Author Topic: Sophie's Story - Chapter 3  (Read 30 times)

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Sophie's Story - Chapter 3
« on: November 09, 2017, 03:31:00 AM »
Chapter 3 — 18 December, 1991

I can't believe I haven't been back to this narrative for two years...two full hunting seasons have come and gone.  Sophie and I have done a lot of hunting in each of the past two autumns.  When it's not bird-season we dream about it -- I talk to her, and she wags in agreement.  We walk and drive together everywhere (everywhere she's allowed -- wish I could take her to work).  Where do I take up the story?  I guess with a little about Sophie's health, and then my health, and then the new truck, and then my new happy hunting ground.

In early 1990 I took Sophie in for a physical in preparation to breeding her.  The vet said, "Would you mind lifting her up onto the table."  I pointed to the table and said, "Sophie, kennel."   Boing.  Happy smiling lab face at the vet's eye-level.  "My," said the vet, "...my, she certainly is athletic."  "Oh, sure," I said, "you know, track events.  Sprints and jumps.  But she's no good at all with the javelin."  I don't think that vet likes me -- it's OK, I've changed vets. 

Then I bred Sophie to a nice old Black Lab named Smokey.  ...Well, I didn't exactly breed her.  I couldn't decide on a good match, so I kept her locked in my workshop for two weeks to keep her celibate until 1990.  Then one night, a week after I thought it safe to let her out, Smokey and Sophie got together on their own.  Surprise!  But Sophie had problems with this pregnancy.  She had only two pups, and they died inside her.  They had to be removed surgically, and she had to be spayed in order to do the operation.  I won't ever get to hunt with her pup, after all.  Payback for Tucker?  I don't know...feels like it, but that's silly.  Other than sthat, Sophie is in the prime of her life.  She's going on five years old now, and she's gained a few pounds since she was fixed, but she never tires, she never slows down.  She just looks more like your normal wide-body lab.

Me, I'm a bit more wide-bodied, too.  I gave up smoking a year ago, and found quitting to be an excellent excuse to scarf down an extra burger and fries.  When I decided to quit, I told the doctor I would quit smoking when I finished the carton.  I ran out on 21 September 1990, autumn equinox -- I was with Sophie looking for grouse up near the equipment shack on Little Bald, hunting by ourselves [Yoko thinks I'm nuts to go hunting or camping alone -- but I've been doing it since I was a kid, and anyway, I tell her, I'm not alone, Sophie's always with me].  I smoked the last one, stubbed it out, field stripped it.  I got up, and was about to walk the two miles back to the truck and drive twenty miles out to the Wood Shack restaurant on Highway 410 to get another pack.  I'd completely forgotten my vow to quit at the end of the carton.  Sophie sniffed the tiny ball of rolled up paper, and I swear she looked at me and shook her head.  "OK," I told her.  I knelt down and wrapped my arms tight around her.  "OK, I promised."  ...And yeah, I feel better...I do.  And I know it's good for me, but I really miss it.  I'm sure Sophie wonders why I get down and hug her sometimes, and breathe real deep.  I've never bought that next pack.

I finally got the new truck I'd promised myself and Sophie. The departure of the alleged-Chevy, "old Blue", was a foregone conclusion.  It's fate was sealed the night I burned out the clutch getting it up a pretty decent road to the top of Bald Mountain -- not Little Bald, this is the one across the Naches River canyon to the south, near Manastash Ridge.  That old truck just wasn't geared right for mountain roads.  I had barely enough clutch left to drive it home.  And the new truck?  Well, it's not exactly new -- it's a '75 Ford 4x4.  It's a honey.  I got it just before Christmas, 1989.  It climbs cliffs with a smile.  It would probably climb a tree.  Sophie loves it.

In 1990 we had just one great day for dove, just across Ahtanum Creek, up from Wiley City.  I got my limit on opening day by 7:45.  [I just had to write that down.]  I thought the doves would be few and far between, so I only had 15 shells in my vest.  No, I'm not under any illusion that I can bag 10 doves with 15 shells, but I really didn't think there would be any shooting.  And then the birds came thundering by in gangs of four, five, six....  Two minutes later I had no shells and one dove.  I trudged back out to the car where (luckily) I had three boxes of shells, and I took them all (no, I didn't think I'd need 75 rounds to get nine doves -- I took one box each for me and my two sons, Sage and Don -- they were low on ammo, too).  About ten minutes later I had my limit, and it only took me ten shells for those nine additional doves.  I got a double, and then I got an honest triple.  First and only.  I have never shot like that before.  I hope I do again, someday.  When Ken Hammer is around, he's usually the one who limits first.  He looked at me, shook his head, and said, "guess you've got the hot hand today."  That felt good -- it was nice of him.  And Sophie?  Oh, yeah, she retrieved every one of them with style.  I then put away my gun, and worked Sophie for my boys, and for anyone else who needed a bird retrieved.  In the next two hours, Sophie must have retrieved 30 or 40 birds, and she was as close to heaven as she has ever been.  She got birds that day the other dogs missed, even got a blind retrieve from a bramble-thicket for son Sage.

