, only a third have even been named, and every one of them has at least one or two coveys that have seldom been seen, much less hunted. That's one way to get away from it all!

The following afternoon, I anchored my floatplane in a shallow lake at the headwaters of a small creek within Katmai National Preserve (hunting is allowed in the preserve, forbidden in the park of the same name). Lifting Rica out of the cabin, I gently stood her on the float, where she waited until we had unloaded the guns and packs. The plane was still a hundred feet from the land; as we waded ashore carrying our hunting boots and other gear, Rica swam ahead.


We had a fine walk, but a slow hunt. The terrain was flat around the shore for a quarter mile, then rose sharply to 3-4,000 foot peaks, some of which were still snow-covered from last winter. The side-hill produced a small covey, and with only two birds in our bag, we started back toward the airplane. The flat shoreline was studded in short, sharp willow and alder patches, some only waist high, some over our heads. Halfway to the plane, Rica busted five birds out of the waist-high willows 20 yards ahead of us, and we took two of them on the rise. The dog raced into the scrub, found one of the birds and returned it to me. I took the bird offered and sent her back for the second, not taking any time to really look at the dog. When she again sat in front of me with the second bird in her mouth, I reached down to take it form her, then looked aghast at her left eye. Oozing pus and blood, the eyeball was all but invisible within its socket. One of those sharp willow branches had penetrated into the eyeball as the dog had rushed to retrieve the birds.

"Let's clean these birds and get back to the lodge, Woody," I said. With Rica at heel we promptly headed toward the plane.

Woody was equally distressed; he and his wife Elaine had developed a liking for the dog themselves, and knew we had a real problem. Later that evening, one of our guests, an eye surgeon from West Virginia, examined Rica's eye. "The globe has been pierced, and there's a serious threat of infection. I don't think the eye can be saved, but you must get her to a veterinarian that specializes in eyes, and the sooner the better," was his diagnosis.

Dr. Joyce Murphy was the only ophthalmology veterinarian surgeon in Alaska. Her clinic was in Anchorage, but that day she was on vacation in Homer, a small town a hundred air-miles southwest of the city. My wife, Mary, called her in Homer; bless her heart, she immediately drove back to the Homer airport and took the next flight to the city. I flew Rica myself from Iliamna, and we met at the clinic before noon the day after the accident. Unbelievably, Joyce saved the eye. She also said that any other vet, without her training, would have had to amputate the eyeball to avoid infection. Months later, and after a full recovery, Rica nearly regained complete vision; Joyce rated it as the equivalent of 20/40 in a human, but she carried a small gray spot, slightly off-center and half the size of a dime, in her left eyeball the rest of her life.

Which brings me to the question, how much pain can a dog endure before it can no longer perform normally? Dogs have been known to run with bleeding testicles, bleeding feet, slashed legs, and hanging ears, but a pierced eyeball!

And I should also mention; when Woody and I breasted the four ptarmigan we had taken that day, I tossed the first

Page 2

| Spaniel Journal | Previous Page | Next Page |

| Our Sponsors | The Bookshelf | Spaniel Resources | Letters | Photo Contest | Archives | Spaniel Journal |
John DeMott | Pamela O. Kadlec | Ted Gerken | Martin Deeley | Bob Sansom | Loretta Baughan |

Copyright © Spaniel Journal 2002, 2003 all rights reserved worldwide