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Goodbye to a great companion

My wife and I have been without kids during our 32 years of marriage but we have never been without a dog.

Six years ago we were looking for a dog and we chanced upon a yellow purebred lab which my daughter and I named King Titus.

King was everything you would expect in a blockhead lab - clumsy, fun-loving, crazy to retrieve and friendly.

We had only had him a couple of weeks when my son suggested I take him along pheasant hunting. That did not sound like a good idea to me at first. He was only 3 months old and I had always heard that you can ruin a dog for hunting by taking him out too early and scaring him with your shotgun fire. King quickly proved the exception to that rule. I was careful not to fire over him the first time we flushed a pheasant but after that he was a fixture in our group - never straying too far from my side while my pointer searched for pheasants.

They will tell you that hunting pointers and labs together is not a good idea, but we made a pretty good team in the years that followed. The pointer would lock up on a bird and that was the signal for King to charge. If I managed to bag the bird it was King that would usually retrieve it. The pointer would go off in search of another bird. It was not all sunshine and roses though. After a while King decided he was missing too much of the fun and started sniffing out birds himself. He flushed his share and quite often they were two gun ranges out when they got up.

I took him on a waterfowl hunting trip to Canada two years ago. When we reached the border they checked me like I had smuggler written on my forehead. Both the U.S. and Canadian customs people went through my vehicle with a fine tooth comb. King sat in the backseat the whole time and received smiles and compliments. They did not even ask for his papers.

When I pulled into a town a short time later to buy my hunting license I joked to the owner about how thoroughly the customs people had checked me and how little attention they had paid King.

"Now I have to buy this hunting license," I grumbled in mock indignation. "What about my dog."

"Dogs don't need licenses to hunt in Canada," he laughed.

That shows you what they think of hunters and what they think of dogs north of here.

We had a great time in Canada. King worked hard. He was in retriever heaven with all of the ducks we brought down and he certainly made us laugh. One night we were invited to an outdoor party on the farm where we were staying. At one point I looked around for King and sure enough, there he was, right in the middle of all of the guests, eyes shut and head nodding. Later that night as we slept in our old school bus King had a dream and let out a long, blood-curdling wolf howl in his sleep.

If there is one truth about labs it is that they are great family dogs. King always wanted to be at our feet or with me in the truck. Winter, spring, summer and fall King did not care what I was doing as long as he was able to ride along. I could have robbing banks for all he cared.

The saddest day for a dog owner is the day they have to say good-bye to their pal. That day arrived for us on Tuesday. We had tried pills and taken him to the vet several times but the cards were stacked against us. You come to a point where you have to do what is best for the dog, no matter how tough it is.