“Rachel came to our family via the DU Banquet on one of those nights when no one really wanted a puppy,” he said. “So I got the bid — $75 — or basically free with all the puppy chow and vet care they threw in. Took her home and surprised the wife! Days and weeks spent cleaning up the messes and getting her to do her business somewhere other than the flower beds.”
As time passed, the ornery pup grew into a beautiful adult lab. She was sweet and timid, but difficult to train as she wouldn’t tolerate scolding.
“Rachel would just shut down if scolded,” Guffey said. “So we worked around that and by fall I had a young dog ready to try hunting. As always, the first season is a bit rough. Missed cues and a couple of lost ducks are norm the first season. Her tolerance for scolding hadn’t changed.
“One morning that first season, my son and I were hunting the managed wetland on our property and Rachel messed up a couple of retrieves. She got a good scolding and I tried to get her focused. A few minutes later, my son asked where Rachel was. We had been chatting and not paying attention to her. We looked around and she was just slowly trotting up to the house a half mile away. That was her way of saying, ’If you are going to scold me, I am going home! Get your own damned ducks ... ”
A couple of years later, Rachel had matured into a most-agreeable companion, Guffey said. She went to work with him every day and soon made friends with all the employees. She loved going to the hardware store, as she would usually get a treat.
“Same with the UPS man,” he said. “She knew the sound of that truck and would meet the driver at the door, as every savvy UPS driver has treats for dogs.”
She also became a very good retriever, he said.
Guffey, whose son guided for a couple of years, went along one day as a dog handler and photographer.
“The client shot at a flock of green-winged teal and dropped one close, and I saw another one drop out on the edge of the marsh 150 yards out,” Guffey said. “Rachel saw it, too, and after she retrieved the close one, I sent her down the dike to find the cripple.
“A lot of time passed and she wasn’t back yet, but I saw her working the edge of the field at least 200 yards away. The client figured the bird was a lost cripple, but about 15 minutes after I sent her out, she appeared out of the weeds with a live but wounded green-winged teal in her mouth. Just another day for Rachel.”
Her longest retrieve, however, came a couple of years later while the pair were hunting with a new friend, Arron Hitchins of Rock House Motion. Hitchins was making a short film for Sitka outdoor gear about its managed wetland and hunting.
“On that day, the ducks were tough,” Guffey said. “Sunny and warm with no wind, they had become nearly nocturnal in their movements. We went out early and bumped them off, and of the several hundred ducks on our marsh, most just went to the middle of Lake Perry and hung out all day in the warm sunshine and calm weather.
“When it gets like that, we often will get a flurry of activity just before shooting time ends if it clouds up. And cloud up it did.”
They went back to the marsh in the late afternoon, and just as shooting time was about over, he said a small flock came barreling in. The hunters dropped four mallards in a few quick shots.
“They only saw three go down, but I thought I saw a fourth,” he said. “We picked up decoys and got ready to go to the house but we could not find Rachel. My son, Ryan, called and called and hollered at me and asked if we should leave without her. I told him she was probably on the trail of that fourth duck and there was no getting her off the trail of a wounded duck. She knows where the house is — let’s go.
“Forty-five minutes later, as I was starting to cook us supper, Ryan and Arron got to the house and were shucking off waders and clothes. There was a scratch at the door. Ryan opened it and there was a wet Rachel standing there. I told him there was probably a duck in the yard close by. Ryan told her to fetch and she ran across the yard and grabbed a mallard drake that was walking across the yard back toward the marsh.
“Not a bad retrieve — 750 to 800 yards.”
Guffey included a link to the short film that Hitchins shot, which is included with the online version of this column.
He said Rachel had been a friend and companion for more than 13 years, during which time she had been a surrogate mother to lambs, let kids large and small wrestle her and smother her with affection and has left an enduring mark on all who knew her.
“Tears are streaming down my face as I write this as it is so close to the end for her,” he said. “She will be missed by so many. I am lucky to have another young lab, Maggie Rose, to make memories that will, as with Rachel Ray’s memories, last a lifetime.”
What a great submission, and anyone who has ever worked a hunting dog knows how strong the connection between dog and hunter is.
If you would like to submit your hunting dog — or lap dog, cat or other pet — for the 2018 Critter of the Year contest, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your pet’s name, breed (or species), photo and a story about it. Don’t forget to include your own name and city of residence.
Guffey also sent a photo of an awesome blue cat fish he caught once on the Kansas River.
“Didn’t have scales that went that high but based on length and comparison to other pics — somewhere over 85 (pounds)!” he wrote in an email. “Have caught a 72 and a 51 since that one. Beginners luck.”