Manny’s Last Swim

Growing up in North Carolina, we seemed to always have a dog for a family pet, but I was not a hunter of any kind, so I never trained or owned hunting dogs. Some uncles had beagles and coon hounds, and as a young boy I shivered around many campfires as they talked about which dog was leading the pack. A few duck hunting relatives used retrievers such as the golden, the Labrador, and the Chesapeake Bay on their duck hunts, so this is my knowledge of retrievers.  Therefore, when I met Manny after his family moved from the rocky Atlantic coast of Rhode Island to Lake Norman, N.C. I was unfamiliar with his breed—the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. That’s quite a breed name for a dog weighing at most fifty pounds.

Curious about Manny and his breed, I conducted a simple Internet search and discovered the interesting heritage of Manny. His long, roan colored hair, similar to that of the Irish Setter, not only protected him in the cold waters of Nova Scotia but caused him to appear like a fox. The hunters/breeders in Nova Scotia had discovered that ducks were fascinated by foxes, so they would come close to shore if they saw one. Thus, Manny and his kind, all energetic dogs, were bred to run along the shore looking like a fox and the curious ducks would be lured within gunshot range of the hunter. Then the strong swimmer would retrieve the shot ducks. The luring action explains their name because tollen is derived from Middle English which means, among other things, “to summon.” They literally summoned the ducks for their masters.

Unfortunately,  I did not get to know Manny that well or long because he was already thirteen when I met him. I missed his young days of swimming in the cold waters of Rhode Island while playing with his young owners. I like to think that he thought nothing of jumping into the northeast waters of the Atlantic when he was lured to it by one of them. I missed those vibrant days of his youth, but I would see him moseying along on an early morning walk in his front yard. Sometimes he would “slip away” from his human companion and walk in his cul-de-sac and sometimes try to make it all the way to our shared road. But better than the yard or road, he liked the lake. After all, that is what he was bred for. Water.

While I did not get to know Manny that well, I have gotten to know the middle child of the family. Gabby is in her mid-twenties and works in Boston. She is an independent, strong young female who carries herself well. She has a fire that I greatly admire and holds her family, boyfriend, and Manny close. So when her parents told her that Manny was fading, she and her boyfriend flew from Boston to the lake to be with her family, and she cherished Manny. 

My wife Mary Ann holds that no pet’s last day should be its worst, and Manny’s masters had watched him closely to ensure that he was now just old, not suffering, but fading in body and spirit. This week they decided that it was time because he was losing control of his bowel and bladder; he slept most of the time, and his days of swimming in the wild Atlantic had passed. The preacher writes in Ecclesiastes that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” It was Manny’s season.

Manny’s last day was definitely not his worst. His family fed him his favorites, they cuddled him in his blanket, and as for the past fifteen years, they unconditionally loved him. Gabby, the grown middle child,  honored him and his breed by taking him for a last swim in the lake. After all, Manny was a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who was bred for the water. It was her last gift to a cherished member of their family.

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