Muddy Pawprints

Nathan Sparks

Our four-legged friends are constant reminders to live life fully

I have had dogs in my life for the past 23 years. To be exact, I have had Labrador retrievers in the fabric, heart, and soul of my life since I went with my wife, Mary Jane, to look at a litter of puppies in Roane County. While the intent was to get one puppy, thanks to the influence of my children, we ended up with two that day: Hank and Lacy. Little did I know that the course of my life was about to take a drastic, unexpected, and wonderful path into the world of American Kennel Club Hunt Tests and Field Trials. 

With training help from friends, I ran in the AKC Hunt Test with both Hank and Lacy where they qualified as AKC Master Hunters and competed in the Master Nationals in Colorado and Texas. Hank won his Master National title; I still have his silver plate on the wall in my “dog room”—yes, I have a dog room. Lacy and I made it to the last series of the Master Nationals, but I made a handling mistake and we went out in the last series. I still remember that mark in detail and the mistake that I made that cost her title.

Unfortunately, we lost Hank at age 7 to cancer and Lacy at age 8 to a different cancer. I felt like I had a hole in my heart. 

When I eventually recovered from the loss, we started to think about another Lab puppy. And once again, found ourselves in the presence of six-week-old pups where we picked our Ty, a yellow Lab. Ty turned out to be a fantastic dog, and after spending time with our hunt test trainer, I was informed that Ty was the best marking dog he had trained. It turned my world upside down, but we got Ty to a field trial trainer and started a new journey of Field Trials as opposed to Hunt Tests. Today, Ty has his Master Hunter title and qualified All-Age in field trials. 

During field trial training, I met Woodrow. He seemed like such a happy dog and, wanting to have his presence in my life, I called the owner and offered to buy him. Woodrow was three and fit into our family like a glove. He and Ty became best friends, to not only one another but to me. They are my constant companions. Both come to the office with me every day. Even my clients know them well.

Ty just turned 11 this year, and Woodrow turned 10 on Christmas Eve. I know my time with them is coming close to an end. And while I know the heartache that I will face when that time comes, the companionship, joy, and love they have brought to my life have made me a better man and the journey a lot more fun. 

Our dogs become more than companions; they are constant reminders to love unconditionally, live life fully, and be who you are. And while I might not have them with me forever, I will always carry their lessons in my heart.  

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