I first held my fourth child almost 11-and-a-half years ago. She stared at my eyes. We rocked together in the sunroom, in a padded pink and blue nursery chair. Weeks later, her long golden nose and shaggy blond tail poked through the armrests. She squirmed out of my lap and landed on the floor.
I pretended I was looking for an emotional support dog for a family member who was struggling. No one was fooled. It was obvious that I was getting the dog to help with my stress. Labrador retrievers are calm and happy. My child’s tutor’s affectionate, intelligent service dog was a Lab. This was an easy decision.
Yellow, black and chocolate Labs trotted across grassy fields on my laptop screen. Round balls of fur made comical faces. Puppies were lined up in rows, heads slumped over bellies. A breeder in Rhode Island had a yellow female; she was the color of a golden retriever. A friend volunteered to pick her up. As soon as he started the car, she climbed into his lap. She refused to budge, despite his efforts. He was not amused.
Puppy and I walked circles in the snow in the park next to my house. It was the middle of the night. I told her firmly to “go already.” The moon was a deep sliver. We were back outside a couple of hours later. She was housebroken by the end of January.
I drove her to the hospital for a meet and greet and arranged for a private conference room. I couldn’t wait to see the excitement on my family member’s face when they met her. They glanced at the wiggling puppy.
“Can I name her Amy?”
“Yes, of course.”
“You can take her home now.”
Amy was a toddler for two years. She rescued used tissues from the trash can and ingested an unsuspecting friend’s black suede shoe. She shredded my daughters’ dirty underwear. We found frayed bits in the living room. After a year of puppy classes, she mastered good manners.
We hiked in the woods and threw sticks in ponds to coax her to swim. She discovered her inner retriever and chased ducks, splashing huge rings. She trained me to play fetch, catching tennis balls mid-air and tossing them to me.
She matured from silly puppy to dignified adult. Her love and support have helped me remain as calm as a Lab, despite some challenging times. I am her person. She wants to be near me all the time. She greets me in the morning and is at the front door when I open it, wagging her tail and smiling. She naps near me on her living room bed while I work and sleeps next to me on her bedroom bed. She watches my face and listens to my voice. She is a good listener.
I speak to her and she answers, thumping her tail hard on the floor. I ask her which direction she wants to take. She pauses, then starts walking toward the park. She likes when I hug her and she holds my hand in place, next to her ears, in the optimal position for scratching.
She teaches me about reducing stress by taking life at a slower pace and also about living in the moment. She shuts her eyes and relaxes on her dog bed in the afternoon sun. I look out the window and notice that the sun is lowering in the sky; it’s time for our walk.
She walks me to her favorite urban park, the one that has an off-leash dog area. Geese hiss and squawk; she ignores them. She plunges facedown into a snowbank and emerges with a tennis ball, her tail wagging wildly. She drops the frozen ball at my feet. I ask her if she wants me to throw it for her and she looks at my face, runs 20 feet away, then looks at me again. Any negative thoughts that could have drifted into my mind have vanished into the frigid air. Her joy is contagious.
But every once in a while, my elegant lady has one of her moments. Without warning, she stops walking and dives into a tiny mound of trash on the sidewalk. If I’m fast enough, I‘m able to pry open her mouth and yank out desiccated food. Hamburger and fries disappear quickly.
It’s her way of reminding us that nobody’s perfect.
My children hug and kiss her when they come home to visit and she dances in circles around them, even after long absences. She raised them with me. And supported me as a parent.
She is my very old lady dog. I treasure every day that I am blessed to spend with her.
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