By Jill J Easton
Thirteen is supposed to be an unlucky number, but not for me. For 13 years I have shared my life with one of the most obstreperous dogs anyone could hope to live with. It’s been a wild ride.
In our first years together, Jim and I made a pact: we would never own anything that eats. Our on-the-road lifestyle as outdoor writers and traveling hunters didn’t lend itself to livestock ownership.
We held true to it for eight years. But when a small black, white and brown terrier came trotting down Gunner Pool Road, Jim couldn’t resist talking to the obviously lost dog.
“Hello, buddy,” he said. “Where are you going?” (Jim swears the next part is the truth.) The self-assured terrier came up to him as he sat on the front porch and said: “My name is Hotshot, I’m going to live with you. What do you have to eat?”
Jim was a goner, and when he introduced me to Hotshot, I was too. Don’t point fingers; you’d have done the same thing.
“No dog in the house,” Jim ordained. Within three days the little animal had howled his way inside and had his own bed, but was trying to move into ours and soon did.
As time went on, Hotshot turned out to be fast and furious with all coons, squirrels, and bears. He spent the first decade of his life chasing bears up trees, fighting coons to the death and running after every squirrel he saw. The dog also insisted on going with us everywhere we went and pitched a ring-tailed screamer if we were so insensitive as to leave him at home. He ran the last two miles back to the house whenever we went to town, kicking up dust on our seldom-traveled gravel road. We often clocked him at 25 mph in bursts, and he was steady at 20.
Hotshot also quickly became the leader of our pack, squirrel and coon hunter extraordinaire and after a few hurt toes, he learned that good smells coming from the ground usually meant a TRAP and a painfully pinched foot.
From the first, he was a valuable and entertaining trapline companion. Wherever he peed I seriously considered setting a trap. During the 12 years we trapped together, Hotshot’s scent-marking helped me catch scores of coyotes, foxes, bobcats and coons. He would also cold trail animals on those rare occasions when a trap fastener failed and the catch escaped with the trap. He had a special bark that indicated a cornered animal.
Each long trapline day he happily shared my Vienna sausages or whatever sandwich Jim had fixed for lunch. He considered himself essential to any event Jim or I went on, after all he was sure he was pack leader. Our dog was always waiting perched on the back of the couch when we headed for the truck.
Bear baiting was another of Hotshot’s favorite pastimes. Bears provoked our 15-pound dog’s ire like nothing else. In his third year with us, a late-April freeze killed most of the berry, fruit and mast crops, we had trail-cam pictures of 14 different bears frequenting our food plot. Hotshot quickly figured out bears, it was a totally self-taught behavior. He would spot one in a field or the food plot, and nothing we hollered would stop him. Twice, we watched him run cubs up a tree and then proceed to gallop in circles around the angry sow. The bear would try to turn swiftly enough to keep the speeding dog in sight, but soon the bear would get addled and slow down. Hotshot would then dart in and nip the bear on its butt. The dizzy, annoyed bruin would soon be galumphing for the tree line, cubs forgotten. A small black shape followed, barking and chivvying the bear. Job finished, he’d come trotting back, practically dusting his paws and saying, I fixed that little kerfuffle as he waited for his accolades and petting.
Over the last few years, the three-mile walks with Hotshot got shorter and shorter, and the aging little guy spent more time asleep, either on the couch or in the back seat of a vehicle as Jim or I went about our daily chores and trips. He developed a heart condition, infected teeth and tremors. He started having brief spells of confusion and lack of coordination; sometimes he would lift his leg and then fall over. He would bump into things. He would stagger around like a drunk sailor.
We consulted the vet. Too many birthdays, he told us. Hotshot got pills and then more pills. Cataracts grew in his eyes and his hearing dwindled to the point that only sharp whistles and claps stopped him. But he was still having a good time, showing no signs of pain, following smells, dreaming about chases, girl dogs and being leader of our pack of three.
A few days after Christmas, he woke up fine. Then Jim left to run to town and Hotshot had another of his falling-over fits. The lack of cooperation from his limbs obviously puzzled the dog, but he took it as a part of life. This time it didn’t pass. It lasted for an hour, then two. Jim came back home. We watched our little buddy for a while and decided with great sadness it was time to make what would probably be the last trip to the vet.
Even with his limbs failing, Hotshot took great pleasure in figuring out the many delicious smells in the waiting room. He happily tracked what must have been a beautiful girl dog all around the small room. When Dr. Long saw our dog, he offered to put Hotshot on strong barbiturates but warned he wouldn’t be the same happy, nosy dog we’d always known. He would probably turn into not much more than a lump of protoplasm. The awful decision was finally made. It was time.
They brought in a beautiful hand-made quilt and Hotshot, Jim and I huddled for a last pack meeting on the floor. A strong tranquilizer was given to our long-time friend and companion. He sniffed around a bit more, got petted and told he was loved. Then he laid down on the comforter, his head on my knee, and gradually went to sleep. When he was absolutely still, the vet gave him a shot. Within seconds, his strong little heartbeat no more.
He was an amazing companion and shared the best of our highs and the worst of our lows. He helped us get through some rough times, and he made our good times even better. You can’t ask a friend for more than that.
It is said that every being dies twice: once when his heart stops beating and the second time when no one remembers his name. As long as Jim or I are around, this mighty little terrier won’t die that second time.