On your Mark SS T-shirt
On your Mark SS T-shirt
The Influence - I grew up in western NC with a father that was an avid outdoorsman and big upland hunter, grouse mainly. He instilled in my brothers and sister and I, that the outdoors was to be shared and enjoyed but also respected. He also had a passion of breeding, training, and selling English Setters. It did not take long for me to fall in love with being out in God’s beautiful creation and gain the passion of bird hunting and the companionship I saw him create with some of his best friends, his birddogs.
Introduction to Waterfowl - I did not get introduced to hunting waterfowl until my early years of college at NC State University. Of course, my friends were far more proficient at the sport than I was, and it seemed so much different than pointing and flushing coveys on an old logging road around the side of a mountain. I noticed that they all had expensive shotguns, duck decoys, nice camouflage, boats, etc. But what really caught my interest about the sport of water fowling, was watching their Labrador Retrievers do what they are bred to do -- patiently wait with anticipation for a falling duck or goose and then they receive the command to retrieve the bird and bring it back to their master, climb back upon their post, and excitedly and joyfully wait to do it all over again. That bond created between hunter and duck dog was something I saw years prior in my father, and I knew I had to have.
The Sweet Meet - Fast forward through several years of college and many cold frozen mornings in the duck swamp with friends, my want for my own duck dog seemed to be growing into a need. At that point I reached out to my parents and asked them if I could have a Labrador Retriever as my graduation present for college, which thankfully they agreed. One of my best college buddies and friends to this day, Aaron, who also shares very similar passions as myself, had a contact that had a litter with a great bloodline in Jan of 2009 down near Lake Mattamuskeet in eastern NC. We had decided to both get a Lab from the same litter so they could grow up and hunt together. Unfortunately, I was not able to travel with him to choose from the litter, so it was all up to Aaron, with some minimal criteria of course. All I really knew was I wanted a black female and I wanted the runt of the litter (dad always said that the runts, if healthy, have the best drive). Aaron called me to let me know he was close to the house with two black female lab puppies, and of course I was already standing in the driveway waiting their arrival. That day was one I will never forget as I picked up out of a cardboard box an exceedingly small, almost 7-week-old, black Lab puppy who quickly stole my heart. This was the first time I had the honor and privilege of meeting the soon to be, Lady Remington, “Remi” for short.
The Beginning - As the narrative was now being written, little did I know that the memories would be built rapidly and abundantly. Remi and her litter mate/sister, “Pearl,” quickly became the most popular addition to our college group. In her first few months, the small four-legged black ball of fuzz tested me and my roommate Ben’s patience, but of course those big brown eyes supplied the only needed apology. As Remi grew and gained strength, we moved past the plush toy duck and on to commands, which she quickly picked up the normal sit, stay, etc. The next steps became pivotal for me as I had the urge to train Remi on my own but had no experience in waterfowl training. Thankfully, Ben had shared with me the book, “Water Dog” by Richard Wolters, which was great for step-by-step training. More importantly it explained not only what you could expect from your dog but what your dog could expect from you. I was not too far into this book when I knew I wanted to introduce Remi to water. I remember it like it was yesterday… I put on a set of waders, grabbed her favorite bumper, and down to the old farm pond by our house we went. She was hesitant at first, but I was able to get into the water and gain her trust that everything was ok, and she quickly followed and was swimming moments later. It was at that point that I noticed Remi truly had a joy for being in and around water. Remi and Pearl would spend countless hours together other the next few months as Aaron and I tried to instill in them memory, appreciation, and most importantly hard work. As college graduation was drawing near, one chapter was about to close while another was about to open.
The Move – A couple of weeks before graduating from NC State I accepted a position as a Chemical Applications Manager at a 3200 acre potato farm in west TX. It was time for Remi and I to pack up and move over halfway across the country as I began my career. Remi was required to go on a flight a few days earlier than mine. This was very difficult for me until my manager shared pictures of the flight crew playing with her on the tarmac as he arrived to pick her up. One of my favorite qualities of Remi is that she was adored by all and affectious with anyone that crossed her path.