Then several of us went to Paul Dressel's house, because someone had given Paul this special recipe for a barbecue-marinade that was supposed to make doves taste good.  Barbecued.  Yeah, right.  Like, they're not small and dry enough to start with?  Sage and I cleaned 40 doves in 15 minutes flat.  That has to be some kind of world record.  Then Paul destroyed them.  First he soaked them in this marinade, then he grilled them...incinerated them.  They looked like dog #urds.  Poor little things.  We all took one, and took one bite, and then we ate a lot of the fresh sweet corn, which was wonderful.  He asked a few times how we liked the doves.  None of us would look him in the eye and tell him the truth.  Then he finally tried one himself, and gagged.  We salvaged what meat we could get from the remains, and gave it to the four dogs.  Ken Hammer's dogs, Heckle & Jeckle, ate a little of it, but Sophie and Jo-Jo wouldn't.  Sophie just curled up her lip and spat it out.  Paul was spared that sight.  He'd cheered up by that time – he was grilling franks and laughing at Ken's two young sons who were fighting in his pool.  He remarked, ?Say, those two would make great front-end springs for a '59 Caddy.?  He was ticked at me for feeding beer to his parrot until it lay on its back and made hollow burping noises.  I didn't feel like I'd abused it.  I mean, come on, I didn't try to feed it any petrified dove-meat.

And again, as usual, the day after opening there were few doves to be found.  After an uneventful morning hunt on 2 September, we headed up to the back (north) side of Mount Clemens for grouse.  It seems some riders had observed huge throngs of grouse grazing up Milk Canyon a few days earlier.  We parked the trucks, and prepared to mount our assault on the multitudinous grouse.  In loading his shotgun, Sage made an interesting discovery.  "Hey, look, Dad, I can push six shells into my pump's magazine.  ...Swell.  It's a nice Mossberg 500 I picked up at last year's Vashon Sportsman's Club auction -- the previous owner must have removed the plug, since he only kept it for home-defense.  Part of his home had fallen on him and killed him, so it hadn't really served its purpose.  Anyway, I told Sage I'd fix up a temporary plug that night, just don't put more than one in the chamber and two in the mag.  He asked, "Why?"  ...I told him, "Because".  And away we all went.

Now those massive herds of grouse must have grazed that canyon bare of grouse-feed -- we saw nary a bird.  However, we did make the acquaintance of one Robert Lamb, state fish & game warden.  I had a foot problem, so I'd knocked off early and gone back down-canyon to the truck for some ibuprofen.  Sophie wouldn't hunt with anyone else, so she was with me.

Warden Bob was leaning on my truck, waiting for us.  Seems we'd inadvertently driven past a sign that said, "NO unauthorized vehicles past this point".  We were on a "green-dot road", unused so that elk, deer, and other denizens of the mountain could eat, sleep, and fornicate in peace, without being bothered by the vehicles of basty nastards like us grouse-hunters.  I'd been a passenger in the lead vehicle with Uncle Bob and Ken Hammer, and had been watching the road behind us as my sons, Sage and Don, had been following (too close) in my truck, eating our dust.  I had not seen the sign.  I was sure Sage hadn't seen anything but dust.  I put on my best humble-bumpkin-in-agony act and was profusely apologetic.  I said the driver of the lead vehicle, old Uncle Bob Hammer, was sweet and decent old guy, but near-sighted and dyslexic.  We were totally oblivious, clue-less, and harmless.

