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A Man & His Dog in Alaska;

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A Man & His Dog in Alaska;

It seems that I’ve had a dog since I was 13 years old and I’ve had a few. My first was a mixed hound cross who had little to offer as personality but to be fair when I was 13 – 15 years old neither did I. My Dad had passed away just after my thirteenth so I guess the dog was an attempt to fill the void. Poor fella ended up hit and killed by a car while on one of his spawning runs. I was heartbroken but did not replace him until I was 18. That’s when the bird dog thing started and over the years I had setters & pointers until May of 2002 when my last pointer died at 14. I always liked the idea of having a German Shepherd like ‘Rin Tin Tin’ (you older fellas remember him and the younger folks should Google that one) but owning bird dogs was my thing and those were good years. In 2005 there was a litter of German Shepherd pups born and one of them ended up being my friend and constant companion 'Boss'. Now Boss was one of those dogs who was not sure of himself and was actually quite timid. He needed someone to teach him and encourage him so that he could do whatever I was doing. Slowly but surely he got over being nervous about trying new things and has done activities from Skijoring (you might need to look that one up) to rafting through the white water and even riding on a snow machine. What I do, Boss does. I believe his favorite is the same as mine though; fishing, he loves to go to the rivers and that’s what all the writing is about here.

I have written many times about this dog of mine always being along on the rivers and how safe it makes me feel knowing that I have his eyes, ears and nose standing between us and any surprise encounters with a brown bear. He has already gave me the warning twice and both times we were able to make a quick exit before I found out what the heck was crashing through the bush toward the river. Moose, maybe but I don’t think so and I don’t hang around to find out. From camping through some of the wrost wind and rain storms, huddled in the tent while 85 mph winds threatened to flatten the tent on the shores of Kodiak Island Boss and I have seen some stuff together.

A few years ago this coming summer we had a pretty close call in our relationship. We were on a river looking to catch a few of whatever would take a salmon fly and rivers here can get ugly without even trying. Warm weather brings snow melt and that keeps the water levels pretty consistent through all but the driest of summer seasons. The river we were on was running clear but due to the gradient changes along the course of it there are some very swift stretches. It’s a safe rule to say that most of the rivers I fish in are running between 3.5 and 6 miles per hour surface speed. That 3.5 would be the equivalent of a very fast walk and the 6, well that’s jogging. I was at about mid channel on a nice long run and where I was standing the water was maybe knee deep but the far shore was a deep swift troth that was steadily cutting away the bank. Boss had been standing just upstream on my left side watching and when I moved a little past mid-stream he took that as the “we must be gonna cross signal”. Before I could say don’t do it he was committed and the current was transporting him down river a lot faster than his cross channel speed was moving him. In conditions other than this I could simply call him to turn around and he would do it but here panic took over and all he was wanting was to make shore on the opposite bank. The difference between man and dog at a time like this is that I was calculating his trajectory and it wasn’t looking good. Downstream there was a big sweeper jutting out at darn near 90* to the flow. A sweeper is what we call a big spruce tree whose roots have been eroded enough to drop the tree perpendicular to the flow of the river. Now sweepers gather up whatever comes along and on these rivers ‘whatever’ often means other trees and logs that are swept into the current farther upstream. This one was particularly bad in that the water was surging over some of the bark-less logs that had become part of the jam and the noise of the water was clearly audible from where I was at and I know that with his big ears and close proximity to the mess that he was being transported into, it had to sound deafening to Boss.

Not being the kind of fella to watch a slow train wreck I had already began retreating back to water shallow enough that I could break into a general white water thrashing run up stream to where I knew I may be able to wade the flow. Shouting the best encouragement I could think of as I raced for the other side of the river, “I’m coming buddy, hang on”! By the time I was crossing the river I could see that my best friend was in big trouble. He was trying to crawl up into the logs on the upstream side of the sweeper jam and barely hanging on. I shot up the bank and tossed my rod against the small alders that make the sides of most rivers and creeks here dam near impenetrable. One of the things that fishing in the middle of nowhere doesn’t offer are paths running along the stream. If there is a path you probably don’t wanna run into whatever made it head on anyway. This is where those rough tough waders really pay for themselves. As I crashed through the Bush stumbling and tumbling at full speed I kept up a steady chorus of full volume calls to Boss hoping he could hear my thunder over the roar of the water; if he was still there that is. They say that ‘Hope springs eternal’ and my hopes came true when I came through the bush above the jam. No problems finding it because I could hear it and when I looked down the bank there was Boss hanging on for dear life, literally, his head still above water but maybe not for long. I had to drop strait down the embankment about 6’ to get on the jam and the drop was shear cut bank. Once on the logs I could see two things right away. The logs were not all tightly jammed together and crawling onto the wrong one would make a bad situation a lot worse and I could not see the bottom; meaning that there were at least 7-8 feet of water here.

