Living as far away from town, as we call it, was not really something I aspired to do but there I stood in a wooded neighborhood with ten other houses. Every house in that small neighborhood had multiple acres. Our lot alone could have had somewhere around 5 to 15 houses on it if it were where I came from in the suburbs of Chesterfield County. Suffering from reoccurring migraines I found the quiet of country living conducive to the type of environment needed to endure the immense pain and suffering involved with these frequent headaches. That was our motive for moving so far from our home and our life as we had known it for so long.
Image courtesy of Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance.
Now hunting season was something I didn’t take into account when I moved so far away in search of my solitude as I was in search of serenity apart from the noise suburban life was teeming with. At the time of our moving there had never been any hunters in my life so everything to do with it was obscured to me. We soon learned that the neighborhood we moved to used to be part of a hunting club’s domain.
That first autumn in our country home was our first experience with hunting season and it became obvious to us that hunting dogs were no respecters of the invisible survey boundaries of our properties. During that year of hunting season in our new home we became as proficient in the activities entailed in the field of hunting as we could, including dog hunting. There was at times a degree of annoyance that came with the (private property) recognition challenged hunting dogs. They seemed to also have no understanding of the evening curfew desires of our neighborhood.
We had come to a social indifference with these hunting dogs but quickly realized that we were not in the suburbs anymore and needed to adjust to our new rural environment. This meant that reaching an understanding with our four legged property visitors was part of our baptism into this new culture.
As time started to pass their critter tracking visits became a bit of a novelty to us. Pondering those dogs and their freedom to roam allowed me to escape into the thoughts of a lifestyle previously unknown to me. The adjustment came swiftly to both my husband and I and we were eager to learn all we could about the rural way of life including the shenanigans of these hunting dogs. It was an unusually warm Saturday afternoon so I decided to take advantage of the warmth that had returned to us that day by cleaning out all the once beautiful summer plants in our flower beds that had now become brown and lifeless. Pausing with a sigh I reviewed in my mind a list of more enticing adventures I could be engaging in at that particular moment. But then quickly convinced myself that this chore was more nurturing to my soul and well-being than the alternatives pondered in my head, so I continued with the task at hand.
I could hear the hunting dogs in their chorus of what some might convey as barks, but we know better now. These are not barks, they are a symphony of communication and excitement between each of them and the hunters whom they are running for. A communication used for millennia between them with no need for the smart technology we have these days become so dependent on. Heritage is the word that comes to mind for me, this kind of communication between man and beast has seemingly always been there and still survives today despite the opposition that is rising around them. We learned to understand this cooperation between to two of them and respect their traditions and it paid off for us in a big way.
As I continued my work, or as I like to refer to it as therapy, I attentively listened to the hunting dogs song slowly dissipate in the distance. I allowed my mind to wonder as to whether their mission in the woods that day would be successful. I thought for a moment about whether the mind of that animal could comprehend the disappointment of losing the chase. Lost in that thought and my work I was suddenly startled by an aggressive rustle in the woods that was just behind where I was crouched down in the flowerbed.
Hunting dogs were not the only critters in the woods so now I had a bit of apprehension and was almost reluctant to investigate the sound I was hearing. Before I could act on any investigation I might proceed with the source of the sound was revealed to me as a hunting dog dressed in a collar and the painted numbers 44 on his side. He approached directly towards me from the tree line. Number forty four, as he would became known as, had slowed his run down quite a bit and approached me in a calm walk as if he knew me well.
With the dog pack’s charge now some distance away I was confused as to why this dog had deviated from the rest. Yet here he stood eye to eye with me in my crouched position. Naturally I spoke to him careful as not to allow myself to have direct contact with him due to my growing allergies. He was receptive to my conversation with him and we became fast friends. A few moments later I realized I must seek out the owner of this dog. I thought for a moment, while continuing to embellish his sweet behavior towards me, and decided to contact my neighbor whom I knew had contact with the hunting club nearby. She lived deep within the woods and was adjacent to the property where the hunters continued to hunt so I was relatively sure she could help me with finding out who this dog belonged to. Within moments I had a name and phone number in hand and could start my search for number forty four’s rightful owner.