Warden Bob went pretty easy on me -- he'd seen me limping, and he took to Sophie straight off -- started rubbing her ears.  He softened up, and helped me break into my truck for the medicine (Sage, of course, had the keys).  I sucked down three ibuprofen and a quart of water, and was thinking we might get out of this without serious jail-time when Warden Bob said, "Let me see your gun."  I handed him my old Remington model 31 pump, which I'd emptied as I approached the road -- he took three shells and tried to put them into the magazine.  Only two fit.  He emptied it and handed it back.  My blood started to run a bit on the chilly side.  I smiled as warmly as I was able, put my gun into its case, and tried to make small talk.  Next down the canyon, 20 minutes behind me, were Ken Hammer and my son Don.  They absorbed the requisite lecture with suitably down-cast eyes.  Don was carrying "old Betsy", my ancient Winchester model 24.  Side-by-side, no need to check.  Warden Bob checked Ken's semi-auto.  The mag would take only two shells.  My feet were like ice.  Warden Bob was scratching Sophie's ears again, and she was leaning against his knee and blissfully thumping her tail on the dusty road.

And then came Uncle Bob and Sage.  Warden Bob glanced at Uncle Bob's Browning over-&-under, and whipped into his lecture about green-dot roads for the third time.  He reached for Sage's Mossberg pump, and I was thinking, "what am I going to tell his mother?" when good ol' Uncle Bob had a brain-f@rt and started to give Warden Bob a large ration of crap.  "Damn right, I saw that sign, and I figured, hey, I'm a tax-paying citizen, I am by-god authorized, who the hell is more entitled to use this road than I am?" 

This logic impressed Warden Bob no end.  His right hand was caressing his gun-butt.  He observed of Uncle Bob, mildly, "Say, you aren't wrapped too tight, are you?"  There was also a soft-spoken comment to the effect that maybe Uncle Bob's parents were more closely related than the laws in some states might allow, and if he had any brains A-tall, he'd be more dangerous than a rabid weasel.  Uncle Bob observed, not too mildly, "Hey, you, you're a public servant, and we are the by-god public, so when in the hell are you gonna start serving?"  If there had been no witnesses, Uncle Bob might have talked himself into a first-class pistol-whipping.  But Sophie was still leaning against Warden Bob's knee, and after clenching once or twice, his left hand resumed the gentle scratching.  Uncle Bob finally cooled down, and then so did Warden Bob, and the two Bobs shared a beer while they checked a map on which Warden Bob marked some places where we might find grouse.  Meanwhile, I'd unloaded the Mossberg and put it in its case and buried it deep under a couple of sleeping bags and a pile of gear.  Thank you, Uncle Bob and thank you, Sophie.  They had unwittingly tag-teamed the good warden.  I whittled a plug for Sage's gun later that day.

...It's way past midnight, and I'm too tired to go on.  I'll try to continue this narrative before I completely forget my memories of the past 24 months.  Soon.  I promise.  G'night.
___________________ ___________________ _______________

11 January, 1992

...I'm back.  Saturday night.  It's my birthday.  Forty-eight.  Age is funny, I don't feel any older than when I was 30, or 35, or 40.  Whatever age I am, that's the right age to be.  Younger people are always inexperienced and wet behind the ears, and older folks, well, they can't help it if they're just old f@rts.  This is a point of view that might not stand up to thoughtful inspection.  So let's don't do that.  Yes, I've had a few, but I'm not really drunk.  Just a little fuzzy.  Everyone else is asleep.  I'm not tired, and my memory is working overtime, and I can still type ok.  So the story continues….

One of the places Game Warden Bob Lamb had suggested was a half-mile long ridge at 6,000 feet, pointing west from the northern end of the crest of Bald Mountain.  We found that ridge on 3 September 1990, the day after our run-in with Mr Lamb, and we found grouse.  And Sophie and I found our own personal happy hunting ground.  One of the prettiest places I've ever seen, with lots of open meadows and high timber, mostly alpine fir and pine, lots of rocky points, with overlooks looking west (across several purple ridges, up the American River canyon, across Chinook pass to Mt Rainier), northwest (along the Cascade Crest to Snoqualmie Summit), north (the Stewart Range and more purple ridges, and sometimes Mt Baker), northeast (Manastash Ridge with its Elephant Rocks, and beyond it another dozen purple ridges running forever), east (down Wenas Valley to the lights of Selah, across Yakima River to the dark-land of the firing range, and more ridges running until the curve of the earth eats them), southeast (Mt Clemens), south (more of Mt Clemens), south-southwest (Mt Adams and another dozen purple ridges), southwest (Goat Rocks), and back to west (Mt Rainier).  There is a good trail along Gold Creek down to the top of Devil's Slide, where you can sometimes watch mountain goats from above, which was a first for me.  There are a couple of winter elk-penning areas, and if you're quiet, you can usually catch a few elk grazing on the ridge-sides.  There is good water a mile down to the north, at Summit Springs, and lots of deer (when it's not deer-season) and coyotes and golden eagles, and I've seen sign of bear and mountain lion too, but I haven't told Yoko.  She doesn't exactly cotton to the idea of camping with critters what got serious teeth.  It took her quite a while just to warm up to the coyotes.  I think I'll hold off on talking about bears and cougars until she actually sees one.  At that point, talking about them likely won't make a whole hell of a lot of difference.

