Saturday, October 01, 2005

My Best Dog Wasn't Really My Dog


My best dog, a chocolate lab named, Ranger, wasn't actually my dog. He belonged to my wife.

In 1984, I had been dating my future wife for 5 years, mostly long distance as I chased a Park Service career across the southeast. As Christmas approached, I realized that I didn't really want to lose this girl and would have to grow up...a little. (I know what you're thinking...what does this have to do with a dog??..get to the point FC)

On one of my sojourns home, she and I were Christmas window shopping. A pet store in the mall had chocolate lab puppies and we made the mistake of saying yes when the clerk took one out and asked if we'd like to hold it. We left the store without a pup, but the next day I went back alone and bought the little male we had cuddled the night before.

I hid it at my brother's house for a few days until Christmas day. On that morning, my brother slipped the puppy into my folks garage. When almost all the packages had been opened, I slipped out and carefully placed the pup into a wrapped box I had prepared. I returned to the house and placed it on my girl's lap.

She shook it...vigorously.

Simultaneously my grandparents, parents, brother, and I all shouted, " No! Don't shake it!"

She paused and then opened the top of the box. The lab pup popped out like a jack-n-the box. She hugged it, she cried. It was a good moment.

Years later, she told me that was the moment she knew I was going to marry her. She said she knew I'd never leave the dog. That'll seem weird if you have never loved a dog...so be it.

Within 30 minutes, the pup had a name, Ranger. (She named him, not me...but I was thrilled with her choice)

A few months later, on the seawall by the Castillo, I proposed. Ranger became our "child" and we took him on a zillion adventures and trips as he grew from goofy pup to muscle bound adolescent.

He had all the lab characteristics, a love of water, intelligence, enthusiasm, and a sweet gentle nature. I won't bore you with how great he was, but he was pretty spectacular.

When the first baby (human) was approaching, I had a fear that Ranger might see the baby as competition. I knew even though my wife loved him dearly, he would be gone if there was even a hint of aggression towards the baby. I was nervous.

Thankfully, he took to baby Katie as if she were his charge. As she grew and began crawling, he patiently allowed her to grab handfulls of fur and pull herself up in her awkward attempts to stand. Each new baby that came got the same treatment. I used to marvel at his patience and restraint as they stepped on his feet, fell on him as he slept, and tugged on his ears, tail, and even reached in his mouth to take a toy.
He never growled or snapped and I loved him more for that.

I was watching a home video the other night. It was my son when he was about 4 tussling with this huge muscular dog. Ranger had a favorite stuffed toy and my toddler son was pulling and being pulled. In the video, he clambers all over Ranger as both vie for the toy. It was clear to me that Ranger sensed this was a more delicate being and was pulling his punches. It was very different when he and I tussled ...more like life and death combat.

He wasn't perfect. He barked too much at new people. In his first two years of life he devoured books, shoes, my glasses, table legs, 2 chairs, and one couch. Slowly, he matured. So did I.

He moved with us to Savannah, then to Fort Matanzas, then to our little piece of wild Florida where we finally put down roots. I'm glad he got to spend most of his years here with woods, the other pups, and a nice pond.

Eventually, age caught up with him and he slowed down some. His muzzle turned from rich chocolate to frosted grey and his hips stiffened up. Still, he kept going strong past 14, and then he really slowed. In the intervening years, the kids had grown out of babyhood, but were still too young to picture a world without Ranger. I knew it was coming and dreaded the day they experienced their first parting.

In his last year, his hips were too stiff to easily manage the porch steps, so I would carry him up and down the steps each day so he could lie in the sun and take it easy in the soft grass.

One day I came home from work to find him curled in the grass, only he wasn't sleeping. I had my moment with him, then tucked him in a blanket. The rest of the family arrived home a little while later and I sat everyone down and shared the sad news.

It was as tough as I had imagined it might be.

We said our goodbyes, and I placed him beneath a pair of pines in the back of our property.

I'm sorry, I said I wouldn't bore you with how spectacular he was. His birthday was a couple of days ago and he was on my mind.





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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good dog story. The best ones are bittersweet. Saying goodbye has always been tough for me -- so tough that I vow I won't ever have another dog. But I wonder. . .

Pablo
roundrockjournal.com

(hated again by Blogger)

Laura said...

I shouldnt have read this one.
That was just beautiful. Made me laugh and cry at the same time.
Dammmit. Our black lab was 5 when our oldest was born and he was a tad jealous of her. He eventually settled down to accept this new intruder who would be sharing "his" couch with him, and was a wonderful dog. Just Broke my heart when he died. :(

What a wonderful post.


(Also, I can't help but laugh at Pablo's annonymous blogger comments. LOL)

Floridacracker said...

Pablanonymous,
Life is too short to miss out on dog joy. Imagine walking RR with a bouncy pup in tow...

Laura,
Those labs are something aren't they. I have other dogs that I love dearly, but this one...

rick said...

Yea I have "Lucky" and Natalie told me he turned 4 last month . I was sad because that means I might have only 9 or 10 years left with him.He sleeps in bed with me and Nat everynight along with Bella our beagle.Oh yea we have 3 more outside.Five dogs all were homeless until we brought them home. Dogs are good!!

Floridacracker said...

Rick,
You're good to take in 5 needy dogs!

Deb said...

Labs are great with kids, aren't they! I'm now looking forward to a fuzzy lab pup some time in the near future, but it has to be yellow...and female.

Floridacracker said...

Way to go Deb,
Get back on that horse and enjoy the ride!
Take care.

Rexroth's Daughter said...

What a wonderful story. Has anyone ever told you that you are an old softie? A lab puppy in a box! Your wife must be quite a sweetie -- she looks lovely, and how lucky that not only did you guys have Ranger, but each other too. Great love story in a million different ways.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks RD,
Girls and dogs...my weakness.