D. E. Larsen, DVM
Odie was one of those once in lifetime dogs. He came to us as a four month old Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The owner was giving him away, he was the last remaining pup from a litter of 13 pups. He was light brown in color and had a coat typical of Chesapeakes that would shed water with ease.
We picked him up in early December and on the way home I had taken a short detour along the Long Tom River to show Derek where I used to fish for bass. When Derek opened the van door, Odie burst though the open doorway and ran through 3 inches of snow to jump into the freezing river. He was an obvious water dog. The good thing was once we got him out of the water, one shake and he was dry.
In those years, I was not much of a hunter and Odie seldom had the opportunity to hunt under a gun. He was obviously a bird dog, and he was death on young robins that would dare to fly across his back yard at a low level. He would jump and snatch those birds out of the sky from 6 feet or more. We had a few pheasants around in those days and Odie would generally bring one or two home every summer. I watched him catch a young pheasant once. The bird was in our front yard, near the road and at the bottom of a long sloping yard. Odie charged the bird, going full speed down hill. The bird crouched first, a fatal mistake, then he sprang into the air beating his wings rapidly enough to make quite a flutter. Odie sprang also, judging his timing perfectly, he grabbed the pheasant at the apex of his jump.
As a young dog, we took Odie to the clinic with us every day. He loved it there but he also knew that going into an exam room or the surgery room meant that bad things were going to happen. He put all his brakes on when we were trying to take him into a room.
He loved the clients and the other dogs and cats. Although he was mostly in the back, there were times when he was an official greeter. There was only one time when he had a bad experience with a client. Sandy was at the clinic by herself one afternoon. This was not a common occurrence but I was on a farm call and had to take both assistants with me. A man came through the door and for some reason, Odie did not like this man. He came out of the back with a snare and hackles up. The man left, and never came back. One can only guess if Odie was just being overly protective or if he sensed some bad vibes from this man. We will never know, but I trust his judgement.
As he matured he became a muscular 100 pounds with a broad head of the old classic style. There was not one petite feature in his make up. He loved life and he loved to go fishing with me. In those years I would often fish some of the deep gorges of upper Wiley Creek. Odie was always right by my side, didn’t matter how deep I waded. Fly fishing, I would generally release most of the fish I would catch. Odie would watch as the fish struggled in the water and I had to be careful not to allow him to pounce on the fish as I retrieved it. When I would release it, he would stick his head under the water and look in all directions, never quite able to figure out where the darn thing went. He was great at retrieving rocks from the steam bed. You could throw a rock into 3 foot deep water and he would retrieve that very rock, every time.
In May of 1984 we had a large storm with heavy rain for a couple of days. The level of Foster Lake lapped at the very top of the dam. Another day, or even a few hours, of rain and the dam would likely be breached. The gates were wide open and there was a massive downstream flow out of the dam. Derek and Odie accompanied me to look at the water. We were careful to keep Odie in the van while at the lake. We then drove up Wiley Creek to look and the first waterfall.
Wiley Creek was running near bank full. Water was pouring over the water fall. We stopped at the pull out and got out of the van. Odie followed Derek out of the side door. Everything was fine for a few seconds and then a little bird flew first to the edge of the water above the falls and then continued across the creek. Odie did not hesitate, he charged after the bird and completely ignored our calls.
He charged to rocky edge of the water, and not even pausing for an instance, dove into the creek. The current was so severe he had no chance except to turn and go down stream. We watched as he went over the falls, nose up and dog paddling with his front feet out in the open air. The falls are nearly 10 feet high, Odie disappeared when he reached the deep pool.
Derek was beside himself. “What are we going to do?” He asked.
“We are going stand here and watch.” I replied. “There is nothing else we can do.”
Time passed slowly, seconds seemed like minutes, minutes like hours. I was afraid that we would never see Odie again. But still we waited and watched. Minutes passed, I don’t know how many, and there was nothing but rushing water.
Then suddenly, way down the creek, maybe 50 yards, Odie popped up. We almost cheered. He swam hard against the current and made it to the bank. He was able to drag himself out of the water and slowly clawed his way up the remaining bank. He walked slow up the road and stopped at the door of the van. He was ready to go home.
Odie had other adventures as time pasted. He was always super protective of his family and we had few concerns with the kids being home with him. One day a car load of kids brought Brenda home from school. One of the senior boys, Brian Land, got out of the car to open the back door for Brenda. Odie was right on his butt instantly. Around and around the car he chased Brain. Brenda was laughing so hard it took her some time to get out of the car and get Odie under control.
Friends, Larry and Jolene Hannen, watched Odie for us one weekend after the kids were all grown and away from the house. Jolene worked for us and was fond of Odie, and for the most part he was not a problem for them. They had to make a trip to Lebanon one day and Odie was not going to be left behind. So they loaded into the old pickup with Odie riding in the front seat between them. All was well for most of the trip until on the way home, a pheasant flew across the road in front of the pickup. They didn’t wreck but probably came close to it as Odie dove at the bird. Luckily, Larry was a big strong guy and was able to maintain control of the pickup with an excited 100 pound dog in his lap.
Our fishing trips with him became a marathon swimming contest for him. He would swim for hours. Never respond to calls for his return, we would finally have to retrieve him with the boat. As he aged, he would suffer from those events. After swimming for 2 hours at Gordon Lakes, he was almost too sore to walk out to the truck.
As time passed, he became more and more arthritic. Then he developed diabetes and life became miserable for him. He was still waiting at the back door every time I picked up a fishing pole. And when the kids would come for a visit he would always greet them like a long lost friend
The time came where the only humane thing we could do for Odie was to make the decision to put him to sleep. The unfortunate thing was that time came the evening before our oldest daughter’s wedding. One of the truly difficult things about being a veterinarian in a solo practice in a small town is that such duties fall on your shoulders. The trip to the clinic was a solemn one. Odie still enjoyed going to the clinic but hated to go into any of the rooms. Knowing this the deed was done in the large open area of the clinic. Being a farm boy, such aspects of life, and death, were learned early. I remember well at the age of 13, sitting with a calf that was born without a rectum, knowing that I had to shoot this little calf but taking forever to muster the strength to do the job. Now, when the decisions were made, I found that doing the task with precision and speed was the best for all concerned. The event was over before Odie knew anything was going to happen. For me it was one of the hardest things I had to do in a long time. Sandy cried briefly while I prepared Odie to send to the crematorium. We waited until well after the wedding to tell the kids. It was hard for all of them also.
Odie’s ashes still rest in our closet some 24 years later. Maybe one day when the creek is running full, I will return to that waterfall and let Odie go over the falls one last time.