Grouse were very good again in 1991.  I got a 3-grouse limit twice, once up in my happy-hunting-ground on the backside of Bald Mountain, once near Flatiron Lake.  No terribly funny stories, but Sophie had by now matured into a truly great hunting dog, having learned to work the brush in areas that I could see, and within gun-range. At first, in trees and high brush, she'd work too far out in front, and flush birds I couldn't see.  I used whistle calls to try to keep her in check, but pretty soon she was, once again, out of my sight.  Finally, I started putting her on heel whenever she did this.  At home, on walks, Sophie doesn't mind heeling...but in the high country, with birds around, it drove her a bit insane.  In a few minutes I'd release her from heel, and she'd start working out in front of me again.  I had to do that about four or five times before she figured it out, and began looking over her shoulder to make sure I was in sight.

Later, down in the lower valley, I had my usual luck, finding lots of pheasant hens and hardly any roosters.  But where I found birds, I hit them a lot better.  I stopped switching back and forth between the old Winchester model 24 side-by-side and the even-older Remington model 31 pump.  I've stuck with the pump since 1989.  Either the shots have been easier, or my shooting is getting better.  I also bagged a few quail along the tracks near White Swan, on the Yakama reservation, and a Hungarian partridge halfway up the west slope of Ahtanum ridge. 

Sophie has been phenomenal on everything except for that lone Hungarian partridge. Uncle Bob, my son Sage, and I were coming back from the lower Yakama valley on the jeep-road that takes off from the upper end of Brownstown Road, across Ahtanum ridge.  We came around a corner and there they were, a flock of small red-brown birds maybe 75 yards ahead -- huns -- they were fluffing their feathers in the road-dust.  We backed around the corner, got out the dogs and the guns, and approached them.  They flushed well out of range, but circled back around to fly/glide down-canyon.  They were almost 50 yards out, maybe ten yards too far for 7? shot in 2? inch standard hunting loads.  But just on the off-chance...we all fired one round.  And one bird went down, hard, kicking up a little puff of dust.  Mine.  One of those occasions when there was no doubt who shot the bird.  Bob and Sage looked at each other, and each shook his head, "nope, not me".  I smiled, and sent Sophie...and she could not find that bird.  I knew where it went down, so I finally located it and sent Sophie right straight over it three times, and she never twitched a nostril.  I finally picked it up, shook it in front of her nose, tossed it a few feet, and said "fetch!"  ...And I swear she still had trouble finding it.  Bob's dog Jo-Jo was also unable to "see" that hun.  It was invisible, a bird without a scent.

I've shot huns before, but not with a dog, so this was a first for Sophie (also the first time for Jo-Jo, for that matter).  But no other new species ever fazed those two pros before.  It was a hot, dry, dusty day, and the dogs were tired and thirsty (we'd run out of water), and we did actually see the birds dust-bathing, so maybe the circumstances were exceptional.  I hope we find some huns again -- I want to see how she handles them next time.

I taught Sophie some simple hand signals last summer, before the 1991 season.  I'd throw two or three balls to the left, two or three more to the right, and two or three straight out.  I'd line up Sophie on one of the balls straight out and send her, but about five yards out I'd give her a single whistle -- she'd stop, turn around, and sit, facing me.  I'd raise both hands;  then I'd use voice AND hand signals:  get OVER (both arms sweep right),  get OVER (both arms sweep left),  or get BACK (both arms thrust straight out in front).  Twice a day, 15 or 20 minutes.  In two weeks she had them down cold.  Although it took several more weeks, I also taught her to go to my(her) truck, from any distance, on the voice command, "TRUCK!"   I figured if I ever break a leg or something while hunting alone, it would be nice if I could send Sophie back for help, periodically.

