He’s a retriever: a bird dog, for pity’s sake! But back when he was just a pup, our Chocolate Labrador was scared witless by a duck; and even when he’s gone we’ll never forget that day. The story goes like this:
We were living near Tyler, Texas, at the time, hence Brown Boy’s one-time nickname, “the champion chewer of East Texas” (if you’ve ever owned a Lab puppy, you’ll understand). Deep in the dog days of his first summer, when he was just about six months old, we took Brown Boy for an afternoon walk on the campus of the University of Texas at Tyler. He stubbornly stopped at every tree and light pole to check his pee-mail, and left a few messages of his own (probably spam). Wanting to get out of the burning sun, we headed for a small, shaded pond we spotted on the grounds; our big-footed puppy bouncing at the end of his leash in joy just at the sight of the water. The problem? The pond was surrounded by a flock of ducks, and not your ordinary mallards, either. These were Muscovy Ducks… big, ugly, and fearsome, with black and white bodies, beady little eyes, and warty red beaks. As we approached the pond, the ducks bunched together on the shore as if to bar access to ordinary fur-bearing critters. Brown Boy strained at his leash, eager to play his favorite game, “I wanna dive into the pond to retrieve a stick!”
Suddenly, one of the biggest ducks, the one with the brightest red beak and the ugliest warts, spread his wings wide and charged! Even though he was twice or even three times the size of that duck, Brown Boy suddenly decided he wanted Mommy — and quick as you can say “duck a l’orange,” back he came. He ran sideways like some canine crab, though, his eyes fixed on the attacking bird; ran until he slammed into Mommy’s legs. Safe at last, Brown Boy peered out at the charging bird from behind his two-legged bodyguard as “his humans” almost collapsed in laughter! Yep, he’s a bird dog all right!
Brown Boy is Mr. Graybeard today: the walk on the campus of UTT was fourteen years ago, and now his chocolate coat is sprinkled with white hairs from his muzzle all the way down his chest to his forepaws. He sleeps most of the time these days, his legs twitching from time to time as if chasing imaginary ducks in his sleep. Not long ago, we took him to a pond near our home in west Houston: a pond with its own flock of Muscovy Ducks. As we followed the path circling the pond, this bunch of ducks scattered in front of us as Brown Dog just trotted along. I’m pretty sure, though, that he was watching them out of the corner of his eye… nd this time, I’ll bet that dignified senior intended to stand his ground. He’s like that.