My position with the farm required a lot of crop scouting and equipment operation, which allowed for Remi and I to spend A LOT of time together. During time on the farm, she learned to climb up and down the ladder of a John Deere Sprayer, sleep in the sprayer cab for hours as pheasants abundantly flew all around us, and was even able to dodge several TX rattlesnakes. The 1-on-1 time together allowed for our bond to grow and strengthen in such a short amount of time. Not even one year old and I began to share with Remi things that I had not shared with anyone. This is when it really started to hit me…I was realizing as a young boy the same bond I saw with my dad and his favorite English Setter “Bob” was now developing between Remi and me. The “Water Dog” training continued through that year and into the winter until I received an offer to come back to NC to work for John Deere. So, Remi and I were packing up and heading home.
The Scare - Remi was my girl, and we had been through a lot together in a short amount of time. Around her first birthday, she started developing neurologically induced seizures. A close vet friend of mine told me that it could be stressed induced because she was a working dog, or it could even be genetic. Neither of her parents had any history of seizures so I took it upon myself to reduce as much unwanted stress out of her life as possible. We quickly got an appointment to have her spayed and placed her on some medication to reduce the triggers and make the seizures more manageable. Months would go by, and the seizures were still there, and it absolutely killed me to see her go through them. The only comfort that came from the vet’s communication was that she does not feel any pain during her seizures, but this was now going to be a large part of her life. The worst scare was a late fall evening when she had seizure after seizure, and I was wondering if she would ever come out of them. Upon hitting double digits within an hour, my brother and I knew it was time to get her to a specialty veterinarian as quickly as possible. After getting the overnight care she needed, the vet concluded that Remi had just experienced a rare Grand Mal seizure, which was loss of consciousness and multiple violent muscle contractions. Thankfully, Remi was able to grow out of the seizures towards the end of her career and we were even able to remove all seizure medication, which provided a huge piece of mind, I am sure, for us both.
First Retrieve – After settling back into NC and buying our first home it was time for Remi to get established and really get serious prior to her first real duck season. We worked all spring and summer long to keep her in shape all while continuing to develop her skills. The time had come in the second split of the NC duck season for her to really see what this was all about. A cool brisk fall morning, with her vest a bit too big, Remi trudged clumsily alongside me and several buddies, as well as Kevin’s seasoned black lab named Dixie, through a rather large beaver swamp...I am not sure who was more excited about this inaugural hunt Remi or myself. The plan amongst the group was for Remi to gain her first experience through watching Dixie as she went to work. I had planned on leashing Remi to a tree on a dry patch of ground for her to be as comfortable as possible while also taking in such a picturesque morning. We were all in position about 30 min before shooting light; we quickly saw the sun begin to rise from the east and the woodies began to fly. As we knocked down a couple in passing Dixie made quick work with back-to-back retrievals all while Remi sat anxiously taking it all in. A few moments passed and the sun rose higher while echoes of the Canadian Goose filled the area from a holding pond below us. As we all got hunkered down, here came about a dozen geese right across the beaver dam headed straight towards us. Once the shot call was made it sounded like a small war zone as every shotgun manufacturer in the area tested their guns against its competitors. Feathers began to fly, and geese just kept falling out of the sky slapping the water below. Dixie made quick work of the first goose and was already heading back for a second one. With several white bellies showing, one wounded goose was trying to swim away from the danger. With Dixie’s attention on all the carnage on the water she was not at all worried about one getting away. I turned to my buddy Kevin and said, “Let’s see what Remi can do.” With a big smile on his face he looked back at me and agreed. So, I looked down at sweet Remi and those big floppy ears and big brown eyes and said, “It’s showtime, Girl, let’s see what you got.” I marked her on one of the dead birds somewhat close to us, knowing she had never retrieved anything remotely close to the size of a Canadian goose before, gave her the command, and she took off like being shot out of my Browning A5. As she neared the goose I had marked, I noticed that she kept swimming right past it. I didn’t want to interrupt this first retrieve so we all sat quietly and just watched. I looked out past the dead birds about 60 yards and there was the wounded goose trying its hardest to get away. Remi closed the gap very quickly, swam around to the back side of the goose, gained momentum and right into the wing/neck area her mouth went. As such as a joy as it was to watch what was unfolding the next few moments showed me all I need to know if she was going to make it as a duck dog or not. The captured goose, who was not appreciative of the 20-month-old sharp teeth began to flog and peck at Remi. I continued to cheer her on and let her know that I was there and still supporting her. As overjoyed as I was, she brought that injured goose and sat it at my feet looked up at me with the expression of, “how’s that dad?” on her face. I knew then that her first retrieve would not be her last.