She really needed those hand signals on opening day last year.  We were on the Yakama reservation, somewhere west of Harrah -- sounds funny to be so vague, but Bob was driving, we got there before dawn, and when we left I didn't note exactly where it was.  Anyway, there we were, Uncle Bob and I and two of Bob's acquaintances, a friend from his shooting club, Jim Pearson, and a friend of Jim's named Randy something.  Jim was a teacher, recently retired.  None of the others had brought dogs.  It was supposed to be a hot, dry, dusty day, and Jim had persuaded everyone else that dogs couldn't smell dove on a hot, dry, dusty day (BS).  "And anyway," says Jim, "it's easier to just walk over and pick 'em up.  Heck, who needs a dog for dove?" 

I do.  I don't hunt any kind of birds without Sophie.  What would be the point?  We're  partners.  Anyway, we were in a large field of cut wheat.  At the corner of the field where Jim, Randy, and I would be shooting there were a lot of high weeds and uncut volunteer wheat.  Forty feet to our left ran a deep and almost dry irrigation ditch, dividing our field from a large field of mint to the east.  At the top of the other bank of the ditch was a pig-wire fence.  In the gathering light, I saw a small break in the fence just across from us.  Using compact-glasses, I checked out the fence for two hundred yards or more, and couldn't see any more breaks.  I was pretty sure we'd need to use that hole.  Bob was maybe 150 yards out in front of us, at the top of our side of the ditch, in a line of perhaps seven or eight other hunters at the edge of our field, strangers who had found the same field to hunt in.  Some of them had dogs, but with all the running around and barking, it didn't appear any of them had been trained much.

We waited for the sun to come up.  Finally the doves started flying in, but not in great numbers.  As the shooting started, almost immediately I knocked down two that came in from behind us, over our shoulders from right to left, and of course, both managed to make it across the ditch before dropping hard into the mint and disappearing.  Sophie had watched one of them auger into the mint, but I was fairly sure she hadn't marked the other one.  I knew they were both hard hit, not likely to move at all.  I lined Sophie up for the hole in the fence, and sent her.  She drifted a bit, and came up the other bank to the right of the break.  I whistled her to stop, then used hand signals to move her left to the hole.  She found the hole, then found the bird she'd marked, and brought it back through the hole to me.  I lined her up on the hole, and sent her again.  This time she went directly to the hole.  When she was through, I whistled her to stop, and then hand-signaled her to the place in the mint I thought the second dove was, and hollered, "Where's the bird, Sophie?  Find the bird!"  She did, and brought it back. 

Meanwhile, Jim and Randy, both crack shots, had knocked down about ten doves, but couldn't find half of them in the deep weeds and wheat.  They asked if I'd please send Sophie to find them..  I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, "Why, heck, who needs a dog for doves?  Why don't you just walk over and pick 'em up?"  I just said, "Sure."  They told me where they thought the birds had landed, and I maneuvered Sophie close, then told her to use her nose:  "Find the bird!"  She found all of them in just a few minutes, so I could go back to hunting for my own game. 

As the morning went on, many of the birds hit by hunters out in front of us landed in the mint field, and their dogs had no way to get to them.  They would call to me for help, tell me where they thought the birds were, and I would send Sophie through the hole, then right, down to about where I had been told the bird was, and then I'd holler to Sophie to  "Find the bird!"  I think she found almost all of them -- a dove in a mint field is a real test of a retriever's nose, but she just kept finding birds.  She'd bring them to me, and I'd pile them up -- periodically one of the strangers would arrive to get a stack of birds.  The four of us in our party finally limited out, and drove to the Harrah Cafe for breakfast.  Sophie had retrieved about thirty birds, and I was the envy of the whole field.  As we were leaving, two of the strangers came to ask who had trained her, and if they could buy pups when I bred Sophie.  I said I'd trained her, but with her, training was a snap.  It was hard to tell them Sophie couldn't have pups.  I've run into that question three other times in the past couple of years.  It hurts to answer it.

