I had a dog once named Barney. He was one of those beagles who loved nothing more in life than chasing rabbits.
Although he slept in the house every night and ate bacon most mornings for breakfast, he was a quintessential hunting hound from stem to stern. My father had him ruined rotten with bacon and his dog food at times just didn’t seem appealing.
He slept in the porch on his very own rug spread out in front of a gigantic cast iron radiator. Please don’t tell me you can pamper the hunting instinct out of a dog. This dog lived like a king.
My father had just retired at age 67 and didn’t have much to do. Barney kept Dad company through his first winter around the house, and along with Mom he catered to
and doted on that dog something fierce.
Barney was my first of many hunting dogs and holds a special place in my being to this very day. I got him as a pup from Clarence Ivany, a lifelong dog breeder and rabbit hunter, who was also a co-worker and friend of my father’s.
Actually, I had worked for a while with Clarence, when I was just 16, fresh out of high school and swinging a pickaxe and hammer to make a few dollars over the summer.
Clarence’s tales of rabbit hunting and beagles made the long days shorter and the heavy labour that much easier. The man loved hunting. He took me rabbit hunting that fall, during my midterm break from studies at MUN. That is a day burned deeply into my neural networks.
It was a typically cold rainy Saturday and my mother couldn’t imagine anyone leaving the warmth of a perfectly dry kitchen to go hunting in the woods. Just the same, she was up before me, long before daylight, and had a hearty scoff of bacon and eggs on the table for me when I crawled out of bed. Nobody will ever replace your mother.
Clarence came by and picked me up in an old ’60s vintage black Ford van. There were five dogs in the back, all bright-eyed and alert, tails wagging and anxious for the hunt. I stowed my brand new Remington pump action and settled back for the hour-long drive to Rantem Station, near where the Bull Arm construction site is today. In those days it was a fantastic place to hunt rabbits, Clarence’s favourite.
That day I shot my first rabbit over a dog and became completely enthralled with everything about the sport. Dogs and rabbits dominated my spare time for many years, actually decades. I decided then and there that I had to have my own hunting beagle. I made Clarence swear to me I could have a dog out of his next litter.
In February I got the call I’d been waiting for. I was studying for a calculus exam when a buddy told me I was wanted on the payphone down the corridor. (There were no cellphones or text messages in those days.) It was my father, and he told me that Clarence had a pup for me. The exam could have gone better, but I was preoccupied with other things.
The next weekend we picked up my dog and named him Barney, but for the life of me I can’t remember any motivation or reason for the odd name. I was a big “Flintstones” fan, but I’m just not sure.
That August, Barney chased his first rabbit. I just kept taking him into the woods until he stumbled upon a bunny and chased it. I think that might be the best way to break a pup. They become more self-assured and confident, not depending on older dogs to find rabbits for them.
Whether that’s true or not, Barney could certainly start his own hares running. There was no other choice. He’s the only dog I had, and many Saturdays during that first fall with Barney I came home with a packsack heavily laden with rabbits. Barney was a fine hunting hound and a wonderful family pet to boot. Mom and Dad loved him. They were home alone, with me gone off to university, and that dog was perfect timing.
I didn’t think much about stuff like that at 17 but I certainly understand now.
Barney certainly knew the difference between an overnight bag and a hunting pack; either that or he knew the days of the week. As I said earlier, he slept on his own fuzzy rug in the porch.
On Monday mornings when I’d be heading back to St. John’s for the week, I’d have to push him out of the way to get my shoes, tripping over him trying to get out the door. He’d keep on snoring, not even opening his eyes to look at me so early. He was a pampered beast.
But if I showed up in the porch with my hunting bag, Barney reacted instantly, an animal of opposite disposition, excited and primed for action. Barney would be on his feet in an instant, tail wagging and jumping all over me. All I had to do was open the door and he’d run to the truck. I’d climb in and Barney would jump in and sit beside me on the seat. He wouldn’t budge for the whole ride to the woods, ears perked and watching the road.
He was just as quick out of the truck and into the bush when we got to our hunting grounds. There would be no fussing or yelling at this dog to get him hunting. He’d be off though the woods like a flash, sniffing and poking his sensitive nose anywhere he suspected a rabbit might be hiding.
Both of us would hunt hard all day, stopping just long enough to boil the kettle, have a sandwich, and steep a cup of tea. Mom always made sure I had a bit of bologna in my bag for Barney, to keep his energy up through all that running around. By dark both of us would be beat.
On the return trip, instead of sitting on the seat, he’d always crawl behind my legs on the floor of the truck. He’d go to sleep and wouldn’t stir until we pulled in the driveway. We’d go in the house and both our suppers would be waiting for us.
It was a very good and carefree life for a dog and a boy.
I hunted with Barney for four autumns, maybe the most enjoyable of my life. School and hunting worked well together for me in those days.
I became a man and had to leave home for work. I spent the fall of 1981 several thousand miles away in Northern Manitoba. Barney got sick and died in November. My parents wouldn’t tell me over the phone or in a letter. They waited till I came home for Christmas. I believe they were afraid it would distract and upset me too much while trying to make a success of my first real sortie into the world of careers and commitment.
Barney was gone from my parents’ porch and I missed him for a long time.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,
fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at