Dead Bird

Barely ten minutes into our conversation, a young man I met at the pet store began to tell me his story. He said that when his father was at home in the final stage of life and in and out of consciousness, his father said the letters “DB.” The young man’s wife, who was nearest the old man’s side, leaned over her father-in-law and asked, “Daddy, what does ‘DB’ mean?” The father replied, “Dead Bird,” and nothing more. He died soon thereafter.

The phrase meant nothing to the young man or his wife or anyone in their family. The family chalked it up to an instance of delirium in their father’s journey towards death. They put it out of their minds and soon forgot the conversation.

Two weeks after his father’s death, the man’s dog also died unexpectedly. The man had loved the dog dearly, which had been a gift from his father. These combined losses were devastating. A year passed and then two. One afternoon the man was browsing the Web when he happened on to an AKC (American Kennel Club) web site. He had no intention of finding another dog; he was still grieving deeply from his losses. But he saw a link to “Curly Haired Retrievers,” which sparked his curiosity, so he followed the link until he stumbled onto a breeder’s web site. He sent an inquiry to the owner to see what he could learn about the breed.

One thing led to another and the man and the breeder struck up an extended email conversation. One day the breeder told him about a new litter of pups and offered to show them to him. Since the young man had already decided that he would not have another dog unless it was male like the one he’d had — and many other buyers had already made arrangements with this breeder before him –he knew his chances of going home with a dog were slim-to-none because this litter had only one male. He decided to visit the puppies anyway.

When he met the puppies, the lone male puppy captured his heart, but he knew the breeder’s policy and the odds were against him. But the breeder had come to feel a special fondness for the man and his story and, feeling that he would make a good home for the pup, made an exception. That day, the man took home a new puppy, a curly-haired retriever.

Several weeks passed and the young man realized that he needed to train his clever new dog. After some Internet research and conversations with the breeder, he took his puppy to a training session specifically for curly haired retrievers. He had never seen this type of training and he knew little about what to expect, but he trusted the school and committed to the classes.

On the first day, the trainer took one of the advanced dogs and set out into a field to demonstrate some of the behaviors that the man might expect his dog to learn, a kind of preview of lessons to come. The trainer led her dog into the field. Another trainer placed a bird decoy nearby. Next, the trainer heeled her dog, directed him toward the decoy, shouted “Dead Bird,” and the dog shot forward.

At that moment, the man froze, his mind racing. He suddenly recalled his father’s words. “Dead Bird” was the retrieve command. This was the second time he had ever heard that phrase. It was like a premonition, and a good omen. He thought that his father must have wanted him to have this dog, this particular dog. He knelt down and scooped his pup in his arms. With tears welling in his eyes, the man had made a new connection with his father. Through this new relationship, he would find both new friendship and a loving reminder of his father.

– Pet Chaplain Rob


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