• Kev Thomas Writes

In Tribute To Bounce

July 2009 was a bad month for myself and my Jack Russell Bounce, we’d been hunting buddies for nearly nine years. I seldom went anywhere without him. If he wasn’t on my hunting rig load tray, he was upfront in the cab, or he was inside our house, or out in the yard shadowing me, wherever I went. Alongside my bed, Bounce had his own armchair, blanket covered, and with a bowl of water next to it. He had a habit of fixing his hazel eyes on me and holding my gaze. Brenda my wife called it the “Bounce stare” – he held it unwavering and it was always me who broke eye contact because I had things to do, or maybe I was trying to drive. Eye contact for dogs is important.

When readying ourselves for departure on safari Bounce’s excitement levels grew as we loaded the truck, and when I opened the gun safe to remove my rifles, he looked like he was going to wag his tail off. Throughout the period of my packing, he liked to supervise, and it was important to him that as I packed, he be allowed to carefully sniff and give approval of certain items. My rifles, binoculars, camera bag, shooting sticks, ammo belt, sheath knife, gun bags etc. As soon as he saw me place his food and water bowl onto the rig, and push his folded blanket into his ‘sleeping’ corner in the load tray, he knew we were off on safari.

On 22 July 2009 Dr. Nick Fisher the local vet, examined an extremely uncomfortable and bloated Bounce on the surgery table, while I held my struggling and mega-stressed friend. Two weeks prior, a veterinary colleague of Fisher’s, Dr. Leon de Bruin had sedated, then X-rayed Bounce and taken blood samples. His prognosis wasn’t good, enlarged heart, shifted liver, suspected cancerous growth behind the heart, suspected intestinal blockage etc. A few days later when the blood tests came back, they also indicated serious liver problems.

Despite all of these negative test results I didn’t want to have Bounce put down, he’d been my loyal companion and safari buddy for too long, although he seemed to sense our time together was drawing to a close. At night, during those last week’s Bounce begged through subtle body language, to be allowed to sleep next to me on the bed, and I consented. Back during March/ April he’d developed what we’d affectionally refer to as Jack Russell speak. It was a series of whimpers, snorts, quiet grunts, and a variety of other soft vocal noises, none of which gave any indication of pain. With hindsight, I now think it was Bounce’s way of trying to let us know he was terminally ill, and knew it.

Dr. Nick Fisher is a compassionate vet, he’s a sort of Dr. James Herriot type, living and working in the Eastern Cape countryside. Nick examined Bounce thoroughly and then quietly advised me that there was nothing more we could do. Bounce was indeed terminally ill, suffering, and wouldn’t last long. His recommendation was that Bounce be put down, and despite my having known that it’d come to this, I was extremely emotional and still holding my struggling little buddy who was trying so desperately to get off the stainless-steel surgery table, managed to whisper three choked words, “Let’s do it”. Nick, understanding my anguish, said he’d first tranquilise Bounce and suggested once he’d done that, I take Bounce out into the garden and let him run around doing dog things until the tranquiliser took effect, which would be about 15 minutes.

After the tranquiliser had been given, I carried Bounce out into the garden and put him down. He immediately took off, sniffing things, cocking his leg against shrubs and trees before using his hind legs to kick grass and leaves flying with his old style ‘attitude’. He thoroughly explored Nick’s front garden whilst we stood in the sun, watching him, and making small talk.

