Surfing around Labrador Retriever sites has become my obsession lately, but I will get into that later. I bought Marley and Me for my mother’s birthday, and ended up reading it myself before ensconcing it in birthday wrap. As an adult it is always a challenge to get something for the parent who has everything, but as a long time “Labrador Retriever Family” the story seemed like a perfect fit.
My parents had Labs before they ever thought of having me and from my perspective I’ve lived with a never-ending cast of Labrador characters. In the early years my parent did a bit of back yard breeding and enjoyed field trials at the amateur level. In my early childhood the house was filled with all kinds of Labs, big goofy ones to small gentle ones. They were my friends and protectors, my playmates and confidants.
During the early years I loved all the Labs, Goldens and Chessies my parents and their friends had around. I even amazed my poor grandparents who were babysitting had all but given up getting one of our dogs in their crate – they pushed, they prodded and cajoled to no avail. They were clearly flustered when, as family lore goes, my small preschool voice said “KENNEL UP” and promptly our hulking 100-pound dog Wag hopped right into the crate.
As I got older I begged to be given a dog of my own, I daydreamed of cuddling up with a Lab all my own, showing her off to friends and having a private playmate of my own. Finally when I was 12 my parents relented and I got my very own black Labrador who I named “Derby City Gillie” or Gillie to her family and friends.
Right from the start she was as you termed it a “saint” dog. Gillie was smart, patient pretty and devoted. She was my responsibility and I took great pride in that. I trained her to retrieve birds and took her to local small field trials, I participated in 4-H obedience classes and took her to dog shows.
Our crowning achievement, at least in my eyes back then, was winning 4-H Communications Day at the state level. My demonstration topic, How to Train Your Dog, a simple theme made only more impressive by the fact that I babbled on for the first 6 minutes, flipping poster board charts around while Gillie calmly and patiently remained silently sitting while waiting to show off her fancy obedience knowledge. To this day I feel sure that it was not the content of my speech but more the conduct of my dog that helped us take home the prize.
Gillie had an easier life as I edged into the later teenage years, there was less working and more consoling to do. There were boys taking more of my time and breaking my heart, moving to a new high school and fears that I would never make new friends – all of which were eased by a loving wet tongue and warm fur to cry into. Gillie was confused when I went off to college, and according to my mother would hear the school bus go by and start to look for me.
Gillie remained a part of our family for 14 years and one day she just took a turn for the worse and our family vet came over and helped her on to her final peace. When I got my mother’s call I was devastated, I could barely remember a time without her and couldn’t bear to think of the world without her.
As they say time heals all wounds and life goes on. I’ve been lucky enough to have several dogs in my life since Gillie’s passing, Lucy and Fox the golden retrievers and most recently Emily.
Lucy was just the second dog I ever owned, a gift from family friends she is everything a golden should, sweet, loving and devoted. At one point I decided to adopt a second dog and along came Fox, another golden retriever. Fox had belonged to an older gentleman who could no longer care for her and she was a senior dog by the time she came to live with us but was a joy to have around. She had a happy few last years and shortly after Fox’s passing I had the opportunity to adopt another adult dog, enter Emily the black Lab.
Emily belonged to a breeder who was a friend of the family. She had recently been diagnosed with a thyroid condition and our friend Nancy wasn’t going to breed her anymore so she was looking for a home for Emily. Lucy and I missed Fox and I had known Emily since puppy hood so it seemed a perfect match.
Emily joined the family and definitely could be considered another “saint” dog. She loved coming to the Head Start preschool program I ran, she loved people, dogs and puttering in the garden. When I decided to move to Boston I could only bring one dog with me, so Lucy retired to the country to live with my mother and Emily and I moved on to brave the big city.
Emily, like Gillie was my confidant, consoler and companion. She adjusted well to urban life and made friends everywhere she went. She sat for endless hours at my feet while I furiously finished my doctoral dissertation and spent boundless hours frolicking on north shore beaches in the roar of the Atlantic Ocean.
In May 2006 I lost one of the loves of my life, Emily Jean Young. We had spent eight years together but it had seemed more like a lifetime of days. Emily was diagnosed just before her twelfth birthday with canine dilated cardio-myopathy – heart disease for which there is no cure. I tried to make her last days as comfortable as possible, but finally on Memorial Day, May 29, 2006 just five days after turning 12 years old, she could no longer walk, her heart chambers were leaking and she was having trouble breathing. I did the only thing I could, I took her to the animal hospital, held her furry face in my hands and told her how much she was loved as they gave her the injection to put her to sleep.
I had never been with a dog that was put to sleep before, all our previous pets had either passed away in their sleep or my mother had handled all the final arrangements. This was new and terrifying territory for me. Emily looked at me the entire time and then just simply closed her eyes and let out a soft sigh.
I know it was the right thing to do, but I would have traded anything even just for a few more days with her. The house is quiet now, even though I know she is gone I still find myself listening for her soft snoring or the jingle of her tags and only hearing silence.
I said in the beginning that surfing the Internet for Labrador Retriever sites has been my obsession and it is true. Not one to be without a dog, I surfed the web and looked into rescue groups who specialize in Labrador Retrievers. I selected a group that does great work and has super volunteers – Labs4Rescue.
I have applied to Labs4Rescue and eagerly await the arrival of a new black Lab girl, just three years old, who is arriving new weekend. I thought about a puppy, but there seem to be so many lovely dogs in rescue programs that need good homes, it just seemed like the right thing to do. I have a lot of plans for my new Lab, but first and foremost all I want to do is hug her and let her know she has found a forever home – I think Emily would approve.
Thank you for your book, it helped me realize I’m not the only one who takes the lost of a beloved dog hard. You adventures with Marley had many parallels with Lab stories my family and friends all have. It was a great read and a nice way for me to start putting closure to my loss as well.