Dot was the runt and she didn't start to breathe when the old bitch nudged her, but finally she was picked up and dropped and that started her life as an independent mutt who went on to glory.
Not without travail. She was a bird dog and the first thing she pointed was a turtle in a Mississippi bayou.
Way to go, Dot.
And like most pups that ever amount to anything, she loved butterflies and chased them briskly in the Delta sun. But life was not all a bowl of soup bones. She was kidnaped. Sold down the river to Georgia, to the grief of her owner and handler, and thank God they searched the world and found her and she got back home.
Her first field trial could have been her last. The truck ran into a ditch and the dog boxes slid around but she didn't get a scratch. She won the Magnolia Field Trial just as she turned the right age of 2.
But she had the usual downers of this life. Once a rattlesnake was coiled to strike her, and killed in the nick. So close a shave it was feared she had been bitten after all, but she hadn't.
And in Canada she was chased by some prairie wolves, whatever they are, and had close calls. She once met a skunk and had to be soaked in tomato juice. The pain of learning. The life so short, the craft so long to learn. And there was Sally, another pointer who kept sneaking up and pointing the covey after Dot had found it. She bit Sally's tail, the only unladylike thing she ever did. Sir, she had cause.
She was almost killed in a plane wreck, but came to, ran off and finally was found.
All the things happened to Dot that happen to every dog, but the upshot of it all was that she won the National Bird Dog Championship in Tennessee. But only after she was kicked by a deer and lost her sense of smell for a time, a thing that threatened to end her career.
Cameras ground. A very big deal. The first American show and field dog event combined was held in Memphis in 1874. The field trials at Grand Junction, out from Memphis, are still where the top field dogs compete, and Dot won.
Now they cry like idiots at the Miss America contests because they are fidgety, but they sometimes cry at the national field trials because something tremendous has happened: the years of training, the hard-learned skills have been recognized. The bonds between man and dog have been honored, and the world has seen (if it's your dog that's won) God's in heaven and justice rules.
As anybody can read in the book "The Old Man and the Dog" (Nassau Press, Princeton), Dot's handler, John Gardner, was the oldest man ever to run a dog in the championship trials, and old Dot, or Miss One Dot to use her full name, was the oldest canine ever to win. She was almost 9 when she lugged home the huge silver trophy in 1979.
She was owned by Richard Leatherman, and her story was written by Carroll, Richard's wife, who was saying just this week:
"She was a fairly unknown female, and she was up against all those $50,000 and $60,000 male dogs and she beat them hollow. Flat hollow."
I deplore sexist approaches, but let it pass.
Dot retired and died in 1980, about a year after her triumph. She's buried back of the Leathermans' house.
This fine bitch was named for the dollar-sized lemon dot at the base of her tail, distinct enough to ferret her out when she was stolen. Old Gardner said she had great heart, big courage, which goes without saying for a champion. He also said the guy was never born that could get out of a dog all that the dog had to give. A generous and true saying. Your great handler never pretends he made a dog more than the dog was.
Gardner turns 80 this year. He decided (after Dot's day) to ride home to Mississippi from Saskatchewan in a covered wagon. A snowstorm came up in North Dakota and he and his dog almost froze to death. He still trains dogs and at this moment has pups coming out his ears, running them in Texas, but they come home pretty soon. Texas is good for space, nobody denies that.
Something bothered me at the vast Philadelphia dog show this week and I keep thinking of it in connection with Dot. A film up there suggested that pet dogs only became common in the reign of Queen Victoria. (She had Skye terriers and, I think, Newfoundlands).
Whoa. It may be correct that dogs as house pets became common only in the 1800s, and that earlier dogs stayed outside and herded sheep or drew carts or hunted.
But if that suggests to anybody that dogs were out there somewhere with the pigs and only recently attracted notice, then it's misleading.
You take Miss One Dot. She was not a house dog or a lap dog. She worked in the fields hunting birds. She may not have heard much baby talk.
But when you think of it, her owner and her handler spent thousands of hours with her in close communion. Once I read a survey that pet owners spend an average of 12 minutes a day with their dogs. Does anybody think there was less between Dot and her handler than between a house pet and her owner? Or that you love a dog less if you spend thousands of hours with it?
In the beginning, dogs are supposed to have been attracted to human settlements to scavenge, and men let them stay around because they could track game.
But I suspect the first time a dog ever showed up at the cave, the guy came out with his club to give it a whack. Behold, the dog wagged a tail and the club was forgot and that was that. It's that way now and was that way then.
There are, though, lapses. Such as Sally's tail. And, as Leatherman wrote:
"Dot had never been inside this house before, but when she looked around she felt comfortable. There were good worn rugs and leather furniture in the den where they stayed to visit. There was a big fire going and pictures of dogs and cows and horses everywhere. There were also several bowls of salted pecans on the log coffee table and Dot helped herself."
Well, good grief, with the excitement and all. But it may as well be admitted, they do make themselves at home pretty quick.
After Dot died and things simmered down, the Leathermans looked around for her collar. All over the place. Never did find it.
Old Gardner the handler had it. Has it.