After the allotted 15 minutes Bounce started to weary so I crouched down on my haunches and called the little guy, and as fast as his tired body could move, he ran towards me, his trusting hazel eyes already droopy, and then with his last bit of energy piled into my arms for a final long hug. Nick knew of my anguish and mentioned that maybe I should let an assistant of his hold Bounce while he put him to sleep. As choked up as I was and due to Bounce’s unquestioning loyalty and absolute trust in me throughout his life, I knew that I and nobody else had to be with him during this sad time, so holding him tight against my chest, while breathing in his familiar Jack Russell smell I returned to the surgery and held him in my arms while Nick administered the intravenous that would free Bounce of his pain, and help him on his way across the Rainbow Bridge. When it was finally all over, Nick kindly carried my canine friend’s limp form out to the rig and helped me lay Bounce on my hunting jacket, his favourite ‘comfy’. After I’d carefully closed Bounce’s eyes I took what seemed like a long drive home, the dirt road to my front a mere blur through my burning eyes. Throughout the trip I kept my left hand on Bounce’s head giving his ears a final rub, and chatting all the while to his still form, about the good times we’d had on safari.

Above: We laid Bounce to rest, wrapped in his blanket under a line of trees and brush along the edge of our garden, and as Lloyd, a Xhosa tribesman who’d once worked for me as a skinner, dug the grave, tears trickled down his ebony cheeks, he’d known Bounce well.

If I stood at my upstairs office window, I could look down onto the grave, which we bordered with a low green wooden picket fence that’d been lying unused behind the garage. Of an evening, I could go out into the garden and with a glass of wine, sit on the bench and looking down the slope towards the grave – reminisce. In the early mornings we’d often hear the liquid and melodious notes of a Cape robin chat singing in the brush near the grave, and one morning as I sat at the bedroom window drinking my first coffee of the day, I initially heard the robin chat, then saw it flit out of the brush and alight on the top of Bounce’s wooden cross where it sat while heralding the day. Often too, and throughout the day, we’d hear a ubiquitous red-eyed dove, known to the Xhosa as Indlasidudu, sitting high up in the avocado tree that casts its shadow over the grave. The dove’s call is far more fitting for a hunting terrier’s spirit in the sky, for it sounds not unlike a question being asked, ‘Who’s that with a two-two? Who’s that with a two-two?’ In Africa we call the .22 calibre a two two and not a twenty-two as is the case in the USA.

Some might think me as having gone overboard, what with Bounce’s grave and all, but I care not because I consider myself through and through a dog lover, and there’s the old adage that we only ever get one really good dog in our lives. For my part, I’ve been blessed with three, one a yellow lab cross called Shandy, and the other a re-homed adult yellow-lab called Brutus, and then Bounce. All of them lived for the hunt, and during the late eighties Shandy would ultimately pay with his life when a bushpig boar got the better of him. Brutus died of old age and a broken heart after I very sadly had to leave him behind, when I went to hunt outside of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). I don’t know if I’ll ever get another dog as good as any of them, and right now I’m in no real hurry.

In celebration of Bounce’s life though, I need to go back nearly nine years in time, to when he and I first met. He was an 8-week-old pup. Two days earlier I’d phoned the breeder after seeing an ad in the local newspaper. When I’d phoned, I was informed there was only one pup left out of a litter of six – a boy – so I booked him.

Virtually straight after I’d purchased Bounce, he started accompanying me into the field on a daily basis, although much of his time between eight and twelve weeks old was spent being carried by a tracker, before getting put down to familiarize himself with shot game. By five months old he knew all the bush scents in the game reserve, and was familiar with the smell of blood and dead animals. Whenever I was culling springbok and impala, he was with me, and he was always on the back of the rig when we loaded culled game, grabbing a hind leg below the knee and fighting the limb for all he was worth. At this early age too, he was introduced to warthog, both dead and alive, and for some unknown reason developed a hate towards them which lasted a lifetime. Perhaps Bounce thought they were just too ugly.

During that early part of Bounce’s life, he also began to meet his first safari clients, and kitted out in a harness attached to a leash when we hunted, he used to follow in our wake with a tracker. Each time an animal was shot, I had the tracker take Bounce some ways along the back trail, even if the animal was a clean kill, then let Bounce ‘follow up’ to the fallen trophy. After successfully ‘finding’ it we heaped praise on him and were always amused to see him fight a hind leg and lay claim to the trophy.

