We weren’t looking to adopt another dog. We already had two.
But. In a dual error of planning neither were Labs.
We’ve had Labs in our lives for twenty-six years until a year and a half ago when Janie, our black English Lab died at age fourteen. We branched out, curious to explore other breeds. Queso, a shepherd mix is whip smart and a bit stubborn. Sugarplum is a mix, breeds unknown, from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She’s full of energy, always interested in playing. It’s been fun and interesting to see what other breeds are like and, while I do dearly love our other dogs, it’s become clear to me that I am, first and foremost, a Lab girl.
My husband first met Buddy (formerly known as Chase) at an event at Orvis in Denver and started texting me photos of him, telling me what a sweet boy he was. It didn’t take much to get me hooked especially since I had just told Adam I still missed Janie EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
A Lab brings certain things that no other dog I’ve ever had does:
1. They are what I call participatory dogs. They want to be a part of everything you do. You take the trash out, they take the trash out. You go into the bathroom, they go into the bathroom. (This proves to be quite a feat in our smallest bathroom where we both barely fit. Getting us both arranged inside in a fashion to actually allow shutting the door is like a game of sardines.) You cook. They hang in the kitchen while you cook. You take a nap. They take a nap. And, yes, ON the bed with you.
Some people might find this annoying but I find it infinitely sweet and comforting. I love this but-I-want-to-be-with-you aspect of these dogs though I do sometimes feel guilty about disturbing the dog every time I get up to get a tissue or re-heat my tea. I try to assure the dog I’ll be right back but he follows me the 15 feet to the kitchen anyway.
2. They snuggle on demand. A Lab is available to flop over onto the floor and stay there as long as you are willing to keep your hand moving on them. My other dogs will get up and walk away after a certain, not-very-long amount of snuggling but not my Lab. He’ll stay there all day if I’m willing to pet him.
3. The Love Faint. This is what we have dubbed the giant flop you get if you sit on the floor and invite a Lab over to you. He might sit upright for a minute or two but eventually over he goes in one big lump.
4. Semi-smartness. I’m not going to say Labs are dumb because they’re not. I’d say they’re medium smart which is a relief in the face of two other dogs who are super smart. Super smart means learning quickly but super smart also means being able to out think me and, frankly, that gets tiresome. My other dogs know what they’re supposed to do and are smart enough to decide whether they want to or not. My Lab is smart enough to learn what I want though it often takes practice. But he doesn’t spend time figuring out how he can NOT do what I want. It’s his medium smart and almost desperate desire to please that makes him so easy. His approach tends to be, Oh! You want me to do what? Huh? Hmmmm. Oh, okay, I think I get it. Once more please. Oh! I get it!
Buddy is no exception to these lab qualities.
Buddy had spent extended time in a rural shelter. After his rescue, he was being boarded in a kennel. Neither of these environments were ideal for him. He was stressed, not eating, having diarrhea.
He sat so hopeful, quiet and still in the back of the car on the drive from Denver to Boulder. He didn’t respond to any commands like sit or stay. He wasn’t playful. He was oh, so sweet but oh, so sad.
At first, we had to tempt him to eat. Pureed pumpkin, white rice, boiled chicken and beef broth finally got him to start eating and helped to settle his stomach. He started eating, cautiously at first. Now he eats with true Lab-like gusto.
On Day Three he started taking toys out of the toy bin and bringing them into the living room. On Day Five he started to wrestle with the other dogs. He trained quickly to our Invisible Fence and within two weeks he had free access to the large yard.
Now we wake up each morning to being wrestled on top of by Buddy and Sugarplum, the extremely playful one of the bunch. Late afternoon brings a massive puppy fit by all three dogs as they race after one another in laps around the yard, wrestle and finally cool off with a dip in the kiddie pool we’ve filled in the back yard.
We guess he had a small dog in his previous life because, while he likes all other dogs, he seems to have a special affinity for the tiny ones.
He DOES NOT want to be left behind. He’s the ride along dog. He’s so happy in the car. He gets to go along on many errands and to pick the kids up from school. He gets daily walks, trips to the dog park and endless games of fetch in the back yard where he plays a good-natured game of keep away with the ball with me and Sugarplum.
At first, he would desperately rush out the back door as soon as it was opened. Now he’s willing to wait, confident, I think, that he’ll get to go or that someone will return if he stays home. As his anxiety has decreased and he’s not putting all his brain space towards making sure his own safety and survival, he’s responsive to commands and to training.
He’s totally at home now. He has a favorite chair. And favorite toys—he likes the ones that squeak. His playful exuberant nature has emerged. He barks in play. And, yes, he follows us everywhere. He is happy to be wherever his people are. Sometimes that means downstairs in my husband’s office. Sometimes he is helping me cook. Or do yard work. Or go to the bathroom.
And he smiles. He tucks his top lip up to show his big bright white teeth in a goofy happy smile. We’re smiling too.