Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church

In Memory of Pippin

September 14th, 2015 by Pastor David Echelbarger

In Memoriam. For Pippin



The day dawned wet. The puddles were evidence of yesterday’s tears. Beckon, my thirteen year old setter, was on the hunt. She trotted around the yard, went to the large back deck, went to the small side deck and searched the flower beds until she was completely wet. She was looking in vain for fourteen year old Pippin, her kennel mate for her entire life. Nine year old Islay also made the rounds and laid down on the wet deck dejected. Pippin was gone. Sadness hung in the damp air like yesterday’s rain.
Pip’s formal name on his papers was Y.P. Pippin. It was supposed to be U.P. Pippin but the Field Trial Stud Book got it wrong. Y.P. was better – I thought it stood for “Yes Please,” Pippin. He was a bright happy little fellow. Unlike my other English Setters, Pippin was bred from field trial dogs – competition dogs. His natural range was not the forty to sixty yards to which I was accustomed with my other dogs, but his range was measured in the hundreds of yards. He could be hunted best on horseback.
This is the way it works with English setters. You turn them loose in the field or woods and when they find a bird they stop and point remaining motionless until you arrive and flush the bird. Typically they have a beeper collar that lets you know where the dog is and when it freezes on point. This helps you locate the dog. With big running dogs like Pippin, people now use GPS collars that tell you that your dog is pointing 241 yards away at 93 degrees compass course. Go get him.
I have not availed myself of GPS tracking systems, yet. I did, however, need something to find Pippin back in the days before GPS so I bought the radio tracking collars that people who run hounds use. It beeps and light indicators point the way so you can find your dog in thick cover. It was a necessity with a dog like Pip and I never ran him without it.
Pip was a stunning dog; small, strong, agile and intense. When he encountered scent it was as though he’d throw up dust as he put on the brakes. He also had a disability. He could not seem to find his way back when you whistled for him. He’d try. Whistles have a way of echoing in the woods and he’d head in the wrong direction fast as lightening and then be totally lost. My son once ran him down for me and when he found him he was running in small circles looking “weird.”
Pip was often lost. During his second season, I was hunting with four friends at our traditional Woodcock Camp. Pip vanished. We finally located him on the edge of a dark swamp. The moment I snapped a leash on his collar, four howls erupted around us, so close they were terribly distorted and frightening. A pack of wolves had almost gotten him. Wolves kill dogs for invading their territory. We had arrived in the nick of time.
Wolves made it necessary to change Pippin into a dog that was more like my other English setters. I had to reduce his range to keep him safe – change him from being the dog he was bred to be. He was smart and quickly learned to turn each time I called out “Pip!” He’d run left, and then right, with each “Pip.” “Easy” slowed him down. But I had to stay on him, otherwise he was gone.
Once, hunting with friends in a location I was unfamiliar with, Pippin took off. I left the group to find him. Eventually I located him and was walking him at heal. I was almost back as the light began to fail, when he took off again. Now it was growing dark, in an area I didn’t know, with a lost dog. When I found him I leashed him and tried to walk him out of an aspen woods, getting caught every other step on small trees and brush in the dark. Frustrating. He was my Jacob dog. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel: Israel means “to struggle with God and prevail.” Pip struggled with me and prevailed.
He was an amazing hunting dog, running with speed and often covered with blood from the cuts he sustained. Each year I took Christine out for a hunting trip and finished with dinner at a restaurant before heading home. We heard Pip yelp in pain but could not find where he had injured himself. He hunted another forty minutes and we put him in his crate and drove for dinner. Eventually, a couple of hours later, we arrived home and when I opened his crate door he staggered out with a hematoma on his chest as large as a cantaloupe. His gums were pale. I rushed him to the vet for fluids. It turns out a small sharp stick had penetrated his neck, nicking his jugular vein. The hematoma slowed the bleeding enough to save his life – as did the fluids. He knew only one speed. Fast!
A last Pip story. Pippin knew where the birds were and if I whistled him to come in or change direction, he would immediately go on point. He knew I would honor his points and he’d wait until I got there, look at me with a wise “got ya” look and then trot off to eventually find the bird with me in tow.
Yet all things come to an end. Pip could not hunt last season. Arthritis had severely limited his ability as he grew old. A decision had to be made. In recent weeks he would stand and look at me, eye to eye. His tail no longer wagged, he stopped eating and his bodily functions were failing. He could barely lie down and I had to lift him into his kennel. I made an appointment for euthanasia, but he seemed to rebound and I canceled it. A week later I made the appointment again. After 14 years and 3 months it would be Y.P. Pippin’s last day. Christine and I gave him a bath and I sat down on the deck and fully expected him to climb into my lap. Besides hunting this was his favorite thing to do since the day he rode on my daughter’s lap for the hours it took to bring him home as a puppy from Lower Michigan.
He nuzzled me, but could not lie down in my lap. Instead he walked away, laid down facing me looking into my eyes. He needed the deep sleep. The vet was very kind. Pippin never liked examining tables and she always treated him on the floor. Out came some blankets and it was time to let him go with Christine’s and my hands on him. We cried. The vet cried as he relaxed and laid his head down and was gone. And now Beckon is looking for him. Everywhere. She is not eating, she feels his absence as do I. His release was peaceful, and he looked so good once he was freed from the tension and anxiety that pain was producing, I wanted him back. There are three empty collars now in my hunting prep room. There are now three dogs that have been my companions that are now buried in my heart. I fear that Beckon will not be far behind in joining Pippin, Tucker, and Cisly. Love is worth the journey, but there are tears and many days will now dawn wet.
Rest easy Y.P. Pippin. And thanks for everything.

David L. Echelbarger

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