On a Dog Rescue website I saw a photo of a handsome black Labrador, 11 months old and homeless. Not necessarily the traditional way to acquire yourself a quality gundog.... I’m a soft touch so please don’t ever send me a sob story about a dog in need! His description read that he’d had three homes already and had been known as Max, Jack and then lastly Barney. He was apparently a boisterous boy with lots of energy and a little destructive. Many sensible people might read that as estate agency speak for Trouble, all I actually read and took in was the little blurb at the bottom where it said he liked playing ball. A Labrador retriever that retrieves, tick.
Within a few days after enquiring he was home. It was May 2007 and we had a whole summer of training ahead of us before the Shooting Season kicked off. Only, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
I ate gundog books (figuratively speaking), trawled the web, bothered kind people on gundog forums who I am pleased to say count amongst some of my best friends today. Delighted I was to find an interest / passion full of people who were so welcoming. However it’s hard starting out on your own. You pick up horrible habits with no one to tell you that your instructions to your dog to go left look like you’re bringing in an aircraft to land for instance, and thus it’s no small wonder that the dog is still sat there chewing grass. Barney in those early days should have been awarded an Oscar for his performance as ‘Dog looking and behaving most patient when all around him is chaos’....
We took advice and lessons from a local Gundog Trainer, Nick Coates, and also visited further afield Di Stevens. It was the best money I ever spent. We started with the graded Gundog Club Scheme and quickly progressed to Grade 4, passing with Distinction one Saturday only to come 2nd in URC Novice Dog/Novice Handler Gundog Test the next day. We never looked back with Barney winning many Gundog Working Test Awards thereafter working our way up to Opens. His natural ability and calm nature may not have made him the Ferrari of gundogs but it did make him the best god damn beginners gundog ever.
He became my right hand man on Shoots. Because he handled so well you could always rely on him to calmly find those tricky birds. He was also Mr Dependable on my three year stint as a Gamekeeper, gently gathering up those pesky wandering pheasants and pushing them home for me. He was such a gentleman to the birds and to all he met, humans and dogs alike. So much so that be became known locally by some as ‘The Decent Dog’ and ‘The Gentleman’. On occasion he would be whisked off by a Local to use him for country pursuit competitions or Shooting, and Barney would more than happily oblige.
Barney’s other notable achievements include a 5th at Crufts in the Class for Gamekeepers (although I rather think we won that accolade as I looked like I was the closest to crying in the ring if my dog didn’t win something!); and being awarded the LRSE&C Rescue Labrador of the Year in 2011. He would say all of the above was rubbish and his finest moment was discovering that Monday nights were when all the neighbours put their bins out and working out a cunning escape route from the garden to go and have a midnight snack, but we won’t go there....
He was the sole inspiration behind me setting up Hi lost in February 2010. He was my original and best Product Tester and instrumental in helping design new products and deciding on colours. In the early days he used to watch dummies being packed away and sent off to customers and salivate! He must have thought I was so mean to deny him those.
He was such an easy dog to live with and love. He never once displayed any of the unwanted behaviour that I was gently warned about at the beginning. I saw a long and happy life ahead. So I fretted, hugely, when in the summer of 2011 he was diagnosed with Renal Cancer. He survived this, minus one kidney, but his prognosis was guarded. He would never compete again but obviously I was just thrilled to have him still with us.
He nearly left us a couple of times later but bounced back and was dubbed the ‘Miracle Dog’ by the vets (whom I have solely funded their new yacht over the last three years!). I have never known an animal want to live so badly regardless of how much they have endured. Making the final decision to put him to sleep was incredibly hard not only to make but also to come to terms with. He was 8 years old.
His passing was dignified and peaceful. He now rests below the Oak tree with dog friends from old, overlooking the ground on which we did most of our training and had most of our fun. Every time I train there I will be reminded of a dog who started out as just a ‘dog’ but became an inspiration and in my world, a legend, and how very lucky and blessed I was to know him.
Barney (Heatheraine Jack) 25.05.2006 - 04.08.2014