Right from the day I first collected Bounce he started to show a singularly good trait, that being to keep his nose on the ground, he never followed anything visually, he used his nose and we encouraged this by collecting blood at the skinning shed and laying a false trail through the bush. For Bounce this simple exercise became a game and to ensure he wasn’t merely following the trackers human scent, I had two guys walk with a drag by way of a bit of gut, from a recently killed animal, or similar, attached to the centre of a 10m length of rope carried with a tracker at either end of the rope.

On every safari we shared, Bounce continued to improve as a hunting companion and tracker, he also remembered clients’ even if they only came by during alternate years and as soon as we’d got from airport Arrivals out to the rig in the car park, Bounce loved to say hello with a wildly wagging tail, and then carefully sniff all the gun boxes and gear.

Above: Bounce loved interacting with clients while on safari.

Once the hunt had commenced, if an animal was wounded and Bounce shown the blood then asked to help find it, he went out of his way to locate the missing trophy. Sometimes, his over enthusiasm on the hunt would see him lose the plot a little bit, and I’d later tell him his grade was only a C- and not good enough, but normally I’d let Bounce know that as a tracker he rated a B+ through, and through. As he grew older and the dull arthritic pains that come with aging made themselves felt, Bounce took to resting one hind leg as he moved around, soon learning that unless a turn of speed was called for, he was just as mobile on three legs as on four.

As the hunting seasons grew into years, Bounce proved time and again the importance of a hunter having absolute trust in a dog’s ability to locate wounded and lost game. No matter how much I felt the need to doubt his nose. I learnt to let him be without any unnecessary distraction aside from a few words of encouragement at his initial point of release on the spoor. His first really superb feat, and probably his best ever, was locating and then staying with a wounded mountain reedbuck after a lengthy follow-up.

My client, Leonora, was a feisty young lady from BC. She was using my 7x57mm Mauser Obendorf and unfortunately wounded her mountain reedbuck. Thinking it dead, we strolled across towards it, when suddenly it leapt up and decamped. When we reached where it had been lying, all we could find was a speck of blood and a tiny patch of gut fluid. Young Bounce was pulling excitedly on his harness and giving tongue in a high-pitched voice. Despite the dog’s youth and inexperience, I decided to release him, and no sooner was his harness off, than he disappeared into a donga (wash), reappeared briefly on the opposite side and was soon lost to sight.

There was little we could do except move slowly in the direction we assumed the dog had gone; I sent my skinner Twane ahead. We eventually found a small surface puddle of brown muddy water; fresh wet dog tracks exited it and on the opposite side they were superimposed over those of a reedbuck. We couldn’t tell if it was the wounded one or not. It was at this point that given the lateness of the day I decided to take Leonora back to the truck, so we moved off at a right angle to the direction that the dog was going in.

Eventually, we reached the truck and as the sun began to settle on the ridgeline behind us, Twane came walking through the bush with the excited foam and blood-flecked Bounce running along ahead of him. The dog’s tongue was just about dragging along the ground, but his intelligent hazel eyes glistened with excitement. He was clearly wishing he could share with what he’d just been up to!

Very quickly, we placed the pup back in his harness, attached the leash, and encouraged him to lead off back in the direction from where he’d just come. Twane had met the dog making its way back towards the truck and returned with him, meeting up with us as we too had arrived at the truck. Bounce seemed to understand what was expected of him and was soon pulling Twane back towards the brush covered donga. Reaching an open patch of sandy ground, we found where the pup had closed with and had a slight joust with the wounded reedbuck. Bits of gut content lay scattered around, and the spoor of both dog and antelope told what had occurred before the reedbuck led off once more, with the dog in hot pursuit.

