by Addison Edmonds
“Gunner my old buddy, how I have failed you. As I sit here on this hardwood floor with you on the couch beside me, I realize just how busy I have been trying to make a business and raise a family — and all you’ve really wanted was to hunt with me by your side as much as possible. It’s a late Christmas night and Willie Nelson’s playing in the background. I hope you are dreaming of hunting together and playing with your lost sister, Goose, whom I have really been missing more than usual this week.
Sales of our kennels have surpassed my wildest dreams and life is more crazy/hectic than I could have ever imagined, but also so amazing. Our three precious girls are in bed, and another baby’s on the way, all in the last 48 months. But I realize now looking at your half-asleep face, with a small teardrop in the corner of your eye, that I have failed to keep my end of the commitment I made to you the day I picked you up in north Alabama.
I have been tied up with running a business and raising kids all while letting you fall on the back burner, to the point where some days, the highlight of your day was to simply clean up the scraps on the floor from our girls’ dinner. Granted, while I know you have lived a better life than some, filled with more ducks and trips to work with me than most dogs might be lucky enough to experience, I feel sure in my heart that I have not kept up my end of the bargain. I feel that the original agreement was “you give me your all and I’ll give you mine.” You gave me your all.
I am so thankful for the impact you have had on my life, but the more I think of the many recent hunting trips for my own gain, without you, I am saddened, and it makes me miss how I used to take you EVERYWHERE. The sparse white hairs in your face, your ever-more-present limp… it saddens me to realize we are both getting older. Although, unfortunately, you faster than I.
I hope you live another 10 years so that I can make it up to you, so you can see a part of the bigger picture and watch our beautiful family grow, a family that you helped start in your own special way. You have literally made my life more complete in a way that I’m sure no dog, and likely most people, could ever truly understand. Happy late birthday, old Gunner, please stay with us as long as you see fit so you can help raise our kids and fetch a few birds before you are ready to go find your sister Goose up in heaven chasing those damn squirrels. We all love you buddy but I hope to be able to prove it one day.”
by Addison Edmonds
“Gunner, as I try to find the words to describe you as you lay here on what seems to be your deathbed, I keep coming back to these words: 'Old Warrior.'
After a day full of trips to the ER and you lay next to me and the kids, taking what sounds like some of your last breaths, I look over and see your scars that remind me of past hunts — because you are an Old Warrior. I see the scar from our very first photoshoot we did for Gunner Kennels, that barbed wire that caught your eye as you ran down that quail. I see the scar on your nose from when you jumped up on top of the dog house I had built you in college… only to quickly fall off and slice your nose on the metal roof. You were just a young puppy then. I see that hunt from our early days back in college as you brought back the final bird of an 8-man limit, faltering from hypothermia because, at the time, I didn’t know better.
I'll never forget when I drove you through the night down to Starkville because you were completely paralyzed, the doctors at Mississippi State didn’t know if you had a tumor in your brain or a herniated disc because your nose wouldn’t stop bleeding. I had 20 minutes to potentially say goodbye to you before your MRI, and as I laid there tearing up with you in the Mississippi summer heat, not knowing if you were going to make it another 24 hours — I made you a promise. I said, 'if it’s your time and you need to go… go, but if you can stick around a little bit longer, I promise you that I’ll get you on some more ducks this year.'
'Ducks.' That’s all you needed to hear and your half-deaf ears perked up like lightning. After that, the MRI results told us that it was not cancer in your brain, it was a disc in your neck that would need to be removed immediately. They said that you might not ever run again, much less be able to hunt. But I knew better, if you’d be able to walk, you’d be able to hunt, Old Warrior. So after the surgery and the daily trips to physical therapy things did seem to be getting better.
Then came the news of your cancer. They told me you wouldn’t make it past Christmas and to be honest, I never thought that you would. For the first time in my life, I lost my desire to go duck hunting — because if I couldn’t hunt with you, I’d rather stay near home and soak in the time we had left. But it was time to hold up my end of the bargain and I took you on a preserve hunt where you picked up 32 mallards. You were in your element again, doing what you loved most with the people you loved most. I thought that would be your last hunt.
By Christmas, from the way you were acting to your lack of energy, I figured it was any day that I would have to take you in and say our final goodbye. Boy was I wrong, Old Warrior. After trying some alternative medicines which seemed to work, you sprung back like a 2-year-old pup, and things seemed much closer to normal.
We had our final season together, you and I. We went on a phenomenal 3-week journey for the tail end of the 2020-21 season. From Oklahoma to Arkansas, to Mississippi, to Kansas, and finally to Kentucky to finish our season with an 8-man hunt of a lifetime. We burned up the road and I was convinced that you had beat that cancer — hell, we might even have one more season together…or at least you would make it for the dove opener. But looking back, you may have been in just as much pain as before we went on our last run, you just never showed it, because you are an Old Warrior and you have taught me more about life than you will ever know.
Old Warrior, that description just won’t stop running through my mind right now. We launched our website and had our first of four children just six years ago, tomorrow. I didn’t think you would get to this point, but as tired as I am, and as old as I feel, I don’t think I will ever amount to being an old warrior like you. But gosh dammit, I’m going to try, and hopefully one day, my kids and grandkids will be talking about me saying that I too was an old warrior.
Thank you, Gunner, I owe so much of my life to you and will forever be in debt. I will honor you by making the best products possible for all of the other warriors out there — those that drive through frozen ponds and thick thorns to find the birds for their leaders without questioning their commands. Old Warrior. My world will not be the same without you."
by Addison Edmonds
“Gunner, what an incredible life we have had together. Through the wonderful rollercoaster ride of experiences we’ve had together over the last 12 years, my only regret is that you won’t be there to retrieve the first duck for Marie, Roane, Ellie, or Billy in the coming years. But rest assured, I’ll tell them how you would have retrieved their ducks with more fire and passion than I have ever seen in a dog — just like you did in our younger years. You have changed my life in more ways than you could ever know. After all, I wouldn’t have our wonderful family and life without the help of you connecting me to Emily. And I am so thankful to think that, because of you, we have already saved dozens of dogs’ lives with kennels carrying your name. And through it all, hopefully, done our part to shed light on the simple fact that dogs make our world a better place. What we are going through is the absolute worst part of sharing life with a dog, but the terrible truth is, it is still part of it. I am so proud to have named our company 'Gunner Kennels.' In the early days, I received a lot of push back and was told that nobody would ever buy from a company with 'Gunner' in the name, but we proved them wrong on that one. At the end of the day, I started this company for you, and now more than ever, I want the entire world to know your name and our story. I promise I will do my best to make every product we design worthy of your name. This is one of my favorite quotes that reminds me of you and is a fitting note to end this letter: ‘they are your best friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You’re their life, their love, their leader. They will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of their heart. Be worthy of such devotion.’ Thank you for everything, Gunner.”
Want to learn more about Addison and Gunner? Watch their story here
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