What a mess, I moved as quickly as I could safely and soon was in a position where I would have enough leverage (ass weight) to be able to pull this terrified 80 pound dog up onto the log jam with me. Thankfully I had his collar on him so there was something to grab for, having to try hoisting him by the scruff of the neck would not make this better at all. I got position and made my move and slick as could be, I plucked him from the jaws of death or at least what we both perceived as such. I figure Boss was in shock and I was running on pure adrenalin and hoping like hell I wasn’t gonna end up being hauled under that mess while being heroic. I had to sort of shuttle him to the back of the logjam because of all the gaps between the logs and the loose flotsom. Once he saw that dirt of the cut bank he went up over that 6’ bluff like a gazelle. For me it wasn’t so graceful, I had to claw and reach for saplings and roots to drag my self in one of those embarrassing knee crawls up over the bank till I hit the level land above. Gotta tell ya, those waders take a beating when I take em out. Boss stood up there looking down with that ‘come on buddy, you can make it look’ but he was already back to normal. Dogs, one minute dam near die in the river and the next minute he’s checking out a new place to take a leak. I guess in hind sight the business of looking for a place to take a nervous leak makes sense because I wasn't far behind him with that.

I didn't have a camera when this happened or any witness's so this is not the exact place but will give you the idea of what I call a sweeper / logjam situation. The next time I go up to where the incident happened I'll get a picture there. But for now, just imagine higher and much swifter water flowing into the jam shown here.

Once we made our way upstream to where I had left my rod we crossed back over the river to where we had come from. Boss had no problem with my keeping hold of his collar when we hit the spots where his feet wouldn’t reach bottom and we were soon safe and together again. We walked up the shore to where we had left the boat and pushed off to head back to camp. As I drifted at an idle past the surging water of the logjam Boss looked at it and then shot a sideways glance at me that said it all, 'he knew'. It wasn’t like he was jumping on me and licking my face that evening while I built a fire but he stayed so close that he was often leaning against me and when we crawled into the tent to go to sleep he gave out one of those great big German Shepherd sighs and snuggled against me till we both were asleep.

Old Boss is more careful about crossing now, he actually looks at the water and you can see those gears turning in that head of his these days when he decides to go for it. I help in the decision making too and he waits for my say so before we cross also. He watches out for me in the ways that suit him best and I cover everything else. There are all sorts of ways that humans and dogs bond but with this dog and this breed I believe that Boss and I have a mutual understanding, ‘we have one another’s back’!

And I wouldn’t have it any other way

Updated 07-31-2011 at 04:57 AM by Ard



  1. mcnerney's Avatar
    Ard: Great rescue story, I'm sure glad everything turned out ok, that sure did sound like a scary situation.

  2. cattech89's Avatar
    I found myself hunkered over the computer thinking run Ard, RUN! Grab him, Grab him, Grab him!
    I too am happy that everything worked out. Thanks for sharing that story Ard and for starting this blog.
  3. Ard's Avatar
    This year when we get on that part of the river I will take some pictures of the area where this happened and then upgrade this story with the pictures.
  4. jamieof's Avatar
    Great story Ard, and glad it all worked out!

    I'm a dog lover as well and grew up with an English Setter (fantastic hunter) and an Irish Setter (crazy as a loon, nutty as a fruitcake and a few bulbs short of a full chandelier) that was absolutely useless on the barrens, but a champion showdog.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. gatortransplant's Avatar
    What a story Ard! Glad it turned out well and glad you still have a great friend like that, but quite the intense situation.
  6. silvertone's Avatar
    I became a member here just so I could comment Thanks for a great read. You and your dog are lucky to have each other!
  7. Ard's Avatar
    It's been almost seven years since the events I wrote about occurred and Boss is doing well. We just came home from the cabin Tuesday October 10 at about 5:00 PM. He will be 13 this spring and is still chasing sticks and ran all the way from the boat launch up the hill to where the truck was parked yesterday. That hill is over 100 yards long so he's better than I am.

    While we were at the cabin I cut some small trees and made him a new stick, just the right length and weight for a good throw and chase / retrieve. It's hard to imagine anyone being so appreciative for something as simple as a 16 inch long piece of stick.

    Boss has (as best I can estimate) put on over 14,000 river boat miles - 100 miles riding in a Mokai with me - 300 raft and drift boat miles and a few hundred float plane miles. We have walked and snowshoe-ed many miles taking us through all the seasons and he is sleeping on his bed right now as I write this. Of all the friends who happened to have 4 legs that I've had in life this guy is the single most loyal and steadfast that I've ever known. I love that German Shepherd.