Inside of about fifty paces from the site of the scuffle, the dog took us straight down into the donga and towards an overhang covered with protruding roots. The reedbuck was standing underneath the overhang in a muddy pool, exhausted and with not much life left in it. Leonora hastily gave it a coup de grace and put it out of its misery. There’s little doubt that had we not been with a suitable tracker dog, we would never have found that reedbuck. It would’ve proven an almost impossible task until perhaps after a few seasons, a herdsman gathering cattle may have found the reedbuck skeleton lying beneath the overhang with little to indicate how it had originally arrived there.

Another antelope species Bounce loved to help locate if it was wounded, was the diminutive steenbok and when he was released on one, he’d tear off along the blood trail, his predominantly white body appearing and disappearing in the low scrub as he cast for it. After he’d closed with it, he always went in between the luckless antelope’s hind legs and grabbing the soft underbelly anchored the animal until we reached it.

I’ve written about the Bounce versus warthog escapade in a previous story, but out of respect for my dog I’m going to mention it again. Early in the 2008 season I had a client gut shoot a warthog sow during a combined trophy/management cull hunt. She was standing below us on a grassy river bank and while watching through my binoculars over the client’s right shoulder as he took the shot from the shooting sticks, I clearly saw dust come away from the bullet’s impact, exactly halfway along and right in the middle of her body.

Although I can’t recall the bullet type and weight, my client had used a .270 Weatherby Magnum and when the hog swung through 180º to head back into the brush I could see an exit wound between her middle ribs. The shot had been at about 80m. When we got down into the riverbed and the thick stuff, we couldn’t find any blood or gut content. Nothing. Just dry tracks. We’d clearly heard the bullet hit, and I’d seen the entry point and the exit, so we knew the hog was hit hard and feeling it. My worry was that she’d head into a hole and die underground without being recovered.

After casting through 360º looking for sign, and still not finding any, I decided to release Bounce. He almost immediately found the warthog sow in a very dense thicket about 40m from where she’d first been shot. She was lying ‘doggo’ but still very much alive, and we’d already walked past her. Bounce tore into the brush and despite my warning shout tried to grab the sow by a hind leg. This move on the Jack Russell’s behalf immediately provoked a determined attempt by the sow to kill him.

Leaping to her feet, she spun round and her sheer momentum sent the tenacious little terrier flying, then as he regained his feet, she charged him. Quicker than the hog, Bounce darted behind her and had another go at her hindquarters. He was in his element but the hog chased him into a donga and with determined sideways scythes of her head tried to slash him with her knife sharp teeth. We couldn’t shoot due to the fluidity of the fight, and we may well have hit Bounce. The joust was fast and furious. At one stage the hog chased Bounce out of the donga and gave such a vicious upward sweep with her head, she lost her balance and toppled backwards into the donga. Bounce immediately leapt back into the fray and managed to get a firm grip on a back leg, and while he hung on growling, and with the client’s approval, I was able to get a bullet into the hog and bring closure to the struggle.

Above: In the northern cape Karoo during a gemsbok hunt. The landowner and his staff pose with a gemsbok and a proud Bounce.

Bounce also seemed to accord animals a special form of respect if they were extremely large relative to his small size. If for example he was on the back of the rig and I stopped to look at a white rhino or giraffe, he’d also be staring with his neck outstretched and his eyes unblinking, and if I quietly said, ‘Bounce what’s that big dog?’ he’d quickly look at me then immediately revert back to gazing straight at the animal we were watching. Buffalo didn’t faze him and I think he just thought they were ordinary cattle. Not having hunted in Zimbabwe with me, Bounce never saw elephant so I didn’t have the chance to watch what his reaction would have been upon seeing them.

Of all the dogs I’ve hunted with, not including bird dogs, Bounce had an uncanny way of waiting for the shot, and up until that point he didn’t make any noise aside from a few excited yips whenever we stopped to open a gate. If he was sitting alongside me, and my client was settled on the shooting sticks, Bounce would focus his all on the direction the rifle barrel was pointing, even if he couldn’t see the quarry. Throughout this pre-shot anticipatory phase his taut body would constantly shiver with excitement, however, he always remained totally silent. Once the shot had been fired, he couldn’t contain his excitement any longer and was always overcome by a series of hysterical barks. His way of saying, “Let me get at it”. As soon as he was unleashed, he’d immediately go quiet and take off like greased lightening towards where he felt the trophy would be.

With time, and constant exposure to hunting, Bounce learnt to cast very effectively across a 180° front, always using his nose either held close to the ground or occasionally, briefly up in the air trying to catch a ‘whiff’ of scent molecules. Whenever he approached a shot animal, he did so from behind and on his last safari before his death, actually grabbed high up and hung onto the tail of a wounded black wildebeest that still had plenty of fight in it.

Bounce and my hunt experiences were many, and each has a special place in my memory, but even away from the hunt he had his little eccentricities like firmly believing that when he was on the back of my rig, he was a Rottweiler! Every dog we passed on the road was subjected to a torrent of verbal Jack Russell abuse, irrespective of its size. It was as if Bounce was challenging it to get into the back of the truck with him, so he could whip it. He never forgot where he’d seen a dog, and even if we drove past the same spot months later, he’d start barking until we’d gone by.

Once, as I was pulling up outside a shop, Bounce cussed a big Boerbul (a large much feared South African breed), which was sauntering along the road verge but as soon as I stopped the truck and got out, he went silent and stared at the approaching Boerbul as if to say, “I’ve really screwed up this time, and it looks like it’s me who is going to get the whipping”. The Boerbul ambled across and with a dead silent Bounce staring down at him from on the back of the truck, casually cocked a leg and peed on a rear wheel before going on his way.

No sooner had I driven off than Bounce went incandescent with anger, and once more cussed the Boerbul as loudly as he could for daring to pee on his wheel. On another occasion my friend from Colorado, Brian, and I, had been hunting in the Northern Cape Karoo and we’d just packed up to move back to the Eastern Cape. Bounce was running around doing his last-minute pre-departure Jack Russell things when his nose took him across to a fenced off part of the lodge garden. Behind the diamond mesh wire was an ill disciplined 18-month-old Boerbul and when it saw Bounce it charged across to the wire and tried to get at him. With a complete air of nonchalance, Bounce cocked his leg, saturated the Boerbul’s face then sprinted across to be lifted onto the rig. Brian just about busted a gut, and years later we were still teasing Bounce and laughing about it when on safari.

On the more humorous side of life with Bounce, perhaps his most embarrassing moment came about a year before his passing. We’d been to visit friends who lived on a smallholding and they had a young very boisterous Jack Russell of the wire-haired type. When we arrived at their house, I decided to leave Bounce on the truck wearing his harness, with the end of his leash tied to a gun rack. A little while after we’d entered their house, I stood up and looked out of the lounge window and there was Bounce hanging in his harness with just the tips of his hind toes touching the ground, his forequarters held up by the harness.

There was a look of acute humility and embarrassment on his face, because as he hung suspended and gently twirling, the young Jack Russell – who was also a male – was taking full advantage of the situation and sniffing Bounce’s butt and nether regions. As the supposed Alpha male, there was nothing Bounce could do about it! After I’d unhitched him and placed him back on the truck, he didn’t know where to hide his face and for weeks after, if I teased him about it, he’d look terribly ashamed for having made such a fauxpax.

Bounce was about as fine a friend as I’ve ever had, and whether he was sitting alongside us as we glassed the valleys and mountain slopes, or was sleeping on my hunting jacket on my bed when we were on safari, or warning us with a gentle growl of an unseen animal’s approach, I will never forget the nearly nine special years he shared with me, and gave to me. One day perhaps, when I too, cross the Rainbow Bridge we’ll pick up where we left off and until then, I can only say “Hamba Kakuhle (Go Well) Bounce boy!”

Above: Bounce with lynx pack houndsman Elliot after the pack had treed a lynx.

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