by Dick PINNEY

The following article was written by friend, fellow dog enthusiast and sports writer, Dick PINNEY of Greenland, New Hampshire.

This is one of the hardest columns that I've ever had to write. No, it's the very hardest. I know I should be extolling the wonderful striper fishing going on at Little Bay and the Piacataqua River, but my mind keeps going back to yesterday's happenings, and my eyes keep getting misty as I relate this to you.

It's about Blinky, the love of my life Labrador retriever. Yesterday morning, getting up early to meet friends Steve HICKOFF and Brad CONNER, I found Blinky, passed away at the front of our stairs.

I went spastic, knowing full well that he died at my hands, in a roundabout way, from being fed a "doggy bag" carried out from a local restaurant, but left in my van for a whole day, while that heat and wrapping had a chance to create some deadly toxins.

The day after giving him the leftovers, he developed diarrhea, but he acted normal and even ate a normal supper, with no signs of any other sickness. The following day, the diarrhea continued, but it only seemed like a mild case, and again, he showed no other signs of illness, and went for walks with Jane and my three year-old grand niece, Audra, and even came into the water to great me when Brad and I came ashore to drop off a couple of keeper striped bass we had caught.

But out of sight, those deadly food poisons were apparently at work. It was a good thing that Steve showed up when he did, as he helped my lay him in one of Jane's flower gardens, next to the resting places of Chester and Little Bear. Steve, Brad, Jane and I laid Blink to rest near some lilies, under the shade of a peach tree.

To say that we are completely devastated by the unfortunate accident, is an understatement. And when our little grand niece Audra, who has been with Blink since she was six weeks old, was told of the passing, it was terrible blow to her, and even a more hurtful time for Jane, who continues to second-guess herself about the way that she broke the news to Audra.

This dog was part of the very fabric of all of our lives, of our home, and of our neighborhood. Jane and I have had Labs for all of our married lives, 39 years, but never has one taken over our hearts and souls like he did. Anyone who has been able to give and receive unrestricted love and affection to a dog has to know what we're going through here in the Pinney family right now. I hope relaying this tragic story will help me ease my burden of guilt and deep grief.

Blink was born to Hunters Moon in October of 1988, and was the last taken of a litter of black pups, sired by a multi-champion black father, and a great brown mother, who was an accomplished sea-duck retriever along that rocky Maine coastline.

The Blinkster was the last taken because he was born with trouble with his eye-lids, they were too large and rolled over a bit, having the potential to harm his eyeballs. He had been scheduled for an operation to fix this on a Friday. But he was in my arms on the Wednesday night prior, and I couldn't put him down.

A phone call to my vet, that luckily found him home, assured me that it was all right to take the pup, and my great friend assured me that he'd probably "grow out of it anyway. But if he doesn't, I'll take care of it for you, Dick."

Without Jane's knowledge or approval, I headed home from Yarmouth, Maine, a forty five mile drive, with that little bundle of black love cuddled next to me, my eyes occasionally filling up with joy, as it was definite case of love-at-first-sight. Jane and I had been a long two years getting over the loss of our great yellow lab, Chester, when I found I just couldn't stand being without a dog any longer.

As a pup, Blink was so big, bold and strong, that on walks my neighbors often laughed about the dog taking me for the walk, but with some consistent and firm-but friendly training, he soon became one of the best mannered labs that I'd had, and his unquestioning trust, loyalty and bonds to us became stronger with years.

He wasn't the greatest hunting dog that I'd ever had, although he might have had the most heart. He'd often break when birds were over he decoys, and once in a while, he'd be pretty stubborn about bringing a goose directly back to me, often stopping, putting his foot on the goose's breast, and taking a big bite of skin and feathers. His attitude and eyes would announce, "Hey, this one's for me". But I didn't ever agree with that thinking and usually persuaded him to finally deliver the bird, quite a bit worse for the wear.

This afternoon, Brad and I are headed for Canada, to look at a litter of pups there. Jane had told Audra that Blink would be sending her a little puppy to train, and I hope to keep that promise. I'm so glad that both Jane and my maker are giving me another chance to prove that I'm worthy of being the recipient of the unbridled love that a new pup will bring to our home. For those of you that have never experienced this love, you have my sympathy. For those of you that have, I know that our family has yours.



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