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‘Homer Wells’: Hunter Par Excellence

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By Karl Lindholm

I’m writing this week to celebrate Homer, a hunter of uncommon skill and zeal. I apologize to Matt, the outdoors columnist, for intruding on his territory. Given my skills in the woods, he doesn’t need to worry that it will happen often.

But our pal Homer is too good to pass over. A real Vermonter, he is independent, unpretentious and resourceful. He takes life as it comes, is easily contented, and asks for no special treatment. He loves the outdoors and spends hour after hour in blissful communion with nature in the woods. He’s a really good guy.

Homer is our dog.

Normally, I am not one to sentimentalize over pets. I will not be watching “Marley and Me,” unless dragged to the theater by my kids. But Homer deserves some recognition, especially now.

Homer was an orphan dog, a stray, who ended up with Sheila at the Middlebury Boarding Kennel. His name was Bodie then, and that’s what initially attracted us, as we already had a Bodie-dog that we loved. We were looking for a companion for him.

I liked having two Bodies, as I had twice the chance that a dog would actually come when I called, but I was outvoted by the rest of the family. We changed his name to Homer, after “Homer Wells” in the John Irving novel, “The Cider House Rules.” That Homer Wells was also an orphan who, like our Homer Wells, had been adopted and returned twice.

Homer, the dog, was just too independent for his first adoptive family, and at his abortive second home he ate the chickens he was supposed to share the farmyard with. We, on the other hand, don’t have chickens, and before too long he realized that he had a good deal at our place.

He did once eat a whole broiled chicken though, took it right off the dining room table. Bodie had thrown up in the living room, and while we were attending to that mess, Homer struck. I think they were in cahoots.

Homer is a dog’s dog, an unobtrusive Vermont dog, not a designer dog. Now 10-12 years old, he’s not that impressive at the outset, but he grows on you. He’s a cross between a lab and a beagle, as near as we can tell, two-toned, black and brown, with a white patch on his chest. He’s built fairly low to the ground, with a thick lab torso and beagle legs, built for quick acceleration.

We like to take Homer on romps on wooded trails (the Trail Around Middlebury is perfect). We don’t worry about other dogs. He’s never been in a dogfight. Other dogs simply don’t interest him ... maybe a quick butt-sniff, but that’s about it. On walks, he has little time to waste on socializing: there are forest critters that need chasing. He always comes back.

Homer actually catches the animals he chases. He’s quick and smart. He triangulates. When squirrels escape up a tree, Homer merely lies down and waits till these chattering fools come down and make a dash for it. Then he gets ’em. His buddy, Sula, our other dog now, sits nearby and watches in admiration: she couldn’t catch a cold.

Homer is low maintenance. He barks if someone comes in the yard or to the door, but it’s a perfunctory gesture, an obligation — he never growls or nips. He’s good loose or on the leash.

He has a kind of common-man pride and dignity. He never presumes. He sleeps with us in the bedroom, but on his own dog-bed, not the people bed. Sula sleeps on the people bed, making my life a true ménage a trois, (when my wife says, “move over, ‘Sweetie,’” she’s not talking to me).

Homer is not perfect. He can be sneaky. One afternoon, we came home to find him wobbly, barely able to walk. I thought he had had a stroke. At the Middlebury Animal Hospital, Tom, the vet, looked him over and found little wrong, except “he acts drunk.” Then my wife realized she had left two loaves of bread dough on the back porch. Homer had scarfed them down. All that yeast rising — he was drunk!

Recently, he has seemed not himself, expressing no interest in hunting rabbits or squirrels in the snow, so we took him to the vet, Scott this time, who suggested the x-ray that showed Homer’s insides riddled with tumors.

We never thought Homer would die of so-called “natural causes.” We figured the coy-dogs would get him, or maybe he’d have a hunting accident of an orthopedic sort, or he’d finally zig when he should have zagged.

But here we are with our Homer’s life being marked in weeks, maybe days. We are in palliative care now, saying good-bye. We’re even letting him up on the living room couch, the one that has always been a no-dog zone.

There he is now on the couch, wagging his tail whenever one of us approaches to pay our respects.

Good dog, Homer.

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