You know they know. They have to know. I know Minnie knows. Thats a fact.

A few days ago, I made the mistake of grabbing my shell bag as I frantically packed for a last-minute flyfishing jaunt for false albacore off Cape Lookout. That bag typically rides across one shoulder as I hump across beaver swamps or skulk in the cattails with Minnie by my side. Suddenly my heart sank. Id forgotten: That poor pup can recognize bottomland camo and waxed cotton from 400 feet in a driving rain. I cant fold a camouflage face mask without Minnie turning flips, and I hide my mud boots in the truck so she wont hurt herself if I have to put them on during the off season. I was shoving fly boxes into the shell bag when she came bounding up, practically bonkers with excitement.

Frayed canvas! Clothes with spots! Daddys packing! Lets go!

Oh, no, pupples, I said, feeling awful for raising her hopes. Im fishing, not hunting.

Her tail thumped even harder.

Next time, I promise.

Minnie might discern the difference between cashmere and camo, but English is lost to her. Undaunted, she glued herself to my knee for the next half-hour, as I piled up flyrods and tackle boxes. When I left her by the front door, I left a little piece of my heart on the floor beside a no-longer-thumping tail. I didnt look back. I know she stood there till I was down the street and out of sight.

We forget sometimes that they love it as much as we do. They wait for the leaves to turn and the swamps to fill with fall rains and the skies to spit sleet. Theyre happy with bumpers and tennis balls and fake mallard plush toys. Theres not a thing wrong with retrieving along the beach or across the farm pond. But thats not why theyre here.

Minnie knows the difference between the sound of a gun safe door and the door to the cabinets where I keep the yard tools. She can sense the hustle-bustle-hurry of packing gear the night before. And she knows what a shotgun case looks like. You can bet on that.

And shell hold to my promise. Next time. And theres no way in this world I could go back on that.