Chugach Chesapeakes

Katmai Eulogy

CH Katmai Chugach Splendor MH QA2

This was originally written as a piece of personal correspondence to those whose lives had been touched by Katmai. In all cases, that touch was an enriching one.
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Katmai Eulogy
April 2010

It was a cold grey December morning on the Skagit Flats in Washington in 1995. The pond in the Lorenzen field was almost totally covered with ice. There was some open water in front of the Spanky Wanky Blind and that is where the Admiral and I had thrown our decoys out. The hunting was good as the ducks wanted into that open water and the Admiral and I were having a go at them. What was not so good, and in fact pathetic, was the quality of the wingshooting on behalf the hunters. Most of the mallards were flying away unscathed and those that were hit were coming down alive and some distance away. For many years, the Admiral’s dogs, Trapper and Shogun, had done a first class job of retrieving. Sadly, they reached the point of not being able to hunt any more and there we were, dog less. We were not used to losing ducks as Trapper and Shogun always found them, so this was a new and very frustrating experience for us. We wound up losing as many as we got that day and were quite upset. After the hunt was over, we retired to the Admiral’s Duck Shack. The custom of the Shack is to have adult beverages before, during, and after dinner, while I don’t remember any details, I am quite certain that on this particular evening that custom was adhered to. It was over those adult beverages, that the many thousands of year’s old ritual of discussing the day’s hunt took place. There was much lamenting over the ducks shot and not retrieved. It was at some point during that evening that I got the idea that it was time for me to get a hunting dog.

I came back to Alaska with this idea percolating around my brain, did some research, and decided a Chesapeake Bay Retriever would best fit my hunting needs and my unique personality. I was referred to a local respected Chesapeake fancier by the name of Lynda Barbor-Wiltse. There were no chessies available in Alaska but she gave me a number of a lady in Washington by the name of Marge Bakken. I called Marge and she said that there was indeed a litter, but there was only 1 female left, a red head. Did I want her?

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Yes, I did. A few weeks later, I flew down to Washington. The Admiral, the Admiral’s grandson, Marge and myself drove up to Everett to pick her up. I doubt I will ever forget that evening. I worked in Washington for another week and then headed back home with the new pup. I still had not named her as I was having trouble deciding on an appropriate name, and Elise, you solved the problem, you came up with Katmai, a distinctly Alaskan name. Thank you Elise.

Shortly after returning home, my friend Tommy and I decided to climb up Flattop Mountain. Katmai was 11 weeks old and she came along. There is a steep rocky stretch just below the summit and I felt that it was to much for the pup, so I put her on the top of my backpack so she would be safe and enjoy the view. This did not go over well at all, Katmai was having none of it and she made it very clear that this was not going to work for her. She was going up the mountain under her own power and not in Dad’s pack. That will and determination would mark her personality for her life. After summitting, we glissaded down the long snow chute, including Katmai. Katmai was on her chest and was using her rear legs to push and therefore, increase the speed of her descent. She had a great time and from that point on loved to glissade. Do you remember Tommy? She took quite a liking to Tommy and would always give him a big Chessie smile. Uncle Tommy was her favorite.

She loved to hike and romp around the Chugach Mountains, which we did for most of her life. She stood on many a summit. She knew the parking lot for the trailhead to Flattop and would recognize it when we drove in. She knew exactly where we were going and expressed her enthusiasm for the upcoming hike.

She quickly became accepted and was loved by my friends the Homesteads. Their daughter, Jessie, loved her and took her on many hikes. Jessie’s high school graduation picture was a picture of Katmai and her at the base of Flattop. I carry that picture wherever I go.

September of 1996 came along quickly and with it came hunting season, Katmai was 9 months old. My cousin Jimmy and 2 of his friends came out and we headed out to Cold Bay, Alaska, which is at the very tip of the Alaskan Peninsula, to hunt Canadian geese and brant. On the very first afternoon of hunting we were set up on a rocky spit that jutted out into the Bering Sea. It was a blustery day and there were large waves rolling in. I knocked a goose down and it sailed out into the ocean and the waves. Katmai saw the goose go down and launched herself into the ocean, there was no hesitation whatsoever. As she paddled out, I would lose sight of her when she disappeared into the troughs of the waves, but she was on course and was not intimidated by the rough water. She was determined to bring back Dad’s goose and that she did. I had my hunting dog, and a far better one than I could ever have imagined.

I brought her down to the Skagit that fall to hunt with the Admiral and wound up leaving her so she could hunt and the Admiral would have a dog to hunt with. He did a great job with her and I returned in December. We went out to the Barn Hole on her 1st birthday. The ducks were flying well and we shot 21 of them. Katmai retrieved them all.

Her instinct and passion for birds was incredible. One time at Cold Bay, I was driving an old Blazer up a mountain road. Katmai was in the back seat, and unbeknownst to me, although we were driving, she was hunting. From the back seat, she spotted a covey of ptarmigan along the road and launched herself from the back seat through the open window on the driver side while the vehicle was moving. It was a miracle that she did seriously hurt herself. She wanted those birds and that desire never dimmed throughout her entire life.

It was in 1997 that Katmai and I were introduced to the sport of dog games. These are called hunt tests. Katmai excelled at these, and despite myself being a completely novice trainer, she did very, very well. She achieved a master hunter title in 2 years, which was just phenomenal and also became a qualified all age dog in field trials. She was an excellent marker.

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It was also during this time that she began a show career with Lynda starting her. She eventually got her show championship.

