It has been 20 years since Boone and I took our last walk together and I laid her to rest under a south-facing oak tree. In many ways it seems like it was just yesterday when I reached down between my feet as I sat in an old lawn chair in the breeder’s backyard and picked up a double-fist-sized bundle of orange and white fur that had chosen me to cuddle up to, away from her raucous littermates.
“I guess I’ll take this one,” I told the breeder.
The breeder asked me what I was going to name the pup. “Boone,” I said.
“Boone?” she replied in consternation, “for a female?”
“I always wanted a huntin’ dog named Boone,” was my retort. The breeder shook her head a bit, so I offered a compromise, “OK, how about Boonice on her registration papers?” That seemed to satisfy her.
It took Boone about 4 hours to figure out about her new home, and she soon began to lay claim. She thought that one of my prized Navajo blankets would make a perfect teething medium, and I retrieved it from the Mouth of Destruction just in time to minimize the damage. When I took her over to meet my folks, Boone decided that a chair leg would satisfy her chewing obsession. My dad—who was by no means a dog person—barked out a “Hey! Stop that!” to the pup, whereupon she turned right around and began barking back at him sassily. Dad was taken aback—literally, as he took a step in retreat. “That damn dog back sassed me!” he announced incredulously. Later on, after Boone had wormed her way into his heart, the two would get into barking arguments when Boone would sass him.
When she was about three months old I began taking her to a newly constructed park a few minutes from where I lived. She would forge ahead through the thinly sprouted grass bearing down on a flock of pigeons that were feeding on un-sprouted seeds and ushering them into that magical escape of flight. Bold as brass, Boone never met anyone that didn’t think that she was the best doggone dog they had ever met.
Boone was 11 months old when we packed up everything I owned into a dilapidated trailer and moved to Wyoming. She owned the passenger seat in my old Dodge Power Wagon and consecrated her territory with nose prints all over the inside of the windshield on that side of the truck. If another person came to violate her turf and ride with me, she’d simply stand or sit on their lap. “Get used to it, Bud. This is my truck!”
Star Valley, Wyoming, is not known for a plethora of upland game birds. Too cold and snow packed for most upland species, we only were able to hunt some blue and ruffed grouse. However, this alpine valley does play home to a pretty good duck and goose population, so Boone became a waterfowling dog in short order. Once we went down to the Salt River for a morning of duck hunting. It was 15 below when we left the house. The river had ice floes floating down the middle of it where it wasn’t frozen. I finally scratched down a pair of mallard drakes, and Boone broke ice and dodged the floes to bring them both back. She sat between my legs shivering uncontrollably with dozens of ice balls clinging to her fur. But she never let out as much as a whimper.
I finally relented when my hands began to freeze. We hustled back the quarter mile to the truck, and I was nearly in tears from the pain in my hands. I could not bend my fingers and had to palm the steering wheel. When we got home I carried Boone into the house, her shivering degrading into convulsions. I stoked the wood stove to its physical limit, gathered up Boone, and we sat for a couple of hours right next to the roaring stove rocking in an antique Windsor rocker I inherited from my grandparents. Again, she never let out as much as a peep, but she buried herself in my arms and didn’t move.