Ode to an old friend….
A tear wells in my eye as I compose this note. I was introduced to my very best friend (ever - I mean in the entire world) back in February of 1994. I had the privilege of even picking his name. His name would be "Rocco". I went to visit Deb Corter (Close Corter's Labs) on a cold snowy evening to see the litter of Labrador Retrievers that she had. It was a "no brainer" which one of the furry little yellow critters would become my best friend, companion, hunting partner, listener, calmer, (the list goes on and on….).
One particular quality of Rocco's that I admired so much was his keen ability to touch the lives of many people. I originally got him just to be a pet. I got so much more than that!
When he was about 10 months old a friend of mine called me up & asked me if I would bring Rocco to his property to see if he (Rocco) could help flush out some pheasants that they planted for a family hunt. They tried for hours to flush the birds without a dog and could not get the birds up. I told my friend that my dog had no formal training when it came to flushing birds but he had a keen nose on him and was the best retriever that I had ever had the pleasure of working (well, up until this point we'll call it "playing") with. After a short ride in the truck (Rocco loved to ride "shotgun") we made it to our hunting destination. We got geared up and headed into the field. I noticed something different about Rocco for the first time. It was like a switch had been hit and he went from the playful pup that I had known and turned into a hunting machine. When we first hit the field he stopped and put his nose up in the air and scented the birds - it was time to hunt! I had never seen him so serious. It was like he knew exactly what to do. He zigged and zagged not too far out in front of us until he picked up scent on his first bird. Then I could hear his nose and I watched him work until he was on the bird. The colorful cock bird took flight and then the ringing of a shotgun blast sounded off and the bird fell. I don't think Rocco ever took his eyes (or his nose) off of that bird as he excitedly met it at the ground where it fell. I saw the brush moving around and then I saw the most exciting and pleasing thing I'd ever experienced as a dog owner. Out came Rocco, bird in his mouth, ears back, head held high, chest swelled with pride. I was so excited to see that he was actually retrieving the game. I called his name and he came to me wagging his tail so hard that his entire body was shifting from side to side with each wag. He willingly let the bird loose from the gentle grip of his soft mouth and stood there waiting for the praise that he so deserved. This scenario was repeated several times that day as we helped harvest several of the pheasants.
As Rocco aged and matured he mastered upland bird hunting. I shot many pheasants and grouse over that dog. I even took him duck hunting a time or two and it was no surprise to me that he was a natural at that as well. On more than one occasion, Rocco’s keen sense of smell and his uncanny ability to understand me, helped me do more than just be a successful hunter. Two particular instances are always fresh in my mind.
1). Like the time a friend and I were ATV riding on the farm and my friend lost his pager. Of course it was on “vibrate” so we couldn’t call it and listen for it. I got this crazy idea that we could walk Rocco along the path where we think the pager had been lost and see if his nose would recognize anything that “didn’t belong” there. I went home and returned with Rocco (who by the way thought we were going hunting). I started out along the ATV trail and told Rocco “Hunt ‘em up!!” He knew those words meant to put the old sniffer to the ground & get to work. My friend and I walked closely behind the dog looking with our own eyes. After about 15 minutes of walking behind the dog and listening to his amazing nose and a “doubting” friend, we watched as Rocco stopped ahead of us in a tall patch of weeds. I called to him “Hunt ‘em up” again. A few seconds later he emerged from the weeds doing the “Proud Dance” but I didn’t see anything! He came to me and only when he got close to me could I tell that he had something in the grasp of his soft mouth. I couldn’t see anything as his jowls could even eclipse a tennis ball. I bent down and put out my hand into which he dropped a “slobber covered” pager that belonged to my disbelieving friend. Amazing!
2). I am land surveyor and I used to take Rocco in the field with me on rural, wooded boundary surveys. He had his own doggy backpack into which I always packed his (and my) lunch and some water. I was loaded with surveying gear and walking along a steep slippery side slope when I lost my footing and slid down the steep slope through the brush and laurel about 30 feet. Rocco thought this was fun as he came running after me. Once I stopped and gathered myself up I climbed back up to where I was and regrouped. Rocco was (of course) right there with me. I reached for my two-way radio to call ahead to my partner and I realized that I no longer had it on my person. I yelled ahead & my partner came back to meet me. I took his two-way radio and a stick. I presented them both to Rocco in a playful “fetch” manner. I told Rocco to stay and watch as I threw the stick in the direction where I had fallen. Rocco sat there and could barely wait until I gave the “Go get it!” command. After the stick hit the ground and I gave the command that he so eagerly awaited, he blasted down the same hill that he had already traversed up and down on a search for what he thought would be a stick. Once he was out of earshot I took the other two-way radio and softly called Rocco’s name hoping that he would hear my voice in the lost radio and go find it. To my astonishment, a short time later Rocco stepped out of the laurel and was coming up the hill with the “lost” two-way radio. I can still see it like it happened yesterday. He came up the hill with the radio dangling from his mouth as he had a hold of it by the antenna. He gently dropped the radio at my feet but not without first performing the by now familiar “Proud Dance”. This dog was very special.
Over the years that I shared with Rocco, I learned that he was truly amazing. A person could not ask for a more loyal, pleasant, gentle, handsome four-legged friend to have as a companion. He made many people laugh and smile with his antics. He understood me and I understood him with only a look. He shared many experiences with me that I may not have had if I hadn't ever been introduced to him. He wanted nothing in return for all he gave to me and my family and friends. I feel that I at least owe him this ode…..
I sure do miss that old fella……………..
Today, Rocco's legacy lives on (sort of). We have another handsome yellow lab from Corter's and he's actually Rocco's "nephew" - Auggie. I look forward to many more of life's experiences with Auggie. He is another quality dog from Corter's. Everyone has always asked me where my dogs came from. I proudly tell them Corter's. I have recommended many people to Corter's for their fine lineage of Labrador Retrievers. I know that there are many happy dog owners out there that have chosen to adopt their pet (or hunter or show or competition dog) from Corter's. Thanks Close Corter's Labs!
Christopher P. Iachini