It was during one of the hunt tests sometime in the late 1990s, that I met a gentleman from Idaho named James. He was also a Chessie man and loved to hunt. He invited me to come down to Idaho and hunt upland birds with him. I had hunted waterfowl for decades so I thought, I’d give it a try, so I put Katmai and me on a plane and down to Idaho we went. Katmai took to it like a fish to water. She had one helluva nose and we were soon chasing pheasants, chukars, partridge and quail over the steppes of the Palouse. It was great. Whenever we got into heavy bird scent, she would plain lose her mind and forget whatever training she had ever had, and would just go to different mental zone. She was absolutely nuts about birds. The shock collar had to be utilized to bring her back to planet earth. We had the good fortune to be able to visit James a number of times.

Her nose was just phenomenal and she knew how to use it. Her ability to find cripples was incredible. Tommy, remember on her very first hunt, which was at Goose Bay, she rooted out those 2 cripples, and later the pintail you knocked down in the cattails on Duck Flats that she chased forever? Red, remember the pheasant in Capon’s barley field that Bandit lost, remember the mallard you shot at the gravel pits? The wounded chukar that sailed way down a canyon on Alan’s ranch? There was a wounded widgeon that the Admiral sailed from the Barn Hole all the way over the dike and the other side of the slough that she could not see because of the dike and the distance, yet she went over and found that duck. There was a wounded quail in a set of rose hips that all the other dogs went past, but she found it, and had the determination to go into the vicious rose hips and retrieve the bird. I could go on and on. There were just so many unbelievable retrieves she made over the years.

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The years passed, we hunted together in five states, she retrieved birds in five different states. It did not matter what the geography was or what bird lived in that geography, Katmai was always up for the challenge. Her absolute unbridled enthusiasm and passion for the hunt was a standard to which all hunting dogs should be held to. She was truly Mike’s girl and we were inseparable. She had the Chessie grin and each morning when she first saw me, she would give me a big smile. She was also a talker with quite a vocabulary. She was very deeply cherished.

She was with me the night the moose attacked me and almost killed me.

In December of 1999, Katmai had her first litter of pups. Her maternal instinct was very strong and she was an excellent mother. She took really good care of her pups. I elected to keep a male from that litter. He is named Bandit. There were 6 other pups, one of which was given to my brother Daniel and his wife as a wedding present. A Katmai pup was the best present I could have ever given anybody. They came up to Alaska to get Rusty.
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In January of 2006 she had another litter. Yes, she was 10 years old but the vet thought she was 7. She was strong and healthy just did a great job. There were 6 pups, one female I kept, her name is Tazlina. She has her mother’s nose and love of the hunt. Every person who got a Katmai pup and hunted that pup was extremely pleased with that pup. The pups all loved to hunt.

One of her last hunts took place in a brushy draw in the Palouse in Idaho in December of 2008. I wrote a brief account of it at the time and is as follows:

Well our story concerns one CH Katmai Chugach Splendor MH QA2, known to all as Katmai. Unfortunately, she no longer hears her name, as she is deaf to human voice. She has had too many close gun shots in her life and those have caused her loss of hearing. The ironic thing is she still hears gun shots. Anyway, she was nearing her 13th birthday and I was going to Idaho to hunt birds. I decided to leave her at home and concentrate on matters with her son Bandit (8) and daughter Tazlina (2). Things did not work out as planned due to the dog sitter being unable to take her so I was left with the decision of bringing her ($200) or leaving her in a kennel ($500). So off to Idaho she flew.

Arriving in Idaho, the first morning, I was tossing a bumper for Tazlina, and in her usual fashion, she chased it at warp speed without bothering to look where she was running and broke her foot. Eventually, we wound up at Washington State University Veterinary School with the orthopedic vet. Tazzy’s hunt was over.

The result was the old girl whom I thought to old to hunt, was pressed into service. Birds were very few, but one morning we got into a covey of quail. There were 4 Chessies in all pursuing said covey. My friend James has 2 Chessies. The covey busted and went down the canyon, so we had the opportunity to hunt singles and doubles. So down the draw we went and very soon quail were flushing due to brown noses sticking themselves close by, gun shots were fired and the dogs went into that mental state of the ‘hunting zone’ including old Katmai. In fact, she was so fired up, she forgot she was 13 and was diving into the cover rooting out quail like she was 7. She was working just as hard as the dogs half her age. I marveled at her intensity and her ability to still perform physically. She was 13, but her passion for birds has not dimmed one iota and her nose, which is absolutely incredible, is still there.

I will always have this very pleasant memory of her, very few dogs could physically do what she did and in the manner she did. I just feel extremely blessed to have her. I hope she can hang in there for another year, so I can take her somewhere where there are lots of birds like North Dakota. That way she will have a final chance to flush and retrieve the pheasant she so loves to hunt.
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Very sadly, we did not get to make that trip to North Dakota. At some point in late 2009, her health deteriorated. The deterioration has been emotionally very draining for me. I made the promise that I would not let her suffer and when she reached the point that she could not go for her daily walk (she got walked everyday and that was something she looked forward to) that I would have her euthanized. That day came today. Words cannot describe what a difficult decision this has been. Her eyes are still clear and she still watches my every movement. To have to decide to kill your best friend and hunting partner is a horrible decision to have to make and certainly the toughest decision that I have ever had to make. The emotional angst and duress regarding this decision have been terrible.

At 7:30 this morning, the vet showed up at the house. As I held her head sobbing, Katmai was injected with a dose of sodium pentobarbital, seizing her heart and killing her. She died peacefully in the house that she lived her life in, had her pups in, and was loved in. I hope she knew that I loved her.

Thank you Marge for this wonderful dog, she has been a wonderful blessing to my life. She was family in every sense of the word. She was the best friend and hunting companion a man could ever want. Words cannot describe the grief and the sense of loss I feel.

—Mike Vogel