Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

F-4 Phantom

F-4 Phantom
F-4 Phantom

Friday, June 24, 2011


Recently a friend of mine had to put to sleep a very dear pet dog.  She was visibly upset at having had to do such a thing as she and her family were very attached to this little dog.  It brought back memories of my own from some years ago now when I faced a similar situation.  The only difference was my little dog graced our home for only three days...but those three days were as trying as any I've ever had to face.  Here is the story I wrote shortly after having to endure a very difficult situation.


I must be getting softhearted in my old age, because what transpired over that Labor Day weekend stirred emotions I thought long ago dormant. It was a tough lesson to endure, but one learned only by gazing through sorrowful windows into the lives of the most innocent.

I named him Buster, a fine looking Brittany pup, with his floppy ears and freckles across his muzzle. He was plump and fuzzy, bright-eyed and clumsy like most puppies with paws too large for his body. My wife and kids fell in love with him right away. Complete with hunting genetics, the odds were excellent he would become a fine birddog and hunting companion.

I picked him up in Tulsa on Saturday, the first day of Labor Day weekend. He appeared unsure of himself on the two hour drive to my home in Edmond, Oklahoma. By the time we arrived, his puppy nature took over and he started to survey his new surroundings. 

Our other dog Sadie, a mixed breed of gentle temperament, wasn’t quite sure what to make of this intruder, but she quickly adjusted and accepted Buster as a new playmate.

The next morning was opening day of dove season. My brother Ken, and long time hunting partner Rocky, made the drive over and were eager to try out my new dove location. That evening as they admired the new pup, I beamed with pride like a new dad.

We left early the next morning figuring we would return well before noon, so I didn’t worry too much about Buster having run of the house. My wife, who was still in Tulsa, was not happy about that after she found out Buster had left a few calling cards...oops.

Not long after returning from our morning hunt, I realized Buster wasn’t showing the spunk of the day before. I thought it was just a reaction to the vaccinations. I tried calling our veterinarian, but getting hold of him was difficult on a holiday weekend. I wasn’t all that worried and by that evening he was acting like most puppies, romping and stomping and playing with the kids. We had a little fun that evening after I discovered one of the doves taken that afternoon was still alive, so I hid it in the flower garden and called Buster over. His hunting instinct kicked in and he became extremely birdie with his stubby tail buzzing with excitement as he worked his head from side to side trying to lock in on the scent.

He slept without a peep that night on an old pair of my pajama bottoms he took a liking to, and when I awoke the next morning he was sitting beside my bed looking up at me floppy-eared and wide-eyed. We made a quick run outside and he did his business. He was obviously a fast learner. By mid-morning things began to change. He started to vomit and his diarrhea became more pronounced. I noticed some blood in his stool and immediately called our veterinarian. He told me to give him Pedialyte every hour or so in small amounts and not to feed him anything, then bring him in the next morning.

It was a long, difficult night. I slept beside him, so I could monitor his activities was my excuse, when in reality I was worried about the little feller. Hour by hour his symptoms worsened and by the time the veterinarian saw him, Buster was seriously ill. It didn’t take long for a diagnosis. Parvovirus; a serious infection that attacks the lining of the intestines. Buster had more than likely contracted the virus the week before I picked him up, but the symptoms only became prevalent a day or so later, but he was not yet in critical condition, so there was a chance, slim as it was, that he would recover. After an I/V of glucose and a shot of penicillin to combat secondary infections, we took him home with the hope he would show some improvement by morning.

That evening as I lay beside him and stroked his neck and shoulder, my heart ached each time his emaciated sides would heave. He was so helpless and so frail and was so sick. I wanted to make it all go away, but could do nothing except give him fluids a tablespoon at a time and gently pet his now painfully thin shoulders. As he lay on that old pair of pajamas, I extended my arm along his side. He lifted his head and placed it across my hand as though he found comfort in knowing I was there. By 4:00 AM he took a turn for the worse and began to vomit more regularly and his stools became a stream of blood. My heartache turned into heartbreak. We rushed him to the veterinarian the next morning and right away he said it did not look good. Further treatment would only prolong his suffering, and as difficult as it was, we all knew what had to be done.

As the veterinarian shaved a patch on Buster’s forearm to expose a blood vessel for the injection that would end his suffering, Buster lifted his head one final time and looked at us with hollow, but trusting eyes, not comprehending what was about to happen. I gently stroked his back and scratched his ears just before his last breath left him. It was a hard moment. My wife sobbed out loud as we left the room, and I discovered that growing softhearted in my old age is not such a bad thing, and I unashamedly broke down, fighting back the lump in my throat and wiping blurry images from my eyes.

That nine week old runt of a puppy captured my heart like nothing else could, and to watch him suffer stabbed at my emotions exposing a softness and compassion I never knew existed. Maybe it was because he was a puppy with that unbridled exuberance found only in innocence, or maybe it happened during those few hours before he fell ill when he pounced and romped, and stole forever any ability to look upon him as anything but a family member.

Our life together could be measured in hours, but what I learned from him will influence the rest of my life. Through all of his suffering, he never once whimpered. Through all of the discomfort, he took it in stride and demonstrated through hurting eyes that he still trusted us. Maybe it was because he did trust us that somehow we felt in our hearts that we failed him. Many things in life are difficult to deal with, but such a thought adds additional weight to painful memories that even time will find difficult to remove.

I left his tiny body in a grave surrounded by late summer wildflowers that were caressed by a gentle breeze rolling across the Oklahoma prairie. It was a quiet, peaceful place where we would have hunted had he lived.

Through his courage, I learned a great deal about myself. Through his suffering, I understand, more clearly now, about the bond between a hunter and his dog, a bond forged by adversity and tempered with grief. My two sons learned a valuable lesson as well, one about trust, loyalty and compassion, and that some lessons in life are difficult. 

Another bird dog will come my way someday, and with him, a lifetime of memories, but only one little pup named Buster will retain that special memory. As difficult as some memories are, good things often come from them, like rekindling dormant emotions and growing softhearted in the face of misfortune. By experiencing such things, I am no longer an ordinary person poor of spirit, but a transformed individual rich in understanding.

Keith R. Bridgman 

1 comment:

Jenn said...

Keith, my dad is a Veterinarian. When I was young our Brittany Spaniel got Parvo. It is a nasty virus. My dad was able to save her, but it was a long haul.

Tears ran down my face as I read this, because I know so much what you felt and what you went through.

When I was a teenager my dad had a house calls practice. He had is office and surgery in the basement of our home and then went to peoples houses for the basic stuff. Anyway there were many times us kids helped out and there were many times we cried.

Thank you for sharing this.