When it comes to dogs, we are stuck on Labs. It hasn’t always been this way. We have had many mixed breeds over the years, including Jake, a Lab-Shepherd mix; Lucy, a Lab-Dalmatian mix; Betsy, a Lab-Beagle mix; Jenna, mostly black Lab; and Henry, a Golden Retriever-Bassett Hound mix, who looked just like a Golden Retriever except he was short – the coffee-table version. There is our beloved Stanley, a buff-colored Cocker Spaniel who came to live with us at age seven; and years ago, we had Penny, a beautiful Springer Spaniel.
But mostly, and inadvertently, there has been a theme here: the Lab constant.
Then we got Molly, our Chocolate Lab, and our daughter, Blair, rescued Roxy, a Yellow Lab, and we just fell in the tank for Labrador Retrievers. We now have three Labs in our family (I’m getting to that).
Here’s a very brief guide to Labs: All they care about is one thing: being with you.
And food. So okay, two things: Being with you, and food.
And having a job to do, so well, that’s three things.
Also, they love to play.
Okay, basically there are four life goals for the Lab.
Molly loves to have a job, and she has several missions. One is, when we’re walking, and Stanley – who thinks he is a large, ferocious warrior and gets the Viking “red mist” when he sees other dogs – starts barking at the neighbor’s dogs in their fenced-in yards, Molly turns on the speed and pulls us away. I have trained her to do this, and she does it without fail. She knows her job: extraction. Get us out of there.
Molly, like all Labs, is enthusiastic. She threw herself into obedience school, just plunged into it, much as she would a wading pool, horse’s water trough, or any other exciting water scenario.
She was so excited to go to class, in fact, that it was a problem. For the first few weeks as we parked and walked to our lessons at the Whiskers Barkery in downtown Prescott, I would have to slow our progress by holding onto street lights and grabbing the edges of buildings, because she would be pulling so hard to get us there.
Molly also retains the distinction of being the only dog ever to break off one of the obedience studio’s built-in leashes that are anchored to the wall. We were doing “recall,” where you have your dog stay, walk to the far end of the room, and say, “Molly (or whatever your dog’s name is), come!” This was her best subject. She would just flat-out run across the room to me. So one day, we did our turn, and it was wonderful. Then another dog, whose name sounded very similar, was supposed to go. His owner squatted down, flung out her arms, and yelled, “Wally, come!” Molly was leashed to the wall, and she just busted out of there. Our trainer, Kathy Morris, was so great. All she said was, “Hmm. That should have been anchored to a stud.”
When we started walking at the heel position at various paces, Molly would get so excited that, when I gave her a tiny treat as a reward, she would cough it up, drop her head down, scoop it up and eat it again, and never slow her pace.
This brings me to one of my favorite Lab stories, courtesy of Josh’s orthodontist, a Lab guy. Two families were travelling together, going on vacation. They had two black Labs, littermates, crated in the back of the SUV. The crates were the metal kind, with a little space between the bars. Immediately beside the dogs was a 40-pound bag of food, which was supposed to last them the whole two weeks. Now, even I can see that this was a tactical error, but hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.
One of the dogs set to work on the bag and, by industrious use of front paw, was able to claw a hole in it. The food spilled right inside the crate. The dog ate, and ate, and ate. When they reached their cabin, three hours later, the dog looked “like he was massively pregnant.” As soon as he got out of the car, he started throwing up – pound after pound of food. The family looked on in horror. Not to worry: the second Lab started eating. And ate all of it. Then that Lab threw up – and, as you may have guessed, the first Lab started eating it.
I laughed so hard when I heard this story. Blair said, “That’s disgusting,” when she heard it later. I said, “Can’t you see Roxy doing it?” She closed her eyes and sighed. “Yes.” Of course she could. Roxy ate an entire bag of flour off a shelf once. Our beloved Jake once ate an entire bag of Oreos, double-stuffed, and also got into a can of Crisco. We know this because there was the unmistakable imprint of his snout in the otherwise untouched Crisco.
About a month ago, we were having dinner with Blair and her husband, Ted. Blair has been looking for a puppy, and she got a text from a breeder: A four-and-a-half-month old yellow Lab had just come back. Did she want her?
Blair is looking for a younger puppy, but she knew an older puppy would be just up my alley. She showed me the picture, and I was done for.
A lost-looking dog is just sitting there, so serious and sweet and uncertain.
I showed the picture to Mark and our sons, Andy and Josh. “We can’t just leave her there,” said Mark. God bless that man. This is not the first time he’s done that, either. Years ago – heck, decades ago – we didn’t even see Jake, but we heard about him from a friend. He had been rescued from the mean streets of East Baltimore, where he had been hanging out at the local Popeye’s and a hot dog stand in front of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Two friends got him off the streets, took him to the vet and got him all fixed up – but he had nowhere to go. I was so moved by Jake’s plight, and I told Mark about it one night. He was almost asleep, and with his eyes still closed, he said, “Bring him home.”
This time, we brought Sadie home. The breeder brought her over at 9:30 that night. Her van pulled up in the driveway and Sadie got out of the car. So serious, and so sweet and hopeful, too, as if to say: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going to do my best.”
Why would anyone let go of this awesome dog? Apparently, the person who had bought her had been overwhelmed with some health issues and was unable to take care of her; in fact, had never even gotten Sadie any of her shots, so she had no immunity to anything. We took her to the vet the next day, have gone back for the boosters, and I’m glad to say that now she’s protected against disease and varmints. She’s even had part one of her rattlesnake vaccine – something I had never heard of before we moved to Arizona.
Like Molly and Stanley, Roxy, Jake, and all the dogs who have been part of our family, Sadie is adored. That’s not to say she’s a perfect angel: despite my fervent wishes and efforts to change this, Sadie gets up at the crack of dawn. She’s a morning person, full of energy and raring to go. When she gets into a dispute with Molly (basically, when Molly has something she wants), she produces this sharp, ear-piercing puppy bark that drives me crazy until I distract her with something else. And yesterday, she ate two of my potted plants. So, like all of us, she can be a pain in the butt. But she’s our pain in the butt. Sadie is home.