Damn a dog, anyway.

A dog is noisy, neurotic, smelly, expensive, dangerous and/or fawning, as well as fond of leaving things on the lawn and sidewalk for his betters to step in.

A dog combines all the worst qualities of babies and raccoons, and offers nothing by way of companionship or protection that compares with the trouble it causes its owner and the neighbors.

All of this is true in the case of big dogs and little dogs, purebreds and mongrels, smart dogs and dumb dogs, every dog that draws breath and drools slobber, except a good hunting dog.

Then a good hunting dog no creature is finer. This does not include your foxbound, who, as the Brit wit said, leads the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. What it includes is your bird dog, your rabbit dog, your squirrel dog, your retriever, your coon hound and other workers such as seeing-eye, police and sled dogs.

All other dogs, from Chihauhas to wolfhounds, are lapdogs, which is to say their natural role has been perverted, with such sad consequences that canine psychiatrics is a recognized veterinary specialty.

What brought on this distribe was a day hunting quail behind Mick's dogs, Candy and Sarah, small and beautiful black-and-white English setters that, because they work for a living, lead the kind of wholesome existence a dog's life should be.

At home and in the car, Candy and Sarah are friendly and frisky, but with a shade of reserve very like that of a cat. Because they earn their keep during hunting season they have self-respect, the lack of which is what turns lapdogs surly or spineless.

In the field they are exuberant and tireless. In the field, while nominally under their master's command, they are the experts. He can't smell quail, he can't quarter the woods and soybean fields at a steady 10 miles an hour, he can't hardly even find a mottled-brown bird that has fallen on mottled-brown gorund.

Candy is 10 years old, Sarah half that age. They are lean and long-muscled, graceful beyond telling as they range the ground, almost painfully alert when they pick up a scent, quivering statues when they come on point. Even after miles of loping through crops and brush, there was hardly a pant of a wheeze between them, so well-conditioned were they.

They also are very lucky, because Mick has the good sense to hunt quail on the Eastern Shore, where the tasty little birds are ignored if not despised by most of the people who hunt ducks and geese. In the uplands, where quail are treasured, a hunter may be lucky to put up three coveys in a full day. Candy found twice that many in a few hours, in big bunches of 20 to 30, twice the size of the average upland covey.

Sarah, handicapped by inexperience, found no birds but displayed excellent manners, ranging fairly close and honoring all of Candy's points. Sarah made up for her lack of production by retrieving enthusiastically while Candy was looking down her nose at us for missing so many shots. She had, after all, done her part of the job.

Mick is proud of the dogs, but only mildly sentimental. Candy and Sarah, in turn, are affectionate but do not fawn over him. Watching the three of them work together explains everything one needs to know about why wolves came in from the cold to the caves of men.