Hidden Hazards and Bird Dogs

Kiri is wearing a T-shirt to keep her from licking her wound. Looks silly, but it works.

Like the old song where a kid lisps out, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” my black Lab, Kiri, might sing, “All I want for Christmas is to have my stitches out.”

Appropriately, a Sioux Falls SD veterinarian is featured in a Purina ProPlan Outdoor Wire, writing about potential hazards that threaten hunting dogs.

Hidden obstacles are at the top of the list. Traumatic and puncture wounds are among the most common sporting dog injuries and are caused by running into obstacles such as tree branches, barbed wire, fence posts, traps, or briars that a dog can’t see because of tall grass, heavy cover, or other reasons.

Last Friday, Kiri and I had a hunting outing on an area ranch in search of pheasants. From the standpoint of seeing game, we had a good day. We put up quite a few pheasants as the day progressed. On the other hand, late season pheasants tend to not wait around while hunters and their dogs box them into a corner. I had shots at birds, but not good shots, and we came home empty-handed.

On Saturday morning I was relaxing with the morning paper, with Kiri on her dog bed next to my easy chair. She was busy licking something, and I didn’t think much of it. She’s easily the lickingest dog we’ve ever had. That little tongue of hers goes everywhere.

She seemed to be working really hard licking her chest. I took a closer look and saw that she had about a one-inch wide cut on her chest, most likely due to going through a barbed wire fence. I groaned and went to the phone to schedule a visit with her veterinarian.

I might be something of an expert on this. Kiri is our fifth Labrador retriever and all five of them have had run-ins with barbed wire.

I used to hunt a farm in eastern Montana that had a fenceline going through a marsh. The fence was likely built during a drought period, but it became all but invisible, as the top wire was covered with dead grass and cattails. My old chocolate Lab, Alix, had a couple encounters with that fence and had to be stitched up at least once.

Candy, two dogs back, had a real talent for barbed wire, it seemed. On an outing around 15 years ago we flushed a covey of Hungarian partridge and I managed to drop one of the birds. Candy went through an exceptionally tight barbed wire fence on her retrieve and got a nasty three-corner tear along her back. Nothing was going to slow her down when it came to birds. To her credit, it did seem she learned, toward the end of her career, to stop and let me spread barbed wire strands before going through.

Back around 1980, when we were living in eastern North Dakota, our first Lab, Sam, and I went out on a late season hunt for ruffed grouse. We were having a fun outing until I noticed blood on the snow. I checked Sam and sure enough she had a nasty skin tear on her chest.

We headed back to where I’d parked my International Scout, loaded her up and headed home, making a late afternoon stop at the veterinarian’s office in Park River ND. The vet was primarily a horse and cow doctor and small animals were a sideline. I was lucky he hadn’t closed up shop for the day.

He checked Sam’s cut and said, “Well, it’s not too bad but maybe we’ll put in a stitch or two.” He put in a couple stitches and said, “Maybe a couple more.”

A little later, Sam had five stitches on her chest, and the doctor scratched his head a bit and said, “Ten bucks, I guess,” and I cheerfully paid his fee.

So, a word to the wise: Be careful on your outings and after the hunt check your dog for cuts or bleeding. Also, don’t be surprised; the price for repairs has gone up.

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