For as long as he can remember, Jay Robinson of Woodville has owned dogs. Bird dogs, actually. English pointers, specifically.
And for years, come October, Robinson has taken those dogs — Mary and Button. Susan and Mike. Sadie and Diamond.
And then there was Katie.
Katie didn’t start off as Jay Robinson’s dog. Instead, the dog was a faithful hunting companion of Wilmot “Wiggie” Robinson, Jay’s dad.
Wiggie, a popular Maine guide, died in 2007. Many of the state’s outdoorsmen mourned. Katie moved in with Jay shortly thereafter.
Over the next three autumns, Katie joined Jay Robinson’s rotation of bird dogs. Last fall, she split time in the coverts with Diamond.
She was aging — 13 years old, now — and trotted with a shambling, lopsided gait. The younger Diamond did the bulk of the work, but every other day or so, Jay, also a guide, would hook a bell around the old girl’s neck, set her loose and follow as Katie did what she’d been bred to do: Hunt.
Then, on a cold February morning, Jay Robinson lost his dog.
“I usually go out, mid-morning,” Robinson explained. “I let ’em out [of their heated kennel] and they just run around in the yard.”
While the dogs run and play and do their business, Robinson does his: He cleans up the messes that tend to pile up when dogs are left to do what dogs do.
“I come around the corner, and they’re usually on the porch, waiting for me, wagging their tails so they can go in and eat,” Robinson said. “[This day], I come around the corner and Katie’s not there.”
Robinson said he didn’t worry about Katie’s absence at first. She was a curious dog, after all. And he was sure she just headed into the woods to check out a few new smells.
“I didn’t think too much of it at the time, because Katie’s always chasing squirrels,” he said. “But she always comes right back. I have to do a little calling, but she’ll come right back.”
Not this time.
“I kept hollering and hollering. I got the bell out and blew a whistle,” Robinson said. “I went up and down the road. All the time I’m getting more and more worried about her. She might have got hit by a car.”
Time passed. Katie remained missing. And gradually, Jay Robinson gave up hope.
“Days go by, and days turn into weeks, and I thought, well, the dog must be dead,” Robinson said. “That was too bad. She was a really good dog, and I’ve had her a few years, and she was dad’s dog. I’d always hunted over her. I [was going to] miss her.”
As the weeks passed, Robinson moved on. He began working with his other two dogs — Diamond and Abby. He watched as winter turned to spring.
“That’s the end of the story,” he said he thought. “And I always wondered what happened to my dog.”
About two weeks ago, in true rural Maine fashion, Robinson found out.
Robinson said he was in his front yard, cutting up a deer that a motorist had hit and killed the night before.
“I ran right out there in my slippers. It was a Massachusetts guy. A young guy. I asked him, ‘Do you want that deer?’” Robinson said.
The answer was “No.”
And that was fine with Robinson, who called a game warden to get permission to keep the deer, then hung the carcass in a tree overnight. The next morning, he got down to some down-home butchering.
“This vehicle pulls up along the side of the road and pulls into my dooryard,” Robinson said.
Robinson thought the driver might be looking to score some free venison, or to talk to him about how he came to have a deer hanging from his tree.
That wasn’t the case at all.
“I walked over and said, ‘What can I do for you?’” Robinson said. “I looked in the front seat beside him and there sits Katie. I couldn’t believe it.”
The stranger told Robinson that back in February, he went to his front door one morning — the morning after Robinson had lost track of Katie — and met a new friend.
“There was a dog, a friendly dog, wagging her tail like she knew where she needed to be,” Robinson said. “I could just picture her, jogging up the road, two miles away.”
Robinson said the stranger — he still isn’t sure of the man’s name — wasn’t sure how the dog had come to be on his front porch.
“He took her in. He wondered whose dog it was. She had a collar, but no nametag,” Robinson said. “He thought, well, nobody owns this dog, or maybe they didn’t want her and dropped her off.”
The man took the dog to the vet, fed her and treated her well, Robinson said.
Then, a couple months later, he learned that a Woodville man had lost a similar dog in February.
“He’d checked around and nobody knew [who owned Katie],” Robinson said. “Then he went to Lennie’s [Superette] one day for gas and groceries. He saw another fellow [who said] ‘I know a guy who has English pointers, too, and he lost a dog a few months back. He’s looking for a dog and this might be his dog.’ The guy said, ‘It might be. I found this dog a few months back.’”
That, you might think, is where this story ends. In fact, that’s where Jay Robinson thought it was going to end.
“I thought, ‘This is great. I’ve got Katie back, and everybody will live happily ever after,’” Robinson said.
Then Robinson talked to the man who’d found his dog … learned a bit more … and made a decision that changed everything.
“I thought I should repay the guy for all the dog food and for taking her to the vet,” Robinson said. “All the time he’s saying, ‘I really like this dog. Really good dog.’
“Then he said, ‘I’ve got cancer. I might not live another year,’” Robinson said. “I thought about it for a few seconds and decided, this man should own my dog. He’s had her for a few months and got really attached to her.”
Robinson is adamant in his belief that he did nothing out of the ordinary. At first, he was uncomfortable telling his story to even family members. When he did, and they encouraged him to let his friends on the social networking site Facebook know about finding Katie, he realized how powerful the story could be.
And he realized that he didn’t necessarily want the praise that he was sure to receive.
“I want to stress, I’m no saint. It’s no big deal,” he said. “Maybe somebody in the same situation would do the same thing.”
Robinson did admit, however, that he’s thought about how his father would have felt about him giving Katie to a stranger who’d looked after her during a cold Maine winter.
It had been his dog, after all.
“I think maybe he’d want me to do the same thing,” Robinson said. “Maybe in the same situation he would have done the same thing. And I’m thinking, this is a good thing.”
So, now Katie has a new owner.
But come autumn, if she’s up to it, old Katie might find that she has more than one master to please.
The new owner made a deal with Robinson, you see.
First, Robinson is welcome to visit Katie any time he wants.
And second, when the leaves start turning, and when the woodcock and grouse start flying — always a favorite time of year for the Robinson men — Jay said he’ll likely spend a bit more time with his old dog.
“[The new owner said] ‘You can take the dog hunting, if you want, come October,’” Robinson said.