The name I had written down and now had before me to call was Robert Bishop, a person at that time unknown to me. My husband Rick offered forty four a treat which he gladly took while I dialed the number. A kind voice answered and identified herself as Robert Bishop’s wife. She took my information after hearing my story about our encounter with the hunting dog that still remained by my side. Seemingly amused by my story and my request to keep the dog if he is a troublesome deviator from the pack, she assured me that she would talk to her husband when he arrived home from that days hunt.
The hunt must have been nearing its end when this dog entered our presence because it was not long before the call came in from the hunter. Mr. Bishop attained our address and was pulling in our driveway within moments after our phone call ended. When he arrived we were still entertaining the hunting dog, hoping to keep him nearby us so we could reunite him once again with his owner. Mr. Bishop was a bit older than myself with a kind face and demeanor and he appeared to be well pleased to retrieve his missing dog.
Mr. Bishop asked us to refer to him as Robert as we all introduced ourselves. He immediately identified the dog as one of his own and I was happy with their reunion. Still l felt compelled to ask if he was satisfied with the dog’s performance considering he had deviated from the hunt. I asked this in hopes that maybe we could keep this dog that seemed to have as much interest in us as we did in him. We learned that this was one of Robert’s best dogs and that he had not been known for this kind of behavior before. I then tried to reason with myself as to why this hunting dog was attracted to me in my flower bed when he exited the woods that day. And what, if any, purpose would lie behind his unusual behavior.
Number forty four the hunting dog was now caged in the back of Robert’s truck and we lost sight of them both as it rounded the bend at the end of our driveway. Thinking we had seen the last of number forty four and his kind owner we retreated back into our home with the day's adventures now at their conclusion. We could not have been more wrong because Robert and Rick and I had contact with each other many times over the next few years pertaining to wayward hunting dogs. We welcomed the adventures or misadventures of these dogs for many years to come. We had become friends with Robert as sure as we had with number forty four that Saturday morning a few years back. We moved away three years after our initial contact with our now friend Robert to where we currently reside in Powhatan County. Ironically enough we are closer to where our friend lives with his wife for he did not live near our former residence but only hunted there. They reside very close to where we currently live.
When I was taken ill in more recent years Robert was one of the people who not only became more involved in my and Rick’s life he also has withstood the test of time that I have been enduring my illnesses. He has been one of the truest of friends with us to date. I think that on the day that number forty four the hunting dog entered our property and Robert in turn entered our life, that meeting must have been some indication that there was purpose in the dog’s visit with us.
Well now that I am fighting what has been deemed a terminal cancer I can finally see the purpose of that dog’s deviation from the pack that day. I believe that dog came into our life on that day to bring Robert Bishop into our life. You see not only did Robert come into our life but so did many in his church family. There have been friendships forged and prayers of support by many. The carolers that have entertained us from the cold sidewalk for the last three Christmases were from his church. We have enjoyed a fellowship from this pivotal man and his church family in a way that is nothing short of inspirational.
Do I believe in miracles? Yes I do, for I know that every day I am afforded to be here in this life is a continuation of the miracle that has been granted to me. I believe that my God would use that designated dog that left his mission of hunting that day to make contact with me and bring with him a miracle in the friendship that began between my husband and I and Robert. The event of that day defied explanation at that time but has found a clarity today that brings gratification to my husband and me. A friendship that has birthed so much joy and nurturing for me during these toughest of times, that has extended throughout our community all brought about by a wayward hunting dog and his owner. Imagine that.
Editor's Note: Norma Woody passed away after including this story in her 2017 book, "Impressions Beyond The Terminal Cancer Diagnosis." She gave permission to the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance to publish it, and that group kindly allowed us to share it.