- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

No one seemed to know the precise age of the golden retriever when we first fell in love with him. At the time, during a visit to a St. Mary's County [Md.]animal shelter, we saw an undernourished orange/brown bundle of nerves that appeared to be around three or four years old, suffered from a debilitating case of heartworms, and, in the words of my wife, quickly needed a "mom and dad."
He had no name, no manners, no future, but the lady of the house shrewdly reminded me that I needed a replacement hunting dog after my tough Chesapeake Bay retriever had been taken to a friend's Eastern Shore farm where he could swim whenever the mood struck him and where he could generally enjoy retirement.
Later that day the newly named "Shiloh" received a ride in the backseat of a Camaro and it was clear that he loved the attention we lavished on him. There was endless petting and rubbing of his curly-haired head and neck as the car moved along the rural roads of Southern Maryland. Shiloh, exhausted from the day's activities, finally fell asleep.
I had my hunting dog.
Shiloh's heartworm was treated by a vet who informed us that the terrible parasites seemed to have caused only minimal damage. True to his breed's reputation for almost uncanny intelligence, he quickly became acclimated to his new, rural surroundings, and especially the steady supply of food and love that he enjoyed so much. The thought of leaving his new home never entered his mind. He learned to listen well, reacted to simple commands at first, then got the hang of more difficult ones after only three or four repetitions.
He appeared to be housebroken because he'd let you know when he had to go outside to answer nature's call. Shiloh turned out to be, well, a fine family pet that loved everybody, even our dog-hating cat.
In matters of hunting it seemed the former owners who abandoned him on a lone country road where he was found shivering and hungry, frightened the bejeebers out of him, most likely introducing him to gun fire at too early an age and without following proper procedures. Shiloh never cared for loud noises such as shotgun blasts, or even trash can lids being dropped. He also looked warily at anybody carrying a garden rake or hoe anything that had a long wooden handle. Could be that he was beaten with a big stick as a youngster, but he'd cower in fright when he saw us walking about with a leaf rake or something like it. The time came when he wasn't so scared of such objects, but it took lots of gentle persuasion for him to accept them.
As concerns his breed's favorite activity, swimming, that wasn't on the top rung of his list of favorite things to do, either. "Could be somebody just threw him into deep water when he was very little and it scared him so much he never forgot it," said a friend who knows a lot about hunting breeds. "Maybe if you walk into the water ahead of him, he will begin to follow, but don't pressure him. Go easy on him," said the dog expert.
Shiloh soon let me know that he wasn't into the swimming thing. Oh, now and then he'd walk out into the Port Tobacco River with me when I set out a raft of decoys during duck hunting season, but he'd stop as soon as the water reached his belly.
When I hunted waterfowl, he kind of let me know that he'd rather stay home. I never belittled him for it because as the great hunting dog writer, Gene Hill, once said, "Some dogs are entrepreneurs; others are street corner loafers."
Last week, at age 12 or 13, Shiloh died. For the past year or so, he'd been in poor health, suffering from a variety of ailments.
His death was a devastating family event yes, family because dogs have a way of working their way into humans' lives until they become part of us. That's true even if a certain "hunting" dog knows as much about hunting as his owner does about rocket science.
The golden retriever whose formal name was Shiloh Tucker Von Goodpuppy brightened our lives immensely. What a shame that dog-less people won't experience the kind of unqualified love given by an animal such as our Shiloh was.

E-mail: gmueller
@washingtontimes.com.


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