Gleason burdened for his mixed-breed angel’s health

Darold Gleason with his wife Randi, and dog Rowdy.

During practice for the St. Croix Bassmaster Central Open on Ross Barnett, Darold Gleason made a long trip. Unquestionably longer than any of his 224 competitors, but one he wishes he hadn’t had to make.

See, it wasn’t about finding fish or evaluating water conditions. It was all about a dog.

A very special dog.

A fixture at Bassmaster Elite events, Rowdy is a 10-year-old terrier mix that Gleason and his wife Randi fostered, then adopted once they realized the little guy had unexpectedly captured their hearts. The timing was perfect.

“We had three older dogs at the time and they’ve all passed on from illness and old age,” Darold said. “I’m not sure we could’ve gotten through that without Rowdy.

“I call him my mixed-breed angel.”

Rowdy brings light and comfort through the demanding life of tournament fishing and the roller coaster ride of Randi’s daily walk with Cystic Fibrosis. Covid was especially tough, as Randi’s health concerns often kept them isolated.

This year, Randi has already endured significant health complications; deep concerns that Darold quietly carries on and off the water. Through it all, Rowdy has been their constant companion.

“My wife and I don’t have children, due to her health issues,” Darold said. “I’m sure there are dog lovers and people who have kids that understand your family is everything.”

The Moment Life Paused

Sunday afternoon, the day of Darold’s 40th birthday, they realized Rowdy had a problem.

“We started noticing that he was kind of bloated,” Darold said. “He’s a little guy so for his belly to be kind of big, we knew something was off.”

Already set up at their campground near Ross Barnett, the Gleasons contacted their longtime vet/family friend, Dr. Jesse Brandon, who runs a veterinary clinic near their Many, Louisiana hometown. Initially, the advice was to monitor the condition to see if it naturally subsided. When it did not, Randi took Rowdy to an after-hours emergency vet clinic for a CT scan while Darold prepared for the upcoming tournament week.

“The image showed a mass on his liver — not the kinda news you want to get,” Darold said. “We sent the image to our vet back home and Dr. Brandon said we needed to get Rowdy there ASAP. We left Monday morning at 2 a.m. so we could be there when the clinic opened.

“It was about a 5-hour drive home. I had already gotten two days of practice in, but to be honest, when all of that happened, I didn’t really care about the practice and the fishing stuff.”

As the miles and memories rolled in unison, Darold faced a chilling reality: “All the way home, I’m thinking ‘This is Rowdy’s last ride.’”

This is a good point to pause and let the writer dry his eyes and steady his trembling hands.

If you’re a dog lover, you get it. If you’re not, that’s okay, but trust me, not much in life will shake you to your foundation like driving your pet to a place that they might never leave.

It’s a pain you just can’t describe; one that releases a highlight reel of precious moments cruelly interrupted by the searing reality of one terrifying question: What if today is the day?

Such moments defy preparation.

Keeping It Real

Darold doesn’t hide his love for Rowdy — the little buddy he holds upright like a child; the one he dances with and the one who was always ready for a nap when his daddy came home from a long day of guiding or tournament fishing.

Clearly, Darold would have preferred to stay with Randi in Louisiana, but he returned to Mississippi Tuesday afternoon to finish his practice. Being away from loved ones is always tough, but this week’s solitude is painful.

“Rowdy usually sleeps between us, but rolling over and reaching for him and knowing he’s not there — that’s been hard,” he said.

Even though Randi’s closer to the clinic where Rowdy has spent the past several nights, her Instagram story has reflected an unmistakable depth of concern — a raw mix of rejoicing over bits of good news and losing sleep over the waiting and wondering.

If all this sounds terribly personal, it is; but we have not only the Gleasons’ permission to share their story, but their encouragement to do so.

“I’m not winning (Bassmaster Elite Series) Angler of the Year and I’m not the greatest bass fisherman on tour, but my wife and I like to keep it real,” Darold said. “We want to show our followers, friends and family what we’re really going through — the highs and the lows of what this career entails.

“This is a very rewarding career, but it can be incredibly tough. A lot of anglers have had to go through similar things; missing graduations or deaths in the family. It’s just a part of our job that people need to talk about more, so people understand it’s not all glitz and glamor. There are some heartbreaks and heartaches.”

Where It Stands

As of Thursday morning, Rowdy is stable and the outlook is generally favorable. Miraculously, the Gleason’s family vet rescanned him and the mass is no longer visible — possibly an inaccurate initial reading, but no one’s discounting divine intervention.

Dr. Brandon traced the bloating to an internal fluid build-up, so Randi will travel to Baton Rouge on Monday and take Rowdy to Louisiana State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. The plan is to identify the source of fluid buildup and identify a treatment plan.

After the tournament, Darold will drive directly to LSU. He’s looking forward to reuniting with his wife and their dog, but the time in between is painful.

“Traveling around and fishing these tournaments is something we enjoy as a family,” Darold said. “This year, we’ve had a few instances where we’ve had to split the family up for a week and it makes the fishing incredibly hard.

“It makes the fishing not a priority, which is not a bad thing. As pro fishermen, sometimes we need a reality check to understand our priorities.”

On the spiritual level, Darold’s trying to keep his heart and mind open. “When I really struggle with stuff like this, I’m asking ‘Why is my faith being tested?’ But if you quit wondering why and think of it as ‘My faith is being grown,’ you’ll see that it’s to get you through the trials and tribulations of life that we all go through.

“With all that said, I’m incredibly happy that Rowdy is in good hands and he’s steadily improving. I look forward to having him in the seat of my Toyota Tundra as I drive around the country. It’s a very empty feeling not having your little buddy with you.”

Hope and Healing

Ross Barnett’s fishing tough this week, but Darold’s first hour of competition brought what he believes was a much-needed sign of encouragement.

“I caught a 5-pounder (Thursday morning) and I hadn’t caught a 5-pounder in practice,” he said. “Immediately when I caught that, I just knew that was for Rowdy. I knew that, no matter what happens the rest of the day, that was my one for him.”

We’ve heard it before, but the wisdom merits repeating: Be kind. A straight face and stoic silence often masks the floodwater of internal struggle. Sometimes, it takes everything a person has to keep the dam from breaking.

Worry infuses every second of every day, but when that fur baby finally comes home, there is not enough time in the day to catch up on all the hugs, cuddles and whispered “I love you’s.

When Rowdy comes home, Darold and Randi won’t waste a second trying.