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Sunday, August 30, 2009

down on the labrador

Looking back at it now, I would say that Her Father married me under false pretenses.

When I met him 14 years ago, one of the things that convinced me that he was a nice guy was the fact that he had a dog, a beautiful blonde collie-cross named Becky.

Becky was one of the nicest dogs I have ever met. She had the sweetest disposition, gentle and calm, and to top it off was incredibly obedient. You could let her off-leash on any trail and she always came running with her tail wagging when you called her back. She was welcome at all of our friend's houses at any time because she could always be counted on to behave.

She absolutely adored Her Father, to the point that she would follow him to the bathroom when we were visiting anywhere and whine outside the door.

Since she was such an outstanding canine, I guess I took it for granted that Her Father had great judgment and taste when it came to choosing dogs, not to mention some mad training skillz.

I really should have considered the implications of how she came into his life a little more closely, however.

Her Father had gone to the SPCA to pick out a dog, still unsure whether he really wanted to take on the responsibility. After looking at all the dogs, he decided on a black dog but still couldn't commit so he went away to have a coffee and think about it some more.

When he got back, having decided to go for it, the black dog had already been adopted so he chose Becky instead. It was an incredible stroke of luck that we all appreciated for the next 13 years.

When Becky was 14, she died. We spent far too much on an operation that gave her only six extra weeks, but although it gave us some time to prepare She Who Does Not Obey for the inevitable, we were all devastated when it happened.

It wasn't long before Her Father started thinking about getting another dog, but instead of looking at blondes, he returned to his original plans of getting a black dog.

Two months later, he received an email from a friend in Labrador offering him a black labrador-cross puppy, by name of Shadow. Her Father had been to Labrador for work during that time and had coveted many stray puppies he'd seen down there*, so we decided it was a sign that Shadow was meant for us.

Shadow was a sweet dog and a pretty dog too. But he was what they call in the dog training trade "batshit crazy."

He was all go all the time, ready to play with whatever came to mouth, chewing every toy he could find including many of those belonging to She Who Does Not Obey, who was only 4-years old at the time. Many tears were shed, hers over favourite playthings, mine in frustration at trying to explain yet another senseless stuffed toy death.

We tried to keep him in dog toys, but he destroyed every one, pieces of rubber balls and chewtoys decorating the poop we picked up after him. The only toy he couldn't manage to decimate was a Kong.

He also had a great fondness for footwear, especially Her Father's slippers which had to be replaced every other week. He chewed great chunks out of my winter boots and ate the entire leather upper of my walking sandals, leaving behind only the rubber sole. We had to hide our shoes behind a folding door which he was quite capable of opening with a nudge of his nose. We were constantly thinking up new ways to wedge the door shut as he figured out how to get around all our defenses.

We were forced to buy him a kennel for him to sleep in at night and stay in while we were gone because he could get bored at any time or the day or night and something had to pay for that.

When he wasn't laying waste to our footwear and toys, he was trying to hoist his 70 pounds into Her Father's lap trying to get him to play with him. If he came to me, he would nudge me for attention but if I made the mistake of patting him, he would be all over me demanding I play with him as well. He didn't have an off switch.

Walks were more like drags, with him pulling us around the block. One winter's day, he pulled extra hard while I was on a patch of ice on a hill and I fell backwards, smacking my head on the pavement.

Unfortunately we were low energy owners with a high energy dog and we were tearing our hair out trying to deal with him. Our dog trainer looked at us with disdain for our lack of enthusiasm for what was required to give our dog the time and attention he needed/demanded if we wished to keep any of the consumer goods we dared to bring into the house.

This went on for a year until one November day, suddenly, Shadow got sick. He wouldn't eat, he could hardly stand. We rushed him to the vet and found out he had low hemoglobin. Steroids and a transfusion provided no help, so we were forced to make a terrible decision.

We stood by his side, Her Father and I, as he breathed his last. It broke our hearts all over again. As much as we despaired of ever turning him into a well-behaved dog, it turned out we loved the troublemaking mutt.

We decided to take a break at that point, no more dogs until after our long-planned spring trip to Disney World.

But had Her Father learned his lesson about the dangers of brunettes (BTW guess what colour my hair is)? The answer to that question will have to wait for another post.

*In Newfoundland, you go "down north" to Labrador, hence the expression "down on the labrador" meaning to be there.

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