The Hubs grew up as an avid hunter as did most boys from our small farming community. There were probably more pheasants than people in Iowa during the 60’s. Although he had 3 brothers, John often hunted alone. They were quite a bit older and didn’t appreciate the runt of the family tagging along.
When John wasn’t actively participating in football or wrestling, he’d often haul his hand-me down 20 gauge to school and keep it in his locker for the day so he could hunt after school. During the winter, Iowa starts getting dark by late afternoon. If he wasted 45 minutes walking home to get his gun there wasn’t enough time/light left for hunting. No one, absolutely no one-students/teachers or administrators gave the shotgun leaning in his locker a second thought during the day. It simply was not a big deal. Just a kid who hoped to shoot a couple of pheasants for the freezer at home. A different world we lived in.
After we got hitched, pheasant hunting remained as important as watching the Minnesota Vikings every Sunday afternoon. His older brother Jim got him a deal on a new 870 Remington (although the price was right-maybe 75 bucks, we honestly couldn’t afford it, but the old 20 gauge had been handed down again). John was so proud of his new gun, I think he cried when he got the first scratch on the stock. He still has his 870 almost five decades later.
John had gone hunting through the years with several men who had hunting dogs. One of his friends, a guy named Barry had a black lab and swore by the breed as the best hunting dog. Hubs had researched all breeds and was leaning towards a German Shorthair Pointer. The Sioux City Journal was full of a variety of hunting puppies. John drove to Cherokee and bought a darling male Shorthair he named Ben. John bought a book he memorized on how to train a good hunting dog. Bought a canvas dummy (about the size of a shock on your car) he’d throw so Ben would learn to have a ‘soft mouth’ when retrieving birds. But Ben was difficult. He was lovable and sweet but didn’t listen and never came when called. So Hubs took him to the vet. Ben seemed in good physical health so the vet suggested a test at home. Let the pup fall asleep and quietly set an windup alarm clock nearby ready to go off. Well Ben snored right through the loud clanking noise. He was totally deaf. Devastated, John returned the pup and was too bummed to think about hunting dogs for awhile.
But I wasn’t. I was flush with money. (Really can’t even type that with a straight face. We were in debt and broke our first few years. Easy to smile about it now, but it was anything but fun back then). I was working at Zenith Corporation on a production line with at least 100 people (90 of them women) happily slapping together the country’s best color TV’s. Starting out, I earned a bit more than the federal minimum wage plus a maximum of 30% incentive pay, I was making just over 2 bucks an hour.
I started my own hunting dog research without Hub’s knowledge. On the outskirts of Sioux City was a dude who had kennels like I’d never seen before on a huge acreage. He owned an insurance agency but was past the point of having to work regular hours. His name was Dean Kerl. He had imported some German Shorthair Pointers from Denmark and had won some pretty prestigious international awards with his hunting dogs. So Shannon and I drove our 1972 shit green Chevy Vega out to Kerl Acre Kennels, and promptly fell in love with a pup Dean was training and planning on keeping for himself. Luckily, Dean was just as smitten with our 2-1/2 year old Shannon (he couldn’t believe how long Shannon’s hair was for 2-1/2 or her vocabulary, which was already bigger than mine) as we were with the little female pup who was maybe 3 months old. She was already pointing and starting to stalk.
After a couple of, “oh she’s not really for sale,” (the pup, not the kid) we struck a deal. I would make weekly payments until she was paid for and John would have his hunting dog by pheasant season, although she ￼(pup again, not kid) would not yet be fully trained (the kid was). But I went above and beyond for the Hubs on this special gift. Dean employed a professional trainer for all his Shorthair/show dogs and agreed to let John and the pup take weekly hunting lessons for nothing until she was fully trained. (I know, I rocked it back then)! Hubs still insists this was the nicest, sweetest, neatest thing I ever did for him. Yes, he can say that with a straight face after I birthed all 3 of his children, one of which was breech. Geez.
A few weeks later the 3 of us drove out to Kerl Acres and met the newest member of our little family. The pup was instantly taken with John and it took me all of 3 seconds to realize I’d been replaced in John’s life by 25 pounds of fur and 4 paws. Dean had some pretty strict rules about the dogs he sold. They were not like regular pets but hunters. No chains, no running loose, and we had to build a kennel for her. We loved her like a pet but she didn’t come in the house very often except when the weather was dangerous. For not being a house pet, she had better manners than most people when she was inside.
Hubs thought long and hard about her name. Pedigree means a lot so he wanted some of the sire’s name in her legal name. He named he Kerl Acres Anja Ib Dee. King Ib was her international award winning father, Dee was for me. But simply Anja (meaning Angel) was her name.
Anja was one remarkable dog. She’d notice John’s carrying his gun case and go absolutely CRAZY with excitement. She’d leap into the back of the truck, ready to go. By the time they’d get out of the city, she was hyperventilating. John would stop the truck, make her get out and he’d drive away slowly with Anja running behind the truck for a half mile. Getting rid of that nervous energy so she could focus once they started walking the field. I can’t tell you how many times John had her out hunting and she’d CATCH a pheasant. She was such a pro at stalking birds, she’d literally be on top of the bird and just scoop him in her mouth, bring it to John, unharmed. Well, no b-b’s in that one.
Anja had one AKC litter of 9 pups when she was about 5. Boy that was a trip. She was a huge part of our family for 13 years and hunted every one of those years. Hubs was so heartbroken when he noticed she had stopped eating and drinking, he couldn’t bring himself to take her to the vet, so I took her in. Only fitting I guess, since I fell for her first. She loved all of us but to Anja there was only one man in her life and that guy was John…