Out of State – A few seasons passed and though Remi was still very young, it seemed as though she was hitting her stride. Aaron and I began discussions of taking a trip out of state with a few buddies and taking Remi and Pearl along. The first trip to North Dakota was an extremely dry year and we were completely novice to the landscape other than some map pre-work and conversations we had with several folks that we knew had been prior. Remi and Pearl both did very well in the pothole type environment that was much like hunting back home. A couple seasons later we decided to try our hand at ND again and really focused on field hunting which Remi had never done before, nor had I. We invested in some lay out blinds and began to work all season long with her coming in the back side of her tent blind and laying down before receiving the next command. This concept took a while, but she soon caught on and certainly appreciated the chance to get out of the harsher elements in ND. There was one hunt though that stood out amongst the rest. We had located a large flock of birds feeding in some private fields one evening. After gaining landowner permission, we struck out extremely early the next morning to make sure we were in the correct position, and everything was perfect prior to shooting time. All six of us in our layout blinds and Remi and Pearl patiently waiting in theirs, first light brought a slight breeze and steady snow fall. If anyone has ever hunted in the snow, you realize how peaceful and amazing the hunting is. That was until first shooting light, as we could not keep our guns loaded quick enough. Even more difficult was making sure everyone knew where the dogs were as they worked their tails off retrieving birds. A 6-man limit took about an hour thanks to the quick work of Remi and Pearl. While we were taking pictures and reminiscing of what an amazing hunt that had just happened, there is a photograph that was taken with all of us and the dogs sitting in the middle looking up at all the birds still circling us. They too, just could not get enough of hunting waterfowl out of state.
Retirement – I always dreaded the day of having to make the call to slow Remi down but even more so to call it quits. A friend of mine was throwing ball with her around age nine when she turned quickly, just as she had done thousands of times before, and a loud pop followed. Diagnosis from the vet was a clear left rear ACL tear. I debated on surgery but was told that the chance of her tearing the other knee while recovering was quite high and that if she could bare weight on this one and still run carefully without signs of pain it was probably best to retire her as a working duck dog. Selfishly, I didn’t want to listen to the vet, but I knew that it was in Remi’s best interest to “hang up the vest” so to speak and allow me to continue spoiling her and let her relax and enjoy life for the years ahead.
Joining Forces –Remi was my girl now even more than before. Due to break-ups with girlfriends, moving across the country, buying a house, new job, her seizures, first retrieve, amazing hunts, an ACL tear…we had been through so much together. She was always there for me in ways I could not always find comfort in someone else…until I met my wife. I am not sure how Remi felt about sharing her dad’s heart with another lady, but she sure did not seem to mind as long as I was happy, and of course the new golden retriever little brother was an added bonus. While Mom and Dad created their bond, so did Remi and Whaler (even though it took some time). Remi was never a big cuddler but for some reason she would let Whaler snuggle up to her. As Remi began to get older, Whaler stayed lively and energetic around her which seemed to help keep her young. I could not be more thankful that Katie and Whaler let Remi and I into their lives and am so appreciative of them loving us so hard.
The Last Dance – It was Jan of 2021 and one of the most joyful and vivid moments that I will always cherish. Even though it was against my better judgement, I wanted to bring Remi out of retirement for one last hunt. My wife had always wanted to go and see Remi at work and in her element, and I kept telling her that I would do my best to make it happen. As my good friend Hunter and I prepared the night before and developed a plan, we thought it would be best to take Remi to a pond where I had built a duck blind many years ago and that Remi knew all too well. The place was special to her, and she knew every time we got out of the truck where we were and where she needed to be. She had not hunted this place in a few years, but it seemed like yesterday for her. She walked cautiously down the pond dam and directly to the backside of the blind where she took position on her platform like she could have made that trip with her eyes closed. This particular place was like a light switch to her, and she would go into work mode with little commands. Katie had asked me if she could take her camera and photograph some of these moments in the blind and without hesitation I said, “Absolutely.” Though we only saw a few woodies fly just before shooting light, the pure enjoyment and excitement this hunt brought out in Remi took her and I both back to the early days. It was not about us shooting a limit that morning or who shot what, it was merely about just being there. It was about taking it all in, enjoying each other’s company, appreciating, and respecting God’s creation. I am so thankful Hunter and Katie were able to share this unforgettable moment with Remi and I, and it was such a blessing that Katie was able to beautifully capture such a special last dance.
