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“Exceptional dog work.” Marvin exclaimed, gazing on at the dazzling Palouse rooster sailing into the distance.
“Indeed. It’s a shame about the wingshooting.” I chided.
My six-year-old Llewellin setter, Yuba, had worked that bird brilliantly for nearly 10 minutes, tracking, pointing, repositioning, then bursting ahead to cut him off, ultimately pinching him between she and Marvin. We were out for Huns, but the native bunchgrasses flanking wheat and canola perched above a deep river canyon concealed a number of pheasant. While I called the rooster find, prodding Marvin ahead in preparation for a wild flush, he was unprepared for the cackling eruption.
Among my setters, Yuba has the most sophisticated pheasant skills, driven by the explosive flush of the clown prince rising from the golden folds of wafting grasses and drainage covers. Her exuberance for pheasant is unmatched such that she has pushed hard and ranged big her entire life through the severe pain of arthritis, bone spurs and surgeries to compensate for profound bilateral hip dysplasia.
Hip dysplasia is a debilitating ailment where the hip sockets do not form properly, resulting in poor fit of the ball and socket joint. Rather than a smooth rolling of the joint, the head of the femur grinds against the pelvis, causing significant pain over time. In Yuba’s case, her sockets formed on the pelvis.
Her first surgery came in her fourth season on the heels of a spectacular public land hunt. Pursuing a running and wild-flushing rooster, Yuba tracked him to the top of a draw, slamming onto point and pinning him perfectly just moments after her right femur separated from her socket-less pelvis. Her inexplicable pain lasted about one minute until the femur realigned and she dashed off to continue the hunt. I realized what had happened after the fact as she sat atop the exam room table at our local vet.
Two years hence, the left hip failed, and August is rough time for a first-string pointing dog to suffer a major surgery. I simply prayed she would be ready for the late October pheasant opener.
As the eastern Washington pheasant season opened, I ran Yuba tentatively a couple days a week, being cognizant of the terrain and obstacles as the tissues were still healing and forming the false socket. She put a homestead rooster in the vest opening day, and by the end of November, she was a force to be reckoned with.
Marvin and I pressed forward following Yuba’s brilliant find and his unfortunate miss. Exacting revenge on hip dysplasia, Yuba proceeded to hold a clinic on roosters, pinning the runners, despite their most valiant escape efforts.
With the wind to our back, Yuba quartered closely in an area where a wild-flushed bird had come down. Sailing across not 10 yards ahead, her body went rigid in mid-air, sticking a 90-degree point at two o’clock. Charging in, my index finger was poised on the cylinder-choke trigger for quick action. As wings slapped against dry grasses, my 20-gauge double rose quickly, securing our first rooster of the day.
Circling around the property, a series of unproductive points suggested another bird was near, possibly another missed bird that circled in behind us from the expanse of freshly planted winter wheat fields. Moments from popping the breach and unloading, Yuba skidded onto point as she soared between Marvin and I.
“Get over here!” I called to Marvin, expecting another running bird. But we already had him surrounded. Closing in a triangular group put the bird up easily within range, Yuba holding steady to wing, and bolting directly for the bird as it tumbled, spurred by my encouragement to capture the running, jumping and flailing rooster with a busted wing. Moments passed as the two gave erratic chase with Marvin and I joining in an unprecedented rodeo. Tailfeathers drifted across the prairie in a blur of blaze orange, double guns, and cartwheeling critters. Ultimately, Yuba secured the bird in a hard-won, zealous victory.
Posing with her roosters, the smugness of a job well done was evident on Yuba’s face. My wife and I feared hip dysplasia would curse her hunting career and quality of life. But Yuba was born anew, just warming up this day, following her second femoral head ostectomy surgery. Unrivaled drive and skill appeared with the death of distraction and relentless pain once both hips were repaired. Her performance and quality of life bear testament to there being value and immeasurable heart in the underdog.