I’ve always liked dogs, and as soon as I moved into a house I got one.
My family was living in Arkansas at the time and I spotted an ad for Labrador Retriever puppies in The Commercial Appeal (Memphis) Sunday classifieds. A Tennessee phone number accompanied the ad. A country-flavored male voice answered the phone.
“Had nine in the litter,” he said. “Got one left. A female. Coal black. Good dog. Been wormed and has had her first round of shots. I own the bitch dog. She’s 4 years old. This is her second litter.”
I inquired about the price.
I asked for directions and said it would take me a couple of hours to get there.
“I’ll hold her for you till dark,” he said. “After that, the first $60 buys her.”
I arrived at the seller’s house well before sundown carrying cash and a cardboard box. The pup peed twice during the drive home—once in the box and once in the backseat, having escaped the box undetected.
I was met at home with a joyous reception. My daughter Sarah took a look at the puppy and yelled, “Keecoo!” This was her version of the word cookie. The name stuck. My daughter Rebecca hugged the pup like a stuffed toy. My wife and I exchanged glances. The dog was there to stay.
At the time, I knew as little about dogs as I did about children. I was knee deep in graduate school and struggling to juggle studies and work. My wife was wrestling with a new job. Our family had recently doubled with the arrival of the twins. A full night’s sleep was becoming a distant memory. Why we decided to toss a puppy into this mix is anybody’s guess. But we did.
It worked out. A serious case of gun shyness kept the dog from becoming the hunting companion I’d envisioned. But she grew into a fine pet and child protector, a role she filled for 14 years, living long enough for the toddlers to become licensed drivers. No more can be asked of a dog.
Americans, in general, love dogs. According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are 78.2 million owned dogs in the country, meaning, I assume, dogs people claim as their own. Nearly four of every 10 (39 percent) U.S. households include at least one dog.
Dogs come in a wide variety of breeds, sizes, colors and temperaments, from mutts to purebreds. They are bred for work and play, generic uses and specific tasks. The most popular registered breed in America, according to the American Kennel Club, is the Labrador Retriever. The English Foxhound is the least popular.
(According to a recent article in Outdoor Life by Kentuckian Colin Moore, Labradors are also the top choice as a hunting retriever. A Brittany is the top pointer. If you’re looking for the best nose, buy a Blackmouth Cur. The top flusher: a Boykin Spaniel. But regardless of the breed, hunting behind a good dog is a pleasure beyond description.)
My family is again part of the dog-owning masses. While I was researching various breeds, my wife’s only request was for a “medium size” dog. After some discussion, we settled on a female Golden Retriever (that’s her in the mug shot photo). I was expecting a 50-pound adult dog, which would have barely met the “medium size” criterion. My wife took a look at the pup’s oversized feet and predicted, “She’s going to be huge.” She’s now 2 and weighs 87 pounds—all of it unbridled enthusiasm.
Size notwithstanding, I entered into this new dog agreement with considerable trepidation. Not because I’ve lost my affection for dogs. But because of it.
• • •
Our Labrador, having grown old and gray and nearly deaf, with fading eyesight and stiffening hips, began having seizures. Bob, our veterinarian, said they were possibly the result of a brain tumor. The seizures became more frequent and violent. It was unfair to allow her to suffer. I knew what had to be done.
So on a bitterly cold January day we made a final trip to the vet’s office. She’d had a long life, survived two broken hips following a collision with a tractor, faithfully trailed after the children from diapers to high school. The seller had been accurate. She was a good dog.
While the doctor prepared the chemical mixture that would stop her heart, I sat on the floor of the small examination room, the dog’s head in my lap, petting her face, rubbing her ears, telling her she was a good dog. Saying silly things. Promising myself I would not weep.
I did, of course.
Readers may contact Gary Garth at firstname.lastname@example.org