The Decision – The final chapter in Remi’s life on earth will always be very difficult for me, especially to write about, so I apologize now if this stirs up some unwanted emotions for any of you. There were so many happy times and grateful stories that I will remember with Remi, but I knew that she was not going to live forever, even if I naively and selfishly wanted her to. My wife and my mom lovingly tried to prepare me for the day that would come that I had regretted for so long. I would quickly dismiss their aid and tell them, “not now,” and “we don’t need to discuss this at this time,” even though I knew one day that Remi inevitably would not be by my side on this earth. Remi reached her 13th birthday in Jan of 2022 and her health began to decline. She still seemed as though her mind was sharp, but her mobility was deteriorating. For months I had to help her up and down steps which absolutely killed me to see her like that. I knew that things were not going to get better, but I remained hopeful. On May 15th, I was playing golf after church, when I got a call from Katie that Remi was not doing well and need some medical attention. We rushed her to an emergency vet clinic, and they quickly began tests, scans, etc. The scans were even sent off to a radiologist in Hawaii to get a better idea of what was happening internally. With no real diagnosis the vet’s consensus was that they could monitor her overnight or we can take her home but know it may be a matter of days or even hours. We took Remi home and were given strict instruction to keep a close eye on the color of her gums and to count her resting heart rate every hour. I gathered my sleeping bag and laid down beside her. I was not going to leave her side all night because she had not left mine for 13+ years. Katie and I took turns every hour checking on her, which I was never able to fall asleep because I was so worried, and I did not want to lose her through the night. In the early morning hours of May 16th Katie and I took Remi down about 5:30am to her favorite spot on our barn porch. As we laid there with her, she was able watch her last sunrise, but we could see nothing but tiredness in those big brown eyes. With complete sadness I turned to Katie and said, “It’s time.” For any duck dog owner, or even a pet owner, this is one of/if not the most difficult decisions they will ever have to make in their life. Remi barely made it through the morning until we could get an in-home vet to come lay her to rest in her spot on the barn porch. The remaining seconds that I got to spend looking into her eyes and telling her how much I appreciate all that she had done for me was surreal. As extremely hard and climactic as this moment was, I knew this was it, I knew it was going to be the last time I would get the chance to hold her, and more importantly I knew this was the last time I was going to have a chance to tell her I loved her. The bond that had been created between Remi and I was the same bond that I now knew that dad had with “Bob.” Seeing her at rest was heart wrenching but it also reminded me of the all the peace she was in, and she was no longer in pain, or had a torn acl, or going through seizures. Remi was now in heaven where the ducks were abundant and many, many first duck dogs roam, and I can see them now sharing stories of all their amazing hunts.
Thank You – First off, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for placing such an amazing part of his creation into my life to positively impact me so much as a young man. I want to thank Remi for being the first, and the only first dog I will ever share that bond with. I want to thank my wife Katie, Whaler, and my family for all the love, support, and understanding my passion for Remi and for the countless hours I spent outdoors with her. I want to thank my closest lifelong friends that were pivotal to Remi and I during these years: Aaron, Ben, Hunter, Kent, Kevin, Wesley, Jessica, Martin, Linwood, Thad, and many, many more. I especially want to thank Kent for capturing the priceless “On Your Mark” photograph that I will forever cherish and East Coast Waterfowl for choosing to remember Remi and her story in such a special way. To close…please relish those moments you have with your first Water Dog because you will one day blink and that shadow will no longer be there. And when it begins to fade, and you are faced with that very difficult decision, lean on God and Family to get you through it. Also remember the poem, “If It Should Be” by Author Unknown…it will provide you some comfort during these very heavy and difficult times. Until we meet again Lady Remington…
Comfort Colors Pocket Tee
- 6.1 oz./yd², 100% ring spun cotton, 20 singles
- Garment-dyed soft ring spun fabric
- Relaxed fit
- Topstitched, classic width, collar
- Twill taped neck and shoulder
- Left chest pocket