On Monday night we said goodbye to the best friend I've ever known. Her love was unconditional and her desire to please was second to none. In addition to the hundreds of birds she returned to my hand, she also helped return me to a better place in my life. I got her while going through some troubling times, and she helped me transition from what I was before to what I am now. There's no doubt in my mind that I would not be the same person today if not for Lacey.
The cutest little yellow dog on the planet was born in Illinois on May 23, 2001 and died on December 10, 2012. She gave me 11-1/2 years of joy. She was the result of a second breeding, and I was lucky to have met one of the dogs from the first breeding, so I had a very good idea of what to expect. I was not disappointed! I sent in my deposit before she was born and received pictures right after she was born.
I picked her up at the Denver airport seven weeks later, and together we learned about love, retrieving, and friendship. I knew her call name would be Lacey, named after John Lacey who introduced the legislation known as the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act is a federal law that prohibits the importation of illegal wildlife and also prohibits the transportation of illegally taken wildlife over state lines. In just so happened that Lacey was born in Illinois, then flew out of Missouri to Tennessee, before arriving in Colorado. Nothing was illegal, but she crossed a bunch of state lines before she was even two months old! Due to her coloring and how valuable she was to me, I decided her registered name should be Swanson's Laced With Gold.
For that first year, we trained every day. And when I say every day, I mean every day. If memory serves me correctly, not a single day went by that we didn't do some sort of training, even if it was just a few short retrieves or some "yard work" - sit, heel, here, etc. I am proud to say that she retrieved everything that I ever threw for her. There were a couple tough days, but every single bumper or live bird that was thrown for her, was delivered back to my hand.
Of course we did a ton of very in-depth training, thanks to my good friend Joel Harris. He was my boss at the time when we worked at the sporting clays/bird hunting facility for Gorsuch Outfitters. Joel and his wife also own Rocky Mountain Pet Resort in Yampa, CO and he breeds/trains labs for hunt tests and field trials. He took me under his wing and showed me the ins-and-outs of retriever training. Under his watchful and discerning eye, Lacey became the most well-behaved, best trained, and most accomplished hunting dog I have ever known.
We hunted in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, and South Dakota for a bunch of different species. Here's what I think is a pretty complete list of all the bird species she has retrieved for me: Chukar, Sandhill Crane, Mourning Dove, White-Winged Dove, many duck species including Mallards and Teal, Canada Goose, Blue Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Pheasant, Pigeon, Bobwhite Quail, Gamble's Quail, and Scaled Quail.
Luckily, I carried a camera on many of those hunts so I have many photos to help me remember her. I also took photos of her just being the cool dog she was: hanging out around the house, going for hikes, going camping, playing with Ruby, playing with Mattox, etc. Many of those photos were before the digital age, so I'll just share a bunch that are not still in hard-copy...
Of all the time I spent with her there are a few things that stick out in my mind:
She was always a happy-go-lucky dog, but as soon as I put on her electric collar, she would turn all business. She would focus on me, and no one else, and give her best effort to please me. Her instant transformation from fun-and-games to work was remarkable.
On a cold, snowy day, we hunted ducks on the Eagle River with my best friend Rick. He snuck down on a herd of mallards and shot one as they jumped. He pushed them right to me, and I was lucky to shoot two. One died instantly, but the other just had a broken wing. It landed on the ice on the opposite side of the river.
I immediately sent Lacey for the retrieve, but before she could get there, the duck waddled off the ice into the river's current. Of course, Lacey turned to follow. The duck was swept under the ice and Lacey nearly was also. With just her face above the water and her collar caught on the ice, the current tried to pull her body downstream and under the ice. I had just enough time to throw my $2000 Beretta back on the shore, and as I turned back I just knew she would be gone. Thankfully, she continued to fight against the current as I used my elbows to break through the ice to get to her. I reached out and grabbed her collar to pull her from the current.
I had never been so close to losing a dog before. It was very traumatic for us both. Once back on dry land, I just hugged her until Rick made his way back down to us. We took some pictures that day and Lacey has a look on her face like I have never seen. She was clearly pissed...I think it scared us both!
The next day, I forced us both to get back on the horse again. We hunted a different part of the river and I dropped a duck on the ice on the far side. I sent her for the retrieve, but she did not want to do it. It took a little coaxing, but she finally got across the river and up on the ice. I was never so proud to have her make a retrieve!
Nichole and Mattox
Lacey instantly regarded Nichole as her mommy. It took a few years for me to convince Nichole that it should be official, but it was official in Lacey's mind from the start. (I actually think it was official in Nichole's mind, too!) As much as Lacey enjoyed hunting with me, she enjoyed hiking and playing in the snow with Nichole. Lacey was definitely not just my dog...she was a family dog. In fact, when Mattox was born, Lacey would always position herself between Mattox and the door. I remember Nichole and Mattox gently rocking in the rocking chair with Lacey curled up in front of the door to Mattox's room. As soon as I opened the door, she went in and laid down in front of them.
Other DogsLacey thought she was more of a person than a dog. She really just didn't care about other dogs; she would ignore them. That all changed when we got Ruby. Since we never bred Lacey, we got the next best thing: Lacey's niece. She must have known from the start that Ruby was more than just another silly dog because Lacey let her play, chew on her lips, and crawl on her back. Lacey would often look at Ruby like "you are a complete yahoo" but she loved the new puppy and did more than just put up with her. Now that Ruby is alone, I can see pieces of Lacey in her!
I could go on and on with memories, but I think some more photos will have to suffice. Lacey was the nicest, softest, gentlest, most caring, friendliest, best behaved dog I have ever known. She taught me that no matter how crappy your day might be, a wet nose and wagging tail will make it better. They say that dogs come into your life and leave paw prints on your heart. This one also left lasting memories that have helped define who I am as a friend, husband, and father.
Littleone, you will be missed! I love you Sweetdog.