Humans have bonded with other animals for centuries - strange when you think about it. Man, the dominant predator, bonding with a vast array of species, including both predator and prey animals.

The shared affection is often strong, too - as strong or stronger than humans bond to each other.

Of all species that bond with humans, the dog is the most common. Little dogs, big dogs, weak dogs, strong dogs - all kinds of dogs. Some people keep dogs for no other reason than to have a dependable companion. One that loves them despite the wrongs they have done, or whether or not they have a bad hair day.

Some dog lovers are proud of their dog's looks and show them in dog shows. Once I was asked to judge a dog show at a rural county fair. I reluctantly agreed, and I found it to be one of the most difficult tasks I had ever tackled. How do you compare a poodle to a beagle? Every owner considered their dog to be the champion. I was lucky to get out of there with my life.

Many people own working dogs. A working dog may be a loving companion, too. Maybe not - no matter - they all earn their keep by performing some task. Seeing-eye dogs are highly trained to assist blind people; drug dogs sniff out illegal drugs; police dogs track down fugitives; guard dogs protect owners and property.

Some dogs guard vulnerable livestock (such as sheep) from predators, and some help herd livestock.

And then, a great many dogs are used for hunting.

Hunting dogs come in all flavors, too. Some run game to waiting hunters, such as deer dogs, hog dogs, or rabbit dogs. Some dogs specialize in treeing game and staying at the tree until the hunter arrives, such as squirrel dogs `coon dogs and lion dogs.

And then there are retrievers - dogs whose only task is to retrieve downed pheasants, doves and ducks after the hunter shoots. Which brings me to Dusky.

Dusky belongs to Bob, a friend of mine and fellow hunter - or I could say, Bob belongs to Dusky. Before Dusky, Bob owned a part black lab with genetic parts unknown. An all-purpose hunting dog, he accompanied Bob every time he went hunting - any kind of game.

A tragic car accident left Bob without a hunting dog and without his constant companion. Soon afterwards, Bob's family bought Dusky for him. And Dusky, a spirited, loving purebred black lab, quickly found her way into Bob's heart.

You have no doubt heard the term "a dog's life." Well, that term is hardly applicable to Dusky. She lives in the house with Bob and Mary, Bob's wife. Their two children have grown up and left home, so Dusky is treated much like a child of their own. If fact, if all our children in American today were treated as well, we would all be better off. She's firmly corrected when she does wrong, but never scolded. The only hands laid on her are loving hands.

When Dusky was just three months old, Bob began teaching her to retrieve sticks. She's a year and a half now and he still plays the retrieving game with her during slow spells when ducks aren't flying.

She's constantly with Bob whenever he goes afield - and that's most of the time he's not working at the university.

She's with him when he's hunting any kind of game. Even when Bob deer hunts, she quietly stays in the truck when he's on stand. She hunts squirrels, rabbits, ducks, doves, quail, woodcock, and about anything else Bob pursues.

I hunt with Bob a great deal, and she always takes her position right beside Bob. As we leave the house, she sits between us, licking his hair and his ear over and over to show her affection. She's constantly alert, watching where we're going, either in the truck or in the jon boat, perched with her feet on the gunnel.

Whenever Bob eats his lunch or just a snack, she always shares. Recently, in a duck blind, when we all had country ham, she ate more than we did (Who can resist those polite, penetrating, black eyes.)

Dusky is a great hunting dog. But more than that, she's a great companion to Bob. She adds and element of youthful enthusiasm to every hunt. And when you get to the bottom line, what more could a man ask for?