I had an unexpected training experience with Sophie in late October 1991-- my son Sage and I and Bob & Ken Hammer and a couple of Ken's friends were hunting pheasant on the Yakama reservation.  We were at old man Hoptuit's place on Browntown road.  I was working one side of an irrigation ditch alone, and got separated from the rest of the gang.  I just took my time, hunted alone with Sophie the rest of the morning.  At one point we were working along a big dry drainage ditch full of brush, which stretched maybe 150 yards before it shallowed and opened up in a field. Sophie flushed a big rooster which I shot at but missed.  Sophie broke and followed the rooster's flight down the ditch while I just laughed and shook my head.  When she ran out of steam, she was near the end of the ditch.  I gave her a single-beep whistle and held my right arm straight up to stop her.  She turned to face me and sat down.  I shouted "Ditch, Sophie, DITCH!", and gave her the hand signal for "get-over-to-the-right".  She looked puzzled by the new command, but when I repeated it and gave the hand signal again, she moved over into the ditch, at which point I gave her a double-beep whistle and yelled, "COME!".  She popped up out of the ditch and started toward me, and I stopped her with arm straight up and a single-beep.  She sat down.  I repeated the command ,"Ditch!" with the "get over" hand signal, and she obediently went back down into the ditch.  I called "Come", and this time she came straight back up the ditch.  About 50 yards in front of me she flushed a big hen, which I did NOT shoot, and Sophie came out the ditch to watch.  I sent her on a cast down to the end of the ditch again, and repeated the "Ditch!" command, and she immediately jumped into the ditch and worked back to me again, this time flushing a rooster about ten yards in front of me, which I bagged.  I was pretty sure there were no more birds in that ditch, but I repeated the entire process two more times, so Sophie would have a chance to get it imprinted in her brain.  That is one sweet trick.  I think we may get a few more roosters with that one.

I need to tell you about Sophie's exploits at my local shooting club.  I've served three years as secretary of the Vashon Sportsman's club, 1989 through '91.  I just gave up the position ten days ago -- three years was enough, and I was tired of trying to find a stand-in for a Friday night meeting when I wanted to hunt. 

Anyway, while I was secretary, I'd get to the meetings early to prepare the bills for presentation and payment.  Starting the second or third meeting, I let Sophie lay beside my chair.  All the members knew and loved Sophie.  She was so clean and odorless, no-one objected.  It became a tradition.  One night Pat Hardy walked in with his old dog, Lady.  A quorum of elders told him he could either put his stinking dog in his truck, or leave entirely.  Pat said, "well, what about Sophie?"  Silence for maybe five seconds.  Then Ed Babcock, an elder statesmen, spoke quietly.  "Sophie," he said, "has class."  End of discussion.  Sophie was at my side for the rest of my tenure.  As far as I know, she was the only dog ever allowed in the club, at least during meetings.  She stayed at my side, motionless, throughout the meetings.

But when she heard the gavel fall, ending the meeting, she headed straight for the bar.  After meetings, the bar would be opened up and food was available, free to those buying drinks:  boiled franks, hard-boiled eggs, chips, and such.  Conversation centered naturally on hunting, shooting, and fishing.  Sophie had begging down to a fine art.  She didn't drool or stare directly at a man with food.  She would simply position herself within his view, look terribly hungry and yet somehow proudly noble and deserving, too -- don't ask me how, she just did it, and boy, she did it well.  If a handout was not quickly forthcoming, she would commence to moan, gently.  It never failed.  Not once.  Even after all the members had seen this routine, they'd still feed her, rewarding her for her acting ability, I suppose.  She deserved an Oscar.  I never fed her the usual meal of dog food on meeting nights.  It would have been superfluous.  Sometimes after a meeting she got heartburn and the most incredibly rancid gas from eating eggs...I made her sleep outside.  Served her right.

A new member recently asked if Sophie could retrieve, and a longtime Sophie-supporter bragged her up pretty good.  The new guy was skeptical.  So I got nine tennis balls from the truck, and took Sophie out to the grass-field parking lot (for dances and parties we have room for 100 vehicles or more).  With the mercury vapor lamp, it was pretty well lit up, maybe 25 vehicles spread around.  I threw three balls to the right, three to the left, and three more or less straight out, telling Sophie to mark, every time I tossed one.  Just by chance, one of them rolled under my own truck, just back of a front tire and out of sight.  I used hand signals to send Sophie for every ball except the one under the truck.  Then I just looked at Sophie, and said, "Come on, Sophie, you don't need me to give you hand signals for the last one.  If you've been marking them properly, you know it's under the TRUCK!"  What she heard, of course, was "blah blah blah blah blah blah TRUCK!"

So she ran to the truck.  I was about to yell, "Find the bird", but she smelled it before I said anything, and she retrieved it all by herself, looking quite pleased with herself.  There were maybe seven or eight witnesses.  Not one of them said a word.  I didn't explain, just patted Sophie and told her she was a good dog, took her back inside and gave her a whole hot dog.

But the word is out, now.  Sophie may not actually be able to speak, but she can understand normal English, even whole sentences.  That little stunt pushed her stock even higher with the rank and file of the club.  Hasn't hurt my stock either, for that matter.  I have so many reasons to love that dog.
The older I get, the better I used to be.  --  I thought my Dad coined that...but he stole it from Lee Trevino