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Thunder was born on May 29, 1996. He was one of 4 puppies born to my friend
Steve’s BLF, Brandy. Thunder was the only male. Brandy was one of the sweetest,
best natured, Lab’s I ever had the pleasure to know. Thunder definitely inherited
his Mom’s disposition and temperament. I was able to drop in to see the puppies
any time I wanted. I even took care of them for 2 weeks while Steve was away on
a business trip.
Thunder and I hit it off from the start. I sometimes think he ended up choosing me
rather than the other way around. He would forgo playing with his litter mates on
days I was visiting and  taking care of them to stick by my side. I never had to look
for him.  He was always at my feet, looking up, with that little stubby tail wagging
like mad. He was the cutest thing you ever saw.
From the beginning it was clear Thunder was going to be a great one. While caring for the puppies I would
travel to Steve’s home 2-3 times a day to check on the puppies and Brandy.  I would let Brandy and her pups
out to romp and play while I cleaned the kennel, put out fresh water and food, etc... On one such day Thunder
showed me just how special he was going to be.
As usual Thunder was hanging around me instead of going outside and playing. I was cleaning the kennel out
when I heard him whining and carrying on something fierce( can a puppy bark be called fierce? ). I went to see
what was going on and found him climbing on the wood pile and sniffing around. After I tried several times to
get him to stop I decided to see what had him so wound up. A little digging into the pile, with his help, turned
up an old duck wing! Right then I knew he was going to do amazing things.
Thunder went berserk over it when I let him have it. He defended that wing from his litter mates as if his life
depended on it and he would not let it go even though they usually bullied him. Every time I turned around he
was sitting next to me holding it. He was barely 6 weeks old at the time. I finally tossed it across the lawn for
him to see if he would go after it? I was stunned when on the very first toss he ran to it, grabbed it, and brought
it right back to me as if he had been doing it for years. It was a sign of things to come. Thunder was a natural.
Thunder excelled at his training and he couldn’t get enough of it. I have
never seen a dog advance through retriever training so fast. He seemed to
know what I wanted even before I could show him. He was doing so well,
with no fear of guns, that I took him with me on opening day so he could
see what it was all about. He was only 4 months and 3 days old. I never
intended to let him retrieve but an easy shot and ideal fall, the little guy
marked, convinced me to send him for the bird. With little help from me
Thunder made the retrieve. I was so proud of him.
Thunder continued to go with me during the beginning of the 1996 NH and MA waterfowl seasons. Sadly, just
2 weeks into the season Thunder was injured ending things for us that year. He wasn’t hurt hunting. He did it
jumping off the tailgate of my truck when my back was turned. He ruptured his right rear ACL and had to be
operated on. 4 months of rehab followed only to have him injure the same knee again( meniscus tear ). More
surgery on the knee was required and then more rehab. Those 2 injuries turned out to be just the start of a long
line of injuries and illnesses Thunder suffered through in his life. It never changed his disposition however and
he remained the same happy “pup” right to the end.
The above translates roughly into “To a valiant heart, nothing is impossible”. It describes Thunder to a tee. I use
it on Thunder’s web site as it describes him so perfectly. Despite being told time and again that due to illness
or injury his hunting days were over Thunder always managed to continue hunting. I did know that allowing
him to keep going was risky but he loved it so much I couldn’t retire him. Even at the very end when he was so
sick at least he was able to come out and be with me even though he was mainly a spectator then. What
mattered was he was out there!
After recovering from the ACL and Meniscus surgeries as a puppy Thunder went on to hunt and work hard
over the next 7 seasons. We got into Pheasant hunting in 1999 and he excelled at that just as he did waterfowl
work. We went on a guided Snow Goose hunt in Vermont in 1999 where Thunder did so well it impressed our
guides. Everything was going great. He had some set backs with minor injuries and illnesses but overall he
was doing great.
Tragically in July of 2003 he ruptured his left rear ACL and required surgery yet again to repair it. Thunder
did well to go so many years between ACL ruptures as most dogs who rupture one will have the same thing
happen on the other leg within 1-2 years. Thunder made it 6+ years. It took him longer to rehab this time but
he made it back out for opening day of the 2003 waterfowl season. I had to reduce his work load but he made
it back once more. Actually, his best seasons were to follow.
Thunder returned strong in 2004 and he continued to thrive. You would
never know watching him work that his knees were bad. I had a real
scare in 2005 when Thunder was almost lost while hunting but he was
ok in the end( click HERE to read about it ). 2006 saw him hunt Pheasants
again with his veterinarian’s ok. Thunder had his best ever upland season
although it was cut short by a bout of Anaplasma from a tick bite.
2007 rolled around and Thunder was still doing well. I decided to retire
him from Pheasant hunting due to all the running but he was able to go waterfowl hunting with no problems.
2007 was his best season ever. Mine too shooting wise and the retrieves were piling up. Thunder was already
at 80 retrieves when January rolled in with 3 weeks of the season left to go plus the late goose season. Thunder
easily would have broken 100 retrieves. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
While out looking for a downed bird I had just shot I noticed Thunder laboring as if he was worn out. At the
time I just figured the poor old guy was worn down from a long hard season. He was 11 after all and no longer
a puppy even if he thought he was. I decided to give him a few days off to rest and then we could finish out the
year. Turns out he was actually very sick. He began to have a hard time breathing and was coughing a lot if he
moved around much. I got him right to the vet. It crushed me when the diagnosis came back of heart trouble.
On January 11, 2008 Thunder was diagnosed with “Dilated Cardiomyopathy(DCM)”. Thunder had an enlarged
heart that was struggling to pump blood throughout his body. I was just stunned. We went from his best ever
season with him acting as young and happy as he ever had to hearing he had a serious heart condition and was
dying almost overnight. He was put on medication and I was told he should immediately be retired. The vet
then told me to prepare myself as he probably had 3-6 months at best to live. No worse news could have been
given to me.
Before retiring him, and against advice from just about everyone, I decided that
Thunder deserved one last hunt. It was not fitting that his last hunt ended with
no retrieve and him sick. With the help of a good friend we planned a special
hunt for Thunder. A spot was picked so a bird could hopefully be dropped on
land so I could let him end his career the right way. I was a nervous wreck the
whole time but I am happy to say we did manage to get him a bird that day. The
bird was taken to the taxidermist and mounted and Thunder was retired with a
proper send off. Or so I thought?
It was a very sad time for me following the news of Thunder’s illness. Thunder
still had the desire to go and do things but his body wasn’t up to it anymore.  It
was heartbreaking to go out and leave him at the house. I actually stopped hunting for the rest of the 2007/2008
season as my heart was no longer in it with my little buddy sick at home.
Thunder once again seemed to defy the odds though and he began to improve with the help of the medication
he was taking. It was new at the time and not a lot was known about it. Thunder responded to it better than we
could have dared hope. His heart rate slowed down and he no longer coughed. He actually started to feel too
good at times and I constantly had to try and calm him down.
Thunder’s vet was so happy with the results that I was given the okay to start hunting him again. I had to be
very careful how much I let him do and he couldn’t do a lot of running but he could go. I was so happy I was
ready to bust. I began a slow program of training to try and rebuild Thunder’s stamina all the while keeping
an eye on his heart rate and condition. He was able to do long walks on the leash and short sustained retrieves
swimming with no negative consequences. It was a miracle! I have never been as excited about the opening of
the waterfowl season as I was for 2008!
Thunder was with me on opening day of the NH coastal waterfowl season
on October 3, 2008. He saved a downed bird for me that otherwise would
have been lost as he did countless times over the years. He had 2 retrieves
in total that day. It was great to have him with me doing what he loved.
I didn’t hunt as often in 2008 as I had in previous years with him because I
it was so hard going and leaving him home. I picked the good days so he
could come with me. I had to be very careful about what birds I sent him
after but he was able to go with me and he made 13 retrieves in 2008. He was with me on the final day of the
late MA coastal resident goose season on February 14th as well. It turned out to be his final hunt. The weather
was nice for that time of year and the geese were cooperating. It was a fitting end to an amazing career.
Looking back on his career I am very proud of Thunder and all he did. While his career totals may not rival the
numbers of others they are very good when you consider all of the time lost due to illness and injury. You also
have to factor in that I hunted alone with him 90% of the time. Had I hunted in large groups as so many do
his numbers would certainly be much higher. It wasn’t about that though. What really mattered was how much
fun we had together. The stats are just a way to remember the good times we had and what he accomplished.
Thunder became something of a local celebrity over the years. He was well known on the marshes. If you had
a bird down and couldn’t find it, even if another dog had already looked, you came and got Thunder. 99% of
the time he found it. The fact he only lost 13 birds in total in his 13 seasons( 96-08 )speaks to his efficiency. He
He never quit and he would keep on looking until he found the bird.
In 2001 Thunder became a “spokes-doggie” for Wellness brand dog food and participates in their advertising.
He was also written up in a local newspaper in 2001( click here to read )in which he is described as a local
legend. The article clearly illustrates how tenacious Thunder was. I can also remember the day I had to help
find a bird for a hunter while dressed in a suit and tie. The guy had dropped a bird on a local marsh and could
not find it. I had stopped by to let Thunder out before heading to an event. When I heard what was up I
offered to let Thunder get it for him. He had his doubts but said I would try.
Thunder and I worked for about 15 minutes before he came up with it. The bird had hidden deep in a stand
of marsh grass after crawling a LONG way from where we were told it went down. That retrieve required a
dog like Thunder with the experience, nose, and brains to figure it out. As usual he did. The hunter was really
surprised when he found out that my Thunder was THE Thunder from the newspaper article. He remembered
reading it when it came out. That was one of those moments I will remember forever.
Thunder had a great love of life beyond his love of retrieving. It didn’t matter to him if we were heading out to
go hunting, training, swimming, or just going for a ride to the store. All he needed was to hear the truck keys
jingle and he was ready. He would be at the kitchen door jumping up and down with excitement whenever he
thought he was going for a ride.
Thunder also loved to go fishing. He went with me often for Striped Bass
and Bluefish out on the coast but his favorite thing to fish for was Trout. I
would set his pole with a bobber and he would sit there and just stare at it
until it would start to bob and dip. When it did finally move he would bark
so I would come over and real his fish in. He loved it! We sure got a lot of
looks, comments, and laughs from people watching the dog that could fish.
Thunder really was a special friend. He was always happy and he loved everyone. There wasn’t a mean bone
in his body. I feel very blessed that God saw fit to send such a special gift to me. The 13 years with Thunder
were some of the best of my life. If not for the kindness of my friend Steve however Thunder would have gone
to be with another family.
The stud dog’s owner had 1st pick of the litter and only wanted a male. Thunder was the only male in the litter
to survive. I tried really hard not to become attached to him but it was really hard. While Steve denies it I still
believe to this day he worked something out with the other guy so Thunder was able to come live with me.
I hope this gives you an idea of just how special Thunder was.