Serenickity Part II – the incredible true story behind how we came to own Who-Dey Nick, an English Setter


Nick holds tight to a bird that’s buried in the grass.

This is an extended version of Serenickity. It includes the full, hard-to-believe-but-totally-true, background on Who-Dey Nick.

Bob was an avid field trialer. He kept a kennel of about 5-6 English Setters at his farm, only few miles down the road from my place, but we never met. Like a lot of field trialers he trained his dogs and sold them to other field trailers or hunters. The the hunters got the ok dogs, trialers got the good dogs, and Bob kept the great dogs for himself. Bob was a serious trainer and trained his dogs well. But Bob was having some marital issues. He and his wife each had reciprocal restraining orders against each other. According to police reports there was history of domestic disturbances at their farm. They were getting a divorce and it was messy. He had moved out of his house and was living in an old hospital that had been converted into apartments and happened to be just down the street from my parent’s house. A person would have to be pretty desperate to live there, each apartment used to be a wing of patient rooms and rent was paid by the week. There wasn’t a creepier place to live in town, but it was cheap and available when he needed it. Consequently Bob had no place to keep his dogs, so he adopted them out to his buddies. One of the dog’s, Nick, ended up with Frank, who told Bob he would watch him until Sid found a found a better place to stay and got through with the divorce. Bob’s wife had apparently threatened to shoot all of his dogs on multiple occasions. Bob’s farm, where she was living, was not a safe place for the dogs.

Six months went by and one brisk spring day Bob’s wife showed up and knocked on his apartment door, apparently wanting to make up. The details of what happened next we will never know, but the outcome we can be certain of. Bob ended up lying in the parking lot with bullet in his head. His soon to be ex-wife shot him the face with a .38 special. After the shooting she got in her mini-van and drove to the next town over. She pulled into a gas station and went inside. There she reportedly told the clerk what happened, walked out and got back in her minivan, but didn’t drive away. She sat there and stared out the window. She was, no doubt, pondering her future, for those brief moments. The clerk called the police. The police arrived at the gas station and Bob’s soon to be ex-wife sat as still as a statue in the locked minivan. They knocked on the window and tried to talk her out of the car, but she just sat there. She ended her own life there in the parking lot, in front of the police officers. Nick and the other dogs were orphaned in their foster homes.

Meanwhile, our 13 year old yellow Labra-mutt Lucy had been on the decline in recent years, and things were looking bleak for her. My wife and I had been discussing what we might do when the time came, and since we have two young children we thought a puppy would only increase the level of maddness in our little household. A puppy was out of the question until our own little pups became a little more self sufficient. My heart was set on deutsch drahthaar because my experience was that they have the versatility to handle all the kinds of things I love to do. Drahthaars are the perfect combination of traits, and on top of the that the breeding and testing regime required to be a registered drahthaar means that the bloodlines don’t get all mucked up with show dog and back yard breeding. So we were leaning in the drahthaar direction.

Over the last few seasons, however, I had the chance to hunt with a spectacular English setter named Tippy. For some reason I couldn’t get her little spotty tail out of my mind. She pointed birds at twenty to thirty feet. Found them in record time. Held point like a statue and had the cheerful demeanor of a Tuesday night at the local pub. She was quiet, enjoyable, friendly, and somehow — comfortable. After hunting with Tippy, those sharp all-too-serious drathaars just didn’t seem like my kind of dogs anymore. I was thinking maybe a Setter was the right choice, when the time came.

Unfortunately “the time” for my old Lucy girl came faster than we were thinking. I entered my vet’s office with the notion that maybe I could have them patch her back together. I was hoping they would tell me that they could buy her a couple more months, perhaps even a whole summer.

We had recently purchased a house with quite a lovely backyard, and Lucy had not yet, in my opinion, fulfilled her duties of patrolling the perimeter and dispatching invasive vermin. However the good doctor told me that the procedures required to restore the old girl, to her old self, were out of reach and past due. The fair thing to do was let her go and end her suffering. We’ve all seen Old Yeller and Marley and Me right? We know how the story ends. We know that the dogs life is 7 times faster than ours. Yet we string ourselves along with the notion that modern health care can defy the laws of the natural world and buy us another summer with a friend. But it was not to be. My hopes were dashed, the fair option was to end her suffering. Its only fair. They lack the ability to comprehend. They know not why they suffer. We string them along, helping them, when nature would have long ago seized the opportunity to reclaim the nutrients locked inside their flesh. In the wild she would have been coyote bait years ago, and yet, here she was, needing us to make it a clean exit. We made the tough choice. It wasn’t easy. It never is.

I was in the vets office on the phone with my wife when we made the decision. I told her I would see her later and was about to hang up, when call waiting rang in. It was a friend of mine who is an avid bird hunter, fly fisherman, etc. He usually sends me photos of trophy fish or a bag full of birds while I’m at work and he’s out doing the good stuff. I wasn’t sure this was the best time to talk about any of that but for some reason I decided to answer.

“What’gs going on,” he said.

“My dog is going to be put down man, I’m at the vets right now”, my voice cracked trying not to sound like a blubbering idiot but failing miserably.

He went on to tell me that his Dad was at a different vet and heard about someone with an almost finished English Setter with championship quality, field trial bloodlines, needing to be adopted. His name is Nick. He gave me the contact information for Walt Nick’s now permanent foster owner and we set up a time to see Nick that Saturday. Lucy was buried by the old grape arbor, near the hole where the raccoons used to sneak in thorough the fence. Now she can guard it forever.

Frank, Nick’s foster owner, was walking Nick on the road when we pulled up to his house. I stepped out of my Jeep and Nick came running over wagging his entire body. Nick seemed very excited to see us. He promptly sat down and waited for me to reach out and pet his head. When I did, his proud English Setter posture with upright head beamed with confidence as he wore a calm gentleman’s smirk. We were off to a good start.

At about that same time as Bob’s death Frank started having some serious trouble with his knees and joints. He said couldn’t hunt like he used to, some days he had trouble getting out of bed. Frank said Nick was four years old and needed a more active home, he needs to run, a lot. Like many of us Frank’s passion was for the greatest of all game birds, the ruffed grouse. He hunted primarily in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Nick had accompanied him to the UP many times. Frank’s other setter was ten years old, and hunted at a slower pace which accommodated Frank’s condition better. Frank said Nick needed to go to a more active home. Nick is a dragster, he goes as fast as he can, right out of the gate. He can really cover ground. His nose is sharp, and he locks up on point from a dead run. It didn’t take long to figure out that Nick and I would get along great.

Fortunately Bob gave all the appropriate paper work for the dogs to their adoptive homes. Nick’s registration in the Field Dog Stud book remained un-filed and Frank had it all ready to go. We went home that Saturday to ready the house and picked Nick up the next day. He and I have hunted together one complete season and while we both are learning from each other I think I will learn more from him than he will from me. He is everything advertised and more. He is still a fairly young and very active dog, but he is a great fit for our little corner of the world. Our house was without a dog for a grand total of about 4 days and nights, but those were four long days and nights. To some this might not seem like long enough to grieve.

To some it might seem cavalier and frought with indifference towards our recently departed dear friend. But the void in our house without old Lucy-girl was cavernous.  I wasn’t sure how it would ever be filled. I doubt it ever will be filled entirely. But sometimes things just fall into place. Some may call it divine intervention or mysterious ways. Some may call it dumb luck or coincidence, but I’ve come up with a new name for it — sereNICKity.