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A few autumns ago, Ron Schara walked through his house dressed in pheasant-hunting attire and carrying a cased shotgun.

Raven III, his beloved black Lab, was in the winter of her life. She had arthritis in her hips and right front leg. But when she saw Schara leaving, her head popped up and her ears perked.

"She busted me," said Schara. "Anyone who has owned an old hunting dog has gone through this. I said, 'I can't do this. I can't leave her behind.' "

He didn't. "She had one last hunt, and she gave me one last memory," said Schara. "One last retrieve, too. What you learn about hunting dogs is the body goes, but the heart doesn't."

Raven III passed away peacefully recently at age 13½. With equal parts gratitude and sorrow, Schara reflected on her life as the third Raven sidekick on his popular television show, "Minnesota Bound."

"She was a great retriever and hunter … and a natural in front of the camera," he said. "When I took out her signature red bandanna, she knew it was show time."

"Minnesota Bound" announced her passing on the show's social media platforms March 4. Well-wishes and tributes have poured in ever since. Schara said the post "reached" nearly 655,000 people. "It's been mind-boggling, the outpouring," he said. "She was loved by so many."

"Forever and always, Raven the star of the show," wrote one fan on Facebook. Wrote another: "RIP Raven. Happy hunting in heaven."

Minnesota Bound on Facebook

"Minnesota Bound" began in February 1995, but having a dog on the show wasn't planned. "It was an accident," said Schara. "My cameraman and I were wondering how the set should look. Should I sit by a fireplace, like every other show? Have a mounted fish in the background? We weren't sure what to do."

Then Schara's wife, Denise, made a suggestion that would change his career forever. "She said, 'Why don't you sit Raven next to you?' " Schara said.

Schara's cameraman was dubious. He said the dog's dark black coat wouldn't work well on camera. "Do you have something bright to put on the dog?" he asked.

Schara found a "red farmer's handkerchief" hanging in his closet. He tied it on Raven and the rest is history. "My cameraman said it was perfect, and it really was," Schara said. "It created an icon immediately. It became her signature. Raven was the catalyst for everything."

Schara said he's sad because the Raven lineage — all three dogs were related — has ended. It's an end of an era, he said, with three Ravens spanning more than 30 years.

To celebrate her life, a special Raven memorial episode will air on "Minnesota Bound" April 12 at 10:35 p.m. and April 18 at 6:30 p.m., on KARE 11. "I'm